Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Solar Powered Chickens

Hello All,

We have just returned from five days on the Tonle Sap Lake where we installed a solar system on the school that K.I.D.S. built 2 years ago. Last year when we visited the school the teachers asked if we could provide a solar system, as the hot and humid conditions on the lake made it difficult for the children during the day and fans would do a lot to raise the comfort level in the classrooms. We also thought that they could hold evening classes for children as well (more on that later). We did not have the resources at that time to provide the solar system but instead purchased a generator, fans , lights and wire. The mothers in the community offered to provide fuel for the generator with the promise that we would try to find funds for a solar system to alleviate the cost of fuel, fumes and noise in the school. After returning home last March we applied to the Compassionate Eye Foundation in Vancouver for funding of the solar system and they very kindly agreed.

Getting out to the village is always a bit of an adventure and a 3 to 4 hour boat ride depending on water levels, which at this time of year are dropping quickly. We needed a boat big enough to carry the six men from the solar team, the two of us, the boat driver and deck hand, two Italian photographers (another story) and the solar panels, batteries, tools, food and a load of school supplies. After loading a truck, van and a car we all met at the stilted village of Kompong Kleang. There we loaded all of the above mentioned across a rather precarious and rickety narrow plank gangway, over some very evil looking water and mud below and onto the boat and got underway. As we said before, the lake at this time of year is dropping quickly and the whole lake averages only about a meter in depth right now. Proceeding down the channel we quickly started ploughing the soft mud bottom for several kilometres till we made it out to the relatively deeper water of the lake.

Installing the Solar Panel
Upon arriving at the village and school, about midday, the solar team quickly set to work installing the system. The installation went very well and the fans and lights were soon doing what they were designed to do. We had a celebratory meal that evening on the clinic and toasted a successful mission, the Compassionate Eye Foundation. In the morning we sent the solar team, photographers and boat back to the land. We stayed behind to do some work on the Moat Kla Clinic. With the help of the teachers and principal we also extended the roof on the front of the school a meter and a half to prevent the rain from flooding the hull supporting the school. The overhang will give the children a place to stay dry outside in the rainy season.

Extending the Roof
The next day when we were at the school we discussed having evening classes to supplement the daytime studies of the children, now that there was lighting. The teachers agreed and told us to return in the evening and see the classes in action. Some of you may recall that when we delivered the Stung Sen Clinic last year there were a lot of insects hovering around the lights at night but it was liveable. As we approached the school by boat the lights both in out of the classrooms were blazing brightly; however the air was thick with a biblical invasion of flying beetles, moths and other insects...and we thought the Stung Sen was bad. Walking along the walkway on the front of the school the bugs were in our hair, eyes and down our shirts in seconds. In the classrooms the children sat, some with their books over their heads, trying to ward off the pests and looking at the teacher bravely instructing them through the swarming cloud. We quickly realized that we had misjudged the situation and that without the current, like on the Stung Sen river, the insects on the lake were much worse. We decided that perhaps extra classes could be held before dark, much to our relief and theirs. We had misjudged the elements of the lake.

In the past we had thoughts about finding ways to improve the diet of the children on the lake which consists mostly of fish, fish and more fish. An idea popped into our heads and we thought that one or two light bulbs in a chicken pen would attract enough insects to feed them in a natural and organic way and provide food for the children that they normally do not have available. As an added bonus to the project a solar powered chicken farm is in the works. The teachers were very enthusiastic about this idea and we will work on implementing it. We felt really disappointed about not being able to hold evening classes but sometimes things do not go exactly as planned, so as the saying goes when given lemons, make lemonade. The other bonus of the solar system is that the three teachers, who live on a wooden platform next to the school, will be able to use softer lights in their mosquito nets to do lesson plans in the evening as well as mark papers, so everyone is happy.

Grounded School
The day before we were leaving the principal asked us if we could go to look at another small school in a neighbouring village. The school had lost its buoyancy because the bamboo floatation was old and waterlogged. We arrived in the village where the small 10 by 6 meter school sat on an angle on the shore grounded by the receding lake level and looking more like a shipwreck than a school. In a couple of months when the flood season arrives and the lake starts to rise the school would not rise with it and another 80 children would not have the chance to be educated and perhaps change their lives or make a difference in our world. The school also was in dire need of a new tin roof. So we have arranged to stop the influx of water from both above and below the school and will oversee the delivery of the new roofing and new bamboo floatation in a few weeks. The commune chief, teachers and families were very grateful that their children could continue to get an education.

Paddling children get cookies and books
We spent five days on the lake and it is truly another world. During the day while we work some children paddle over to visit and play, we gave them a few cookies and story books to take home which is a big hit. We watch the comings and goings from the relative comfort of the clinic while surrounded by a community in an epic struggle to survive. Though there is a little prosperity it is paper thin and most of the population barely scrapes by. It is really life at it's most basic level where all family members must pitch in together to exist; they really are one with the environment and manage to endure it's harshness. It is humbling to watch this fine balance and be surrounded by it and also very difficult to witness such poverty. The children are small and thin and when they are not in school have to work to help their families by sorting or cleaning fish in the heat and humidity. Tiny toddlers sit on boats surrounded by fish for hours at a time while their mother's work. Besides The Lake Clinic no one comes out there to offer a helping hand, as it is such an isolated and difficult area to get to. Together we are all working to assist these families by providing schools, clinics, fans, flotation, and solar powered chickens. The children on the lake will be healthier, more educated and much happier thanks to your support.

