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.
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