Flight of the Bats, Phnom Sampeau, Battambang

It’s happening.. Cambodia is starting to get under our skin.  Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and one with such tragedy in recent history.  Most children don’t complete more then five years of education – if that – because their families need them to work on the farms. The priority is survival, in a country with limited health care and economic resources.  Always quick to smile and bid you good day, there is a beauty and energy about the place.
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Being in one place for six weeks, we have fashioned a style of living that is both familiar and dependable.  The tougher aspects of the day are rewarded with the highs of a simple smoothie, a swim, a game.  We make the best of our days and in time have discovered our own special places, met interesting locals and expats, and have many a friendly face to wave and exchange a simple hello.  With two more weeks assigned to this volunteer programme we now need to determine the “what next”.  Cambodia has seduced both J and I and we are yet to unearth all that we are here to learn.

Although there are hundreds, if not thousands of social organisations throughout Cambodia, it is still hard to find ways in to be able to volunteer our skills and help.   There is very little collaboration and networking between organisations, and to be honest I think the only way is by chatting to everyone you meet and relying on fate to play its part.  Of course we have a couple of irons in the fire, but it is early days with these and we need to ensure whatever we decide is something we are all happy to do, and is appropriate use of either or both of us.  I say this pointedly, as we have been disappointed as to how little we have been employed so far and have been left with far too much time on our hands to feel frustrated.  First things first, and our next Cambodia visa expiry comes up on 22nd July, and this time we will take the opportunity to be tourists and leave for a week or so to Vietnam or Laos.

We want to travel, but travel is expensive and often the experiences all blend into one overall feeling of an adventure in Asia.  By doing it this way,  we will try to delve deeper into the heart of the places we visit.  We look to spend extended time in one place interspersed with bursts of true travel and tourism, even just a week or two.   We know now that this way will appease us all, particularly the children.  Familiarity is important to them, but more so the actually learning they experience will have longevity.

Sunflower School

As the days go by our patterns for working with the boys has started to develop well with the help of looking at some excellent blogs and free e-learning sites.  I am fascinated with previously unknown to me concepts of road-schooling, and world-schooling.  A growing percentage of families are on the road and I am fascinated by what has driven each of them to do so.  All look to teach their children through the opening their children’s eyes to the world around them, and using travel as the natural teacher.  Of course it is such a personal thing, and each is a different journey.  For us, it was last minute and this is quite different to the meticulous planning of other families whose blogs I have read.  Our funds are very limited.  To continue for any length of time beyond November, we will need to generate income.  We talk endlessly about how we can do this and find a way that keeps us on this journey without disrupting the flow of what we came away to do.

Sunflower School is still very much a project in its initiation stages.  It is trial and error as I try to find a system that works well for teaching the boys in amongst what else we are doing.  We know the core is to teach basic math and English daily (e.g. journal writing), but we haven’t fully achieved this yet.  As to other learning, it must be consistent with the daily life, environment and activities we are experiencing.  These are our resources, and if you plan too meticulously, you don’t allow yourself to be responsive to the moment and spontaneously construct a learning experience.   After all, its about places, history, people but also what inspires the boys.  Zachary just loves to explore with movie clips and we have created a Candid Clips page on the blog for him to share these with you.   We have a group of Australian uni nurses here running a drop-in clinic and teaching basic hygiene skills to the CAD children.  What better opportunity than to have the boys tag along and learn by observation?  They witnessed infected insect wounds, insatiable nits, parents and grandparents desperate for a solution to their aches and pains.  What better way to extend this than having full medical examinations and surgery on both Bashful Bunny and Spotty Dog.


Trials and Tribulations

We have had the usual downs of course this week.  Literally downs with a couple of bicycle punctures.  One less fortunate than the other on our return from Battambang Resort,  a good 15 minute cycle out of town and not the most practical of areas to fix a tyre.  We returned by TukTuk, bicycle on board.  We have had a few more beers than normal this week.  At one point we realised we were drinking beers with 22 university students, and really we were old enough to be their parents!   J gave in and freed the budget up for happy hour Caipirinha cocktails at $2 which seriously, were too good to miss.  Other highlights this week is mastering rainbow loom (thank you Freddie Collins for the personalised YouTube videos!), and for the first time learning to play card games as a family.  Nothing too complex, and evil eyes on the boys as they do have a tendency to cheat.


We are fortunate to have superb food at the volunteer house here in Battambang, but despite this the boys are growing and forever hungry.  They have progressed on from just rice in the initial couple of weeks, and getting use to the different flavours.  However they still require an endless supply of snacks which provide us with good daily tasks to replenish.  We keep it simple and cheap between a variety of peanut butter or cream cheese baguettes, the most heavenly banana loaf, salt crackers and chocolate wafers.  Corn thins were the discovery of the week, but at nearly $3 most definitely a treat.  A daily visit for smoothies just goes without saying.
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English Camp

It has been a fairly mellow week in terms of project work with minimal time really on the volunteer work.  A couple of English lessons at CAD, but J and the boys have attended an English camp with a group of Australian teachers which has been a lot of fun and stimulation for the boys, check out Zachary’s video clip.  We completed our Computer Skills work, compiling an Introduction to Computers course of 9 lessons, and a suggested curriculum thereafter.  We have sourced some good written curriculums for teaching Microsoft Office in both English and Khmer which CAD will be able to use.  The computer lab is likely to open this week and it will be exciting to see the culmination of all our hard work come alive in the classroom.
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Screen time

Electronics are cheap in Cambodia with no tax and a host of free unlicensed software available.  We have been deliberating for a number of weeks, but gave in and purchased a second laptop.  One between the 4 of us has not been ideal with wanting to take opportunities for e-learning, research and actually for J a small amount of remote working.  Everything here is dealt with in cash, and any software we wanted was installed for free as part of the purchase.  This has made a big difference and we have finally got the boys up and running with some great learning games and programmes.

Killing Caves and Flight of the Bats

We finally have made it out to visit the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau, around 12km outside Battambang, and in fact the same area where we did the rubbish tidy on International Environmental Day a few weeks back.  This area was a stronghold for the Khmer Rouge, and the caves are a horrendous reminder to the horror of their rule.  Men, women, children were bludgeoned to death here and tossed down into the caves.
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This is a strange place, people live up here in the mountain, keeping a watchful eye over the caves surrounded by remarkable golden statues of Buddah and ethereal pagodas.  This is clearly an area of pilgrimage and remembrance, and deeply respectful place.


More the reason we returned to the mountain was to witness the Flight of the Bats as thousands of bats amass at the front of a large cave and eventually exit together like a swarm of bees zigzagging through the sky.

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