All the best to you and yours.

Rick and Adrianne

Saturday, February 9, 2013

On the road with K.I.D.S.

Dear Friends,

K.I.D.S. supports 11 young people with their education

We have just returned from eight days on the road and visited a number of projects and people that K.I.D.S supports. Our first stop was Takhmau, just outside Phnom Penh, where K.I.D.S. supports 11 young people with their education; 4 are in high school and 7 in university. They are a really delightful bunch who have been vetted by Sinat (the wonderful man who oversees the program) by a criteria of ambition, commitment and sadly poverty. This year we purchased two laptops to add to the PC purchased the year before last as all the older students need access to computers for school. We also met with Sen, who was the first K.I.D.S. graduate from university. After graduating Sen was an English teacher, is now happily married and runs her own business in the form of a dance school for both foreigners and Khmers. There are several others who have moved on and are now working and or married and helping their families. So far this program has been very successful thanks to Sinat's supervision and encouragement. For those of you who have been here you know that sometimes the heat, dust, bumpy rutted roads and sad sights can be a bit of a struggle at times. However there are the profound rewards that make it all worthwhile. As we were leaving our meeting with the students, a young woman named Veasna, who is studying accounting, linked arms with us looked into our eyes and said "thank you for my future". These are the moments that lift the spirit, erase the bug bites, food poisoning and long hours tending to K.I.D.S. and make it worthwhile. Our work together with you, without a doubt, has changed futures of many children and young adults this year and in the past.
Our next stop was Stung Treng, where we connected with the Stung Treng Women's Weaving Development Center. This project is one of our favourites, it is so well run, very progressive and heads above other programs in terms of worker benefits. They provide maternity and bereavement leave, employee incentives, stat holidays, on site daycare and lunch program for both the children and the women weavers. This year they just implemented workers' compensation complete with death benefits so they continue to maintain and move forward; being miles ahead of the private sector and light years ahead of any government jobs. It is one of the largest employers of women in the province.

New mother's and children centre
This year the Weaving Centre, in partnership with a UK NGO, finished building a new mother's and children centre. Destitute and victimized mothers and children can come and live in a safe environment where the mothers learn new skills to get their lives back on track while their children attend school, many for the first time. We were able to bring lots of educational supplies, toys, and training equipment for the new centre. We are implementing an agricultural training program where the women will create and maintain a community garden for the centre. K.I.D.S will also fund stipends for the mothers to learn to weave. The concept of keeping mothers and their children together is one we fully support, as many times in this country families are torn about by poverty as often mothers cannot afford to feed their children. We are pleased to be involved in this innovative new program.

K.I.D.S. continues to fully support the Srey Po Village free school by providing: salaries for the Weaving Cooperative kindergarten teachers, support a lunch program for weavers and children as well as school supplies and clothing for a clothing bank. K.I.D.S. is also supporting about 65 poor community children to attend government elementary and high schools.

Weaving Centre - on site kindergarten
We met with the teachers from both the weaving centre on site kindergarten and the Srey Po free school. The five teachers are a really terrific group of women who are committed to teaching and caring for the children. There are older children who attend the school, however, the program is now focusing mostly on the preschool and kindergarten levels to get the children off to a good start. Chan, the Director of the Women's Weaving Training and 

Young boy who recently lost both his parents  
Development program, and the teachers were telling us that once the children leave Srey Po School to go to the mainstream government school they are doing much better than the other children as they have had good nutrition and are well on the way to reading and writing. The children are ahead of their peers and are often the top one to five in their classes due to their head start. The children at Srey Po were very happy and full of life except for one little five year old boy who stood against the wall, very sad looking. When we asked about him the teacher told us that both his parents died in the past three months, his aunt took him in however she breaks rock in a quarry somewhere in the forest and has to haul him along, this makes it very difficult for the boy and heartbreaking to see his traumatized little face, thank goodness he at least has the school to support and feed him. The staff are looking to find a solution to his situation.

On our last day we decided to go on a boat trip down the Mekong with the teachers and Chan; as we often don't get to do much but meet with the teachers, kids, parents and sign contracts. We travelled by boat for hours and saw the rare Irrawaddy dolphins and visited a beautiful waterfall. We had lunch by the side of the river and all took in the beauty of life along this amazing waterway. Although the boat seats were wooden and hard and the hike up to the waterfalls rather gruelling in the heat of the day the teaches were smiling ear to ear. In all their time living next to the Mekong they had never had the opportunity to have such an experience. We watched the sun set and then had a great dinner at the Weaving Centre together. The teachers and the director toasted K.I.D.S. and all our supporters and we celebrated this great partnership.

All the best to you and yours,
Adrianne and Rick