Wednesday 26 August 2015

Cambodia Volunteering : 4. Treak Community School, Shadow Puppets, Artisans DÁngkor, Silk Farm Factory and Phnom Penh Children's Hospital


Greetings from Cambodia on Week #4 of my volunteer building relief work in Cambodia.

No house building this week, so I decided to go to a Cambodian School partnered with Volunteer Building Cambodia in the Treak Village Community. The school which I have to ride 4km from Siem Reap on a bicycle, provides free schooling for children aged nursery age plus, have been raising money through volunteer donations to build a vast expansion to their school as a community centre -  new classroom, toilets, meeting room, library, workshop rooms for women's courses, wash facilities and a playing field to provide modern and fresh facilities to the community.

The majority of the building team only speak Khmer, the native language of Cambodia, but Salin the project co-ordinator and her brother fortunately speak very good English so I'm not totally lost in translation. My initial job was helping the Khmer builders Sonny, who lives next door and 'Mr Dah' with affixing the wire fencing to the concrete posts around the perimeter of the new classroom building. The builders work all day from 7am to 5pm in the Cambodian sun whereas I only do a half day - great stamina!

To pull the fence tight with a crow bar and lots of bent nails to seal them in place, took us two afternoons and we must have done over 100 posts! The plan is to fix barbed wire to the top to stop people climbing over. The next couple of days involved mixing cement (back breaking work) and covering a patio of the toilets with cement getting a helping hand from the neighbours gorgeous puppy! (who rightfully so left her mark) I then had a crack at brick laying but being conscious of using too much material on the bricks, I hardly lathered any cement on and was de-bricked and shown how to do it the Khmer way!

Look at how much I'm sweating!

The owners of the school project Salin, managed to get a great deal on second hand furniture for her new buildings and of course came in true Cambodian delivery style on a trailer on the back of a moto.

After building, I also dropped into the free mixed ability English class at the Treak School to observe and take part if I could - covered in dirt and sweat, but I'm sure the kids didn't mind! I was more concerned with them finding their own flip flops again in a sea of shoes outside on the door step. The lessons were really well run and organised by Peejay who was able to keep the kids attention for so long and they seemed to be able to speak and understand English above average. Its so important they learn good English as this can really help them broaden their horizons and improve their future opportunities, plus, they can speak to me!

Once class was dismissed, they put their hands together in thanks to the teachers and assistants and then stampeded out to find their flip flops and parked bicycles - then it was out turn to cycle back through the chaotic night life of Siem Reap, including nearly colliding with two cows round the bend!

The Khmer family next door to the building site were really nice and friendly, especially Grandma or 'Ýay' who was happy to pose for photographs whenever I wanted them..

Sinn is building a timber warehouse he has bought on a plot of land in Crocodile Village and we went down to help put in fence posts as the first stage of his development plan...

Getting help from the school girls, always eager to please.....

Installing a well for clean water - lots and lots of twisting!

No Ipads here! - Local schoolboys playing make-shift zip wire with rope and bamboo in the forest....

In the neighboring school one morning, lots of women were lingering around in the school playground and we figured they were waiting for bicycle donations from World Vision.....until a motorbike roars in with a surprise in the trailer on the back.....


The ladies were waiting for piglets to be delivered and were all ready with their motorbikes or potato sacs - we on the other hand with the curious school children, couldn't resist cooing and petting them cramped up in that small trailer in the school yard, their little heads and snouts peeking over the tops of each other with their beady eyes...... they must have known I was vegetarian.

They were then handed out screeching as the ladies held them tight (unbelievable strength Cambodian women have) and they then either walked home with them in a sac or sat on the back of motorbike with them and just sped off with the road hogs! (quite literally)

Just a day in the life in Cambodia...

Shadow Puppet Theatre 

Since going to the House of Peace Association and seeing the shadow puppets being made, I wanted to go and see a live show and by suggestion went to the La Noria Guesthouse over the river to see a shadow puppet theatre show performed by the children that helps a blind association in Siem Reap. For $7 you got two shows, one being 'The Monkey Fight' of the Hanuman puppets and the other about two Buffalo owners who make their bulls fight for money, end up fighting themselves and then caught by the police....check it out.

Shadow puppetry is a very unique ancient art form and was used as entertainment as we would the theatre depicting ancient gods, demons and mythology in Hinduism...all the holes are punctured out of a sheet of leather so they will show up in the light and sticks and hinges attached so they can move the arms and legs in motion. The voices are done in Khmer over a microphone and speaker but I imagine back in ancestral times, they would just need a loud voice!

