17 November 2008

A day in Savong's School

I couldnt help being wary and extremely conscious in scrutinising Savong and his counterparts' demeanour when they came to our hotel the day we arrived in Siem Reap. I wondered "why did he not come alone?" "who are these 3 other guys with him?". Savong, was nothing like i had initially imagined; tall, distinctive, and charismatic. He was none of those. Instead, almost immediately, i decided i cannot hand over a thousand US dollars for his keepsake this instant. Perhaps, it's my instinct or perhaps i dont feel i could trust him with this much money. My excitement took a plunge, and i wondered what i got myself into.


Over dinner, Savong shared some stories about his school with us. I felt i belittled this man and his friends, who were part-time teachers. i was quick to judge the book by its covers. Savong's command of English was good for decent conversations and at times bowled us over with hints of American accent. He was well-spoken and extremely polite. And so, we set a date to do some shopping and a visit to his school.

This is probably the best book store in Siem Reap, adjacent to the end of Pub Street. We stacked as many books at the counter as we thought relevant for the students.

Computer hunting was quite an adventure. Savong led our driver to a make-shift PC store that supposedly has a good deal on a 2nd hand laptop. It was more like a gaming-cum-repair centre. Bits and pieces of what makes up a computer were scattered everywhere leaving very little room for us to move, which i wasnt very keen on anyways because the place was friggin' dusty! After exchanging some words with Savong, in a language we couldnt understand, a half-naked man showed us a 2nd-hand NEC laptop that is going for 400USD. Eric's inspection unfolded crap specifications, and unwilling to reduce the price any lower than 380USD, we decided the money is better spent buying a brand new desktop.

This is where we finally secured two desktop PCs for 700 USD, bargained to the last drop of sweat from Eric's forehead. Even after scoring a good price by Cambodia's standards, he wanted to make sure Savong was covered for after-sales service, "Sekali, the PC breaks down . . ."
SEKALI! Short of being white with an english last name, Eric is the most British-Chinese i've known. SEKALI is the last thing i expect out of him. I nearly broke down in tears, from laughing.

And 30mins away from town...

The size of the school is pretty much what i expected. There were 3 classrooms, each can sit up to 30-40 students depending how they squeeze themselves onto the benches. Two languages are taught in Savong's school, which is by default the must-know language to keep up with the tourism industry; English and Japanese. We were pretty impressed with the methods used to teach English . We saw evidence of grammar based syllabus in use, vocabulary building, dialogues, and usage of pictures and illustrations. What was far more impressive was the student's ability to comprehend, and their level of spoken English. Dare i say, some of them speak better English than some of our poorer kids back home.
.(L): Some of the older students, one we asked was 22 years old, attending the advanced level of English classes. (R): Pointing out where we're from in the world map.

.Their favourite past time sports are Hula-Hooping and Volleyball. (L):I shrilled when i had a closer look at the girl's t-shirt - fancy finding an F4 (Meteor Garden's cast) t-shirt in Cambodia!. (R): Savong.

.Their resident pup.

During the 1 hour break, Savong showed us to the newly raised library. He explained his dream to us, attempting to cast away any doubts we had in us. He also prompted us to ask him questions, which he was quick to answer. But i realised his school does not follow a strict curriculum. Students were free to attend classes whenever they want. He does not want to force the children and make learning a language a chore. "It's supposed to be fun, i want them to enjoy themselves". Eric gave him some good pointers on raising awareness for the school.

By 4pm, more students appeared through the gates in their bicycles. As soon as it was announced our presence today is to conduct a Chinese class, everyone started flocking to our classroom. Some of them even lulled benches from the next room. I am amazed at those sheer determination, the enthusiasm on their faces makes it all worthwhile. This is probably their zest for life - an escape route from poverty.

.I'm so proud of our Chee Ting!.

Chee Ting was our appointed teacher of Mandarin 101, given she is a qualified teacher =P. The men were in charged of handing out notes courtesy of Eric's Mandarin lessons in UBD. CT taught basic conversational mandarin, e.g. My name is; hello, how are you; i am fine; thank you; goodbye; gdmorning teacher; etc. 2 teachers were present to provide translation assistance, and not long into the class we could pinpoint who the teacher's pets are. =)

The class was fun, we called upon the 2 teacher's pet and got them to demonstrate a conversation infront of everyone. Although shy, they pulled it off...

