March (& April) Madness – Catching up Part 1

So i haven’t written anything in months. By now I should probably acknowledge that blogging isn’t really my thing – or at least, blogging continuously isn’t. However i’m still going to try to tell you a bit about the past 4 to 5 months here in Cambodia.

Midterm Seminar in Kampot – March

Every “weltwärts” participant agrees to visit three seminars. One before the stay abroad, as preparation, a second one, halfway through the year abroad, to reflect on experiences and talk about what’s to come, and the last one, after ones return, to discuss living back in Germany.

The Midterm Seminar took place in Kampot, one of my favorite places in Cambodia.

Together with participants from “Brot für die Welt”, “Mission eine Welt” and “Banyan Tree e.V.” we, that being the other four Red Cross volunteers and me, spent a week living in bungalows right by the river, talking about our experiences with Cambodian society and culture, our work placements and our expectations for the next months. Most of the other volunteers were also placed within organisations in Cambodia but some were also working in Thailand and Malaysia.

It was great to meet so many new people that all made similar experiences and to share views and opinions on our volunteer service with each other. Fortunately a bunch of the other volunteers also works in Phnom Penh, so we didn’t have to say goodybe to them after that one short week.

Vacation in Vietnam – April

During the Khmer New Year holiday, Emilly, Melli (a former SCAO volunteer) and me traveled through Vietnam. On our way we met up with Cecile (another former volunteer) and Steffen, a German friend of ours.

Emilly and me started our journey by bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where we met Melli. From there we went to Mui Ne, then Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay and back again.

While in Vietnam we managed to use every possible way of transport there was. We walked, rode bycicles and motos, drove in cars, rode trains and busses, made a boat trip and travelled by plane.

Even though we were constantly on the move (about 2300 km back and forth) i really enjoyed Vietnam and its diversity. In  HCMC Emilly and me were fascinated by the fast and, in comparison to Cambodia, quite developed city. In Mui Ne we were able to hang out at the beach – even though it was super windy – and visit some desert like sand dunes. We were also introduced to Vietnamese hospitals when Melli injured her foot.

Hoi An is an old chinese trade city. While there we felt like we travelled back in time. Lots and lots of lampions, beautiful bridges, tiny alleys and traditional chinese music. It was by far our favorite spot on the journey. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to explore Hanoi, but we had some delicious Vietnamese coffee in one of its endless coffee shops and fantastic food. From Hanoi we booked a two day cruise through Halong Bay, north of Hanoi. Once we reached Halong Bay, we were quite disappointed with the foggy weather, but nevertheless the bay was spectacular and we had a great time on the boat.

After 12 days of eating Pho, drinking Vietnamese coffee, not learning a singe word of Vietnamese and praising Vietnams infrastructure, Emilly and me headed back to Phnom Penh.

It was great to visit Vietnam and leave Cambodia for a while. It made me appreciate a lot of things in Cambodia and also helped me to change my view on Cambodia (and Vietnam as well) a bit, take a step back from my loving, forgiving opinion before. Even though i enjoyed my trip to Vietnam immensely, i’m so glad i’ve chosen to spend my year abroad in Cambodia.

 

Moving into my first apartment – April

Before heading off to Vietnam for our vacation, Emilly and me started to search for apartments to rent. We both had made the decision to move out of SCAO and decided to move to Phnom Penh together.

I’ve absolutely loved my months living at SCAO, but after 8 months of not having my own room, much less my own bed and sharing a bathroom with 16 children it was time for me to move from the village to the city, into an apartment with doors. In addition there are just a lot more things to do in the city and you are closer to more things than out in the village.

Emilly and me found an apartment close to the Russian Market, in the south of Phnom Penh, that we really liked and could affort. We signed the lease shortly before our vacation and told them that we’d move in when we came back from Vietnam.

We came back on a Tuesday evening, worked Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and were planning on moving on Saturday. Friday evening Emilly called me and asked why we shouldn’t move in right now. I had no idea why not, so we packed our bags and made our way to our new apartment. The first night was spent cleaning and planning.

Now, after already living here for nearly 3 months, i’m so glad we moved. At first i wasn’t really sure, about leaving the village and my family at SCAO, but i still see them everyday at work, so it’s fine. It’s great to have your own room, your own fridge and most of all, your own huge balcony. Even though it’s not always easy and i feel like i have to learn a looooot of new things with me now living on my own, it feels great.

