Saturday, January 25, 2014

KIDS for Kids

Dear Friends of KIDS,

We are now into the new year and thought we would send along another update on how things are going here in Cambodia. We hope life is going well wherever this e-mail finds you.

Children of women working at SWDC
We recently went to Stung Treng, in the northeast part of Cambodia, to visit another one of the projects that KIDS supports. We have worked with the Stung Treng Women’s Development Centre (SWDC) for the past six years. It has been a privilege to support this innovative and collaborative project and participate in the great work they do for the local community. SWDC provides training and sustainable work for between 30 and 50 women. The silk products they make and sell are of the best quality and they have been invited to attend the Santa Fe International Folk Art  Festival for several years. Their product name is Mekong Blue. Over the years we have partnered with SWDC to help provide education for the weaver’s children and for disadvantaged children living in the surrounding village as well as supporting other building and water projects for the centre. SWDC also has a small clinic that assists the community with treatment and prevention free of charge and a mother and children’s home that supports women who have been abused or are in desperate situations. The women and their children can find refuge while they learn skills to help them find their way to a better life.

After a long drive we arrive in the town of Stung Treng and Chan, the director, picks us up to take us a few kilometers out of town to the weaving centre. Here we enter a community where children, women, teachers and other staff move freely through the large, airy grounds. Chan and his wife Chantha have created a safe, clean and beautiful environment for their employees and their children. We visit the small kindergarten that KIDS supports by funding the two teachers salaries. The 35 children greet us with warm hellos and smiles; while their mother’s work at their looms chatting and listening to Khmer music knowing that their children are well looked after and only a stone’s throw away.

Musical Chairs
Later we visit the small school KIDS built and funds in the village behind the Centre, where another 40 children ages 3 to 7 are playing and waiting to eat their hot breakfast that KIDS provides, for some this may be the only real meal of the day. Thanks to good nutrition, hygiene training and stimulation these children are now bright, alert and full of fun; a big change from the listless, tired and undernourished children that entered the doors not that long ago. After breakfast they sing us some songs and have a couple of rousing games of musical chairs where the children sing and clap until the teacher signals them to stop. The music comes from their sweet and enthusiastic voices. In the past many of these children were hauled off to the rockbreaking quarry where they would sit all day while their parents worked. They are now safe and happy to be in school.

The next day we have our yearly evaluation meeting with the teachers and the reports are all positive. The children are coming to school, the parents continue to meet regularly with the teachers to discuss issues that arise and the teachers continue to seek out new and updated curriculum through KIDS support for professional development. Contracts are signed and we have the funding for another year so everyone is happy and grateful.

One area that is causing Chan some concern is that there are not enough funds to provide the weavers and their children with a lunch program, which they used to have. Although the sales from the silk sustain the salaries of the staff and weavers there are no extras and a lunch program is very much needed by the weavers and their children. In brainstorming ways to make the food program sustainable we discuss ideas and discover that goats are very lucrative in the Stung Treng area. We listen to the research Chan has done on raising goats and as it turns out they are very low maintenance, breed up to four kids a year and can be sold for a high amount. SWDC has a large amount of land, trees and the ability to grow food for the goats and many people to help care of them. To make a long discussion short and thanks to a KIDS donor, who is very interested in sustainable projects, we are going to go to partner together and start a goat farm at the centre. Which will eventually fund the lunch program for the weavers and their children so it will be “kids for kids supported by KIDS”!

As always thanks for your support and helping the children and women of Stung Treng,

Adrianne and Rick

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hills and Valleys

Hi Everyone,

Hope all is well with you and yours.

New Flip Flops
On our way to the three schools that we are doing the two water projects and the library at this year we stopped to research another school that we hope to assist in the future. Prolit Elementary School is off the main road about eleven kilometers. Upon our arrival we were met by a large portion of the 280 plus children who attend the school; most of them underweight and small for their age as a result of an insufficient diet for the duration of their short lives. The children were dressed in dirty and tattered clothing and the school yard was silent. We have learned what to expect and experience has taught us to steel our hearts and guard our emotions for these first time visits. The children’s sad eyes and tired expressions always breach our defenses and pierce our hearts. As this was an exploratory trip we only brought each child a pair of flip flops. The kids lined up in the dirt in front of the school and patiently waited their turn for their new shoes, the majority barefoot.

Back into the car we move onto another school we work with called Kauk Chrey. As we drive along the dusty, red, dirt roads we remember how things were here not so long ago.The children used to be like the children at the above mentioned school but that was before the water project, rice bank and food program was implemented by K.I.D.S. The difference in a couple of years is remarkable and impossible not to notice. The children have the energy to smile, learn and play on their breaks but best of all is the sweet song of their laughter.

Fast forward a couple of days and we are in the countryside in another direction with Hak and Sopeak visiting the program we implemented called Smart Kids. The children wait for us to arrive and greet us with smiles and hellos. Here, like at KaukChrey, we see the difference after three years. Hak has worked wonders with these children and we are lucky to have him work with us. The results of his lessons in hygiene and the health club he initiated are very evident. The children are clean and crisp and their smiles are bright. Many now speak english quite well and others, a little shy to yet express themselves, will soon be on their way. Here the choices in life are few; fishing, laboring in a brick factory or working in the rice fields. Most children unfortunately have had minimal or sporadic access to school due to poverty. When we started this program we asked the families to allow the kids to focus only on their studies however the economic realities still force some of these children to have to work part time to help support their families. Our tactic with Smart Kids will be on vocational or hospitality training. In addition to their khmer studies we will focus on english and computer skills, in hope that they will be able to enter the job market in a few years and assist themselves, their siblings and families. Sopeak stands with us as a model of what is possible.

Basket of supplies
We left them each with a basket of cooking oil, fish sauce, toothbrushes, toothpaste, clothes washing powder, hand soap, shampoo and dish soap (which in the opinion of some was just more shampoo.)

We got back in the van and headed for home our defenses once again fortified and our spirits lifted. 

Back in Siem Reap our tuk tuk driver tells us about a 13 year old boy he knows who begs on the streets to help his family. He lost his arm in a brick factory, can we help him? and so it goes.

Today is Jan 14th our daughter’s birthday; she would have been 35 if she had lived. The road from her passing to here is like this work, and the lives of those that we work with. At times it is down the valleys and up the hills, down the snakes and up the ladders… for a dead flat country it can at times feel very mountainous.

Through it all your support to us and to K.I.D.S is unwavering and we are so very thankful for your kindness and generosity which makes this work possible.

Till next time,
Rick and Adrianne