.This boy's keen interest put a big smile on my face. As we progress, he diligently pen down translations in Khmer.

With this many students packed in a classroom, the heat and thickness of the air is almost unbearable. The fans were not working. And the mercy of sunset lit up their notes. The lights were not working either. I began to wonder if this place is even powered up at all. Nevertheless, these children hold tight to the opportunity given to them. Perhaps being poor has its advantage, it instills the drive and determination in you, it makes you take charge of your destiny, it gives you the power to strive to change your life. These individuals' initiative to walk & cycle miles to learn a new language is in itself worthy of praise.

.We 'stole' the kids' bikes and fulfilled our cycling wish. Hee hee.

.The unfinished 2nd storey.

Before we called it a day, Savong insisted we visit his new endeavour - an orphanage. He wants to give the orphans he's met hope and a new life. One story he related was orphaned girls fall in love, and when deserted they become devastated. With no explanation, no one to guide them, they start selling their bodies for sex in exchange for money. His arguments were they will cheat and they will steal; and he hopes education will make a difference.

.(L): 4-bedroom bungalow, each big enough for 3-4 person.

Mel D gave me something to think about when she asked about the Savong-experience. She said "So is he authentic?? I was getting worried about what you're getting yourself into". True enough, we might be in for a big disappointment. I guess the difference between Savong's school and other International NGOs are that NGOs runs on a proper governing and financial system, and are transparent in their actions and the resources they use. Savong, on the other hand is the sole operator, money-raiser, treasurer, etc... so you can never really know if the money you've donated is indeed pumped into the betterment of the school or to the new handphone he bought himself. That we have to give him the benefit of the doubt.
.Thank you guys.

For those that supported Savong, you know who you are, all in all we gave him 2 new desktops, books, and money for internet access. If you decide to visit Siem Reap one day, you should drop by Savong's school =).

.Next up - Tonle Sap Cruise.

06 November 2008

And the nomad takes off again...

A break from my Cambodia t-logs to bid my cousin, Zing, a safe and meaningful journey to South Africa. Amazing as it is, we share the same birth date and ironic as it is, we celebrated our birthday together for the 1st time only when we were in college, away from home. Ask any of our family members, and the common derivative is we're One Heaven, One Hell. One well-behaved-one mischievous, One studious-one playful, you get my drift.. we're not exactly two peas in a pod.

Although i'd like to believe we're similar in subtle and funny ways, our nature of independence will never match. 3 years ago, she left Singapore with a backpack for South America. On her own, for 3 whole months. She spent her time whisking from:

(.All Photos by Zing.)

Rio de Janeiro to

Natal, Brazil to

Fernando de Norohona, Brazil to

Iguazu Falls, Brazil & Igussu Falls, Argentina to

Bueno Aires, Argentina to

Bariloche, Argentina to

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile to

Fitz Roy, Argentina to

Perito Moreno, Argentina to

Easter Island, Chile to

Santiago de Chile to

Iquique, North Chile to

Colca Canyon, Peru to

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia to

Inca Trail, Manchu Picchu, Peru to

Cuzco, Peru to

Nazca Lines, Peru to


.Photos by Zing.

2 years ago, she took off to India, and yet again... alone. Read this.

This time, she left her position in Ernst & Young, enough she said. Not sure what the future holds at this moment, she left for Kenya yesterday. 3 weeks of Safari and then she's on to Uganda for a life-changing experience. She will be volunteering at a non-profit organisation on a malaria project. Firstly, to improve their accounting internal control system, provide training and later to rural areas to dispense medicine.

Zing, you're an inspiration and my window to the world.
Take care, dont stay there too long!
I cant wait for your posts and send me many, many postcards!

.Much love to you.
P.S: Make sure you're back in Brunei next year to strike diving off your to-do list.

SJ's post for Zing here. More of Zing's adventures here.
Related Posts with Thumbnails

My Adventures Underwater and On Land Copyright © 2009 Cookiez is Designed by Ipietoon