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Excerpts from my second Red Cross Report

Work in Cambodia
My tasks within S.C.A.O. have slightly changed. Before Leon and me didn’t really split the tasks and both of us were just doing everything that needed to be done at certain times. Now that our tasks have been split I’m responsible for all administrative tasks within S.C.A.O and working closely together with our director, Mr. Sameth. All tasks have been split into so-called “teams” at the S.C.A.O. Center. Leon is the team leader of Education and I’m the team leader of Administration. In addition we have a team leader of the family and the kids, which is Aleix from Spain.
So now I answer all emails from the information account and the emails from the volunteering account. I also do the volunteer planning and work together with our partner organization AIESEC in sending over new volunteers. […]
I still teach, however not that much. The only class that I’ve never given up for anyone else to teach is my Pre-Intermediate class from 5.30 to 6.30. This class has been taught by me for six months already. It is wonderful to see their progress and do more and more content focused projects with them. At the end of January I let them work in groups to work on their own presentations about creating a law to improve Cambodia. They enjoyed it a lot and came up with so many great ideas, that I actually hope are going to be used one day, for example ideas on how to prevent domestic violence and saving the Cambodian rainforest. Sometimes I still teach beginner classes, but really only when there are no other volunteers around. […]
Life in Cambodia
At the moment I’m still living at the S.C.A.O. center in Boeng Chhouk. However I’m planning to move out the end of April, and move into an apartment in Phnom Penh together with Emilly.
Life at the Center hasn’t really changed a lot, except for the fact that I spend a lot of my time in the internet café, since I can’t really concentrate on work when I sit downstairs at the Center having a bunch of kids and some volunteers constantly around me, asking questions or wanting to play. I really enjoy life at the center, but it has beenI really enjoy life at the center, but I’ve realized that I need a quiet surrounding to actually get my work done.
[…]
I spend a lot of time with the volunteers from SCAO but I’ve also started hanging out more with Khmer people. For example on Valentine’s Day I met with a bunch of my students and we all spent the day together, walking through Phnom Penh and taking funny pictures. It’s probably not what I would ever do with my friends in Germany, but it is great to be introduced into this aspect of Khmer culture and learn about Cambodian friendships. I’ve also attended the wedding of the sister of a Cambodian friend. For that event I went out and bought traditional Khmer clothes and later had my hair and makeup done together with a friend. Everything was really Khmer Style and it was a lot of fun.
Together with Leon I still attend Khmer classes every day. By now I have started to learn how to write and read Khmer. I’m definitely not as good as I wish I would be, but I know all vowels and consonants now and am able to read and write first, really simple sentences. Learning Khmer writing has also helped me a lot to improve my pronunciation and other than that it is quite fun, since the writing is really beautiful. I do have to start to focus a bit more on vocabulary again, since I’d really like to be able to have deeper conversations that go past “How long do you live here?” and “Where do you work?”.

For the next few months I have a lot to do. In addition to my daily tasks, I need to finish my pieces for the annual report of S.C.A.O. and I also want to film a fundraising video to promote the 3rd school of S.C.A.O.

Regarding my personal life I want to move to Phnom Penh and travel through Vietnam in April, when we have Khmer New Year Holidays.

things that have been happening

I haven’t really had a lot of time to write on this blog recently so i just want to tell you a little bit about some things that have been happening in my life here and at SCAO. About some of these topics I might write a bit more detailed soon.

1. My family visited me (December & January)

Mid December my mother, her husband and my brother came over for two weeks. I showed them Phnom Penh and SCAO and after that we went to Siem Reap, visited the temples of Angkor Wat, went swimming on the beach in Sihanoukville and ate Seafood and walked through the jungle in Kep and Kampot. We had a great time together and I was so grateful I could spend Christmas and New Years together with them. Plus they brought me a bunch of great stuff from Germany. I already miss them a lot already. And I’ll write more about our travels together as soon as I find some time.

 2. Christmas Celebration at the SCAO Schools (December)

We had two Christmas Celebrations at SCAO. One at SCAO I, where I work, and one at SCAO II. Unfortunately I missed the one out in Sam Roung because I was travelling. But both of them were a blast.

We bought food and drinks for all the children and gave out free toothbrushes and toothpaste to each student as a Christmas present. Afterwards we had a talent show that involved a lot of dancing and singing, played some games and enjoyed each others company. It was great to see all the volunteers, staff and children come together. Even though the spirit of Christmas is not really believed in in Cambodia, it was still a nice reason to celebrate and be grateful for each other.

3. Trip to Sihanoukville with the Center Kids and some volunteers (January)

One weekend in January “Estrellas de Camboya” a partner organisation of SCAO sponsored a trip to the beach in Sihanoukville for all the children living in the Center. When me and some other volunteers heard of it we immediately decided to join them. We left early on a Saturday morning, arrived around noon, spent all day on the beach and had dinner all together. Same procedure the next morning – the kids got up around 6 o’clock just waiting to run to the beach. We spent as long as possible splashing around in the water and riding banana boat until we finally had to go back in the early afternoon. It was a great weekend and a wonderful opportunity for the everyone to see the beach and let go and relax for some time.