The children then came out to perform traditional Khmer dancing which is very culturally significant to Cambodians. 

Artisans D'Angkor Workshop

Down town Siem Reap, an institution called 'Artisan D'Angkor' trains 18-25 year old Cambodians in woodcraft, bronze moulding, lacquering, silk painting and stone carving on free apprenticeships to help them find work and earn money to support themselves. Some of these apprentices go on to continue working at the institution and I went round their workshops to see how wooden statues, bronze and stone carvings are made from start to finish. Small carvings are made in about five days...drawing out a template, drilling holes in mass areas and just gradually chipping away at the shape with a number of different sized chisels - incredible! I was too scared to get too close in case they made a mistake! The artists told me, if you make a mistake with the stone, its pretty much tainted but with wood you can rectify mistakes with the help of glue. The stone they use is sand stone and soap stone and teak wood, rosewood and rubber tree wood for their carvings. All the arts and crafts they make in the workshops are sold in the onsite shop with the proceeds going back to the Artisan D'Angkor organisation to keep training impoverished youths with these skills.

The stages of Stone and Wood Carving from Start to Finish....

Some the artists work 6 days a week for about 8 hours a day, some are mute or only speak Khmer, but were happy to show me and let me try it out for myself - requires alot of patience and a lot of steady skillfulness.

Gallery of the artists at work

Silk Painting

Bronze engraving....

Giving it a try....

I think this artist thinks I'm cramping his style ha!

 Silk Farm Factory

As part of the Artisan D'Angkor, silk production is a huge industry in Cambodia and I seized the opportunity to go out to their Silk Farm Factory about 30 mins out of Siem Reap City to see how silk is made. 

Taking a guided tour through the Mulberry fields, we were taken through different stations in the stages of how silk is made, starting with two Moths mating for 12 hours - then the male dying 3 hours later and then the female after laying her tiny speck of eggs.

These eggs will turn into Silk Worms and are carefully fed methodically for 21 days until they grow to be yellow and fat.

When they start making a yellow cocoon for themselves - 20% are kept to keep reproducing for the silk and the other 80% are boiled in extreme temperatures of 80 degrees to extract the fine yarn threads.

It is then washed and spun into raw silk or very fine soft silk

The process then begins in spinning it, washing it, and dying it different colours from the extracts of native seeds, rocks and minerals to get the multitude of shades and making it into raw silk or very soft fine silk.

Then the weaving begins! The ladies at these weaving machines can earn about $5 a day and extra in commission if she performs well - $5! with all that work! and the silk will sell for big bucks.  It makes me realise how far my money can go in Cambodia.

Colours of Cambodia...

Exhibitions of Costumes and Traditional Cambodian Masks...

Really fascinating to see where a silk scarf comes from......basically two moths mating for 12 hours!

I was given the opportunity to go the 8 hour red dust ridden bumpy drive, down to Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh to help distribute food and water to families waiting with sick children.

The usual rush hour traffic jam.....

Stopping off at a site of Sambor Prei Kuk temple complex on route and Pagodas on the mountain heritage site of Phnom Santuk in the Kompong Thom province - which involved overheating the engine surrounded by monkeys!

Let sleeping monks lie....

Fit in a bit of intimate time with Buddha...

I've also discovered I'm too tall for the toilet doors in the land of small people...

Stopping off at the evening market on route to Phnom Penh...

Phnom Penhs Children Hospital

It was an early start (4.30am) in Phnom Penh, distributing food to 1000+ families waiting to be seen with their sick children outside the children's hospital. Past VBC volunteers from Herts & Essex High School raised the money for the food and when it arrived on a number of tuk tuks, we helped monks from Battanbang and Volunteer Youth for Cambodian Smile and BEC to organise the food and orchestrate it's distribution. Some of these families had been lining up since 1am and not all of them would have been seen. It was one of the most horrendous things I'd seen, children arriving on the back of motos with their drips held up by bamboo sticks and having to sit on the dirty pavement with their open wounds and fevers as they held their hands out for food and water.....lets all be thankful for health care, I thought I had seen poverty but I was lost for words.....

Food and water arrive in bags on several tuk tuks for us to hand out.

We help Nuns and monks handing out food and drink offerings to the poor of Phnom Penh

Thats all from me, will be Temple Raidín' next time!

Lee hai for now

Siem Reap, Cambodia

With Lonely Planet Travel Guide Cambodia 


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