4. Weekend on Koh Rong Samloem (January)

I spent a wonderful weekend together with Mira and Svenja, two other German volunteers, on an Island called “Koh Rong Samloem” just off the coast of Sihanoukville. I’ll write about this soon. But for now let me just say, a lot of sleep, beach, snorkeling and fruit shakes.

5. 3D painting workshop at SCAO I (January/February)

At the end of January a former SCAO volunteer, Carl, returned and brought some friends with him. Unfortunately they couldn’t stay for a longer time but during their time here they made a huge 3D dot painting with the students of SCAO I. Please read more about the workshop on Carl’s blog:

http://volunteeringabroadblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/dot-painting-in-3d-2/

 

 6. ID Cards for students at SCAO

We have decided to let all the students at both SCAO schools have ID Cards. For this we have been taking pictures of every single student, had everyone fill out an application form in Khmer AND English and collected money from everyone (around 30 cents for one ID card). After all of this was done the real work began. Typing all the names of all students into word documents. Sounds easy, but gets really tricky when you have to type Khmer. Luckily I some of the girls in the Center helped me out and did all the Khmer typing for me – I owe them big time. Soon after we brought the files to the copy shop and today Peter and me picked up the finished prints. Tonight we put all cards into their plastic sleeves and prepared most of the ID cards. Hopefully we’ll be able to hand them out in two days, on Thursday. I can’t wait to see the children receiving their cards and everyone running around with the ID cards around their neck.

7. Spending Valentine’s Day with pals! (obviously February)

This year I spent Valentine’s Day with some of my students and one of the Khmer teachers at SCAO.  We actually had a day off for February 14th, however not because of Valentine’s Day, but because of Meak Bochea, a Buddhist holiday.

We met at the room of Srey Lat (Khmer teacher at SCAO and friend of mine) did our nails, hair and makeup and then went to Phnom Penh. First stop was Wat Phnom, a small temple on top of a tiny hill in the north of the city. We walked around the hill and took a bunch of pictures – with/without sunglasses, hands in the air, peace, smile/serious, etcetera etcetera. Same thing at the riverside and Royal Palace. Afterwards we walked to the independence monument. At first the plan was to do the whole photo shoot thing again at the monument however it was already dark when we got there so we “just” walked there, sat for a while and took some pictures of the monument itself – without us. Even though this is probably not something that I would have done in Germany – or have done the last time in grade 8 – it turned out to be a lot of fun!

8. Improving my Khmer

I have now been studying Khmer for almost 4 months already. Everyday Leon and me come to study at Srey Lat’s place for one hour. In the beginning we concentrated a lot on learning vocabulary and our spoken Khmer. Around December we started to learn how to actually write and read Khmer. Even though we are far from actually writing long sentences and reading whole words, i already do know all the consonants & vowels and am able to write2 or 3 sentences. All of them being similar; I go to the market and buy vegetables and meat. She goes to the market to buy vegetables and meat. Srey Lat and Lilli go to the market and buy vegetables, and so on. Yes, I know, great conversation starter.

So i hope this gave you a quick peek into some things that have been going on recently. I know i’ve said this before, but i will really try to write on here more often.

All the best from Cambodia,

Lilli

Excerpts from the 1st quartely Red Cross Report

For the German Red Cross Schleswig Holstein i have to write a report about my life and work in Cambodia every 3 months. Here are some excerpts from the first one, talking about my classes, my free time and reflecting about my first months here.

At the moment I teach three English classes and one Computer class a day. Two of my English classes are Beginner level. At first it was really hard to get used to the fact that my students understand nearly no English at all and that now I would be the person in charge of their education. However after the first two weeks I figured out how to handle my young students, who are often loud or run around the class, and by now I feel really confident about what I teach them and about how to treat my students. Especially as a young person, who just 6 months ago was still going to high school and listening to teachers, now being the teacher and no longer the student is a bit tricky at the beginning. I do feel though that the best method was to just get thrown out there and start teaching. Here in Cambodia there is often no better way than to improvise and just try to figure things out on your own.

The other English class I teach is a Pre-Intermediate level. Many of the students in that class are around the same age or even a little bit older than me.  All of them understand quite a bit of English and they start learning more complicated grammar. I instantly started to have a lot of fun teaching that class since it was great to have students who understood most of what I said and who I could actually have a conversation with. After my first few days of enthusiasm with my Pre-Intermediate class I quickly realized that this class was also the toughest to prepare since they would actually start to ask a lot of questions about the grammar I had to teach them or about more complicated vocabulary that I couldn’t explain without looking it up first. Since it is important to me to keep up the motivation of my students and encourage them to improve their English constantly and to take studying at SCAO seriously I started to let them write at least one vocabulary test per month, let them do homework for which they can get points, give points for attendance and also have a final exam at the end of every month. At the end of the month I print out the list with all the scores of my students and I also rank them so they know who the top ten students of the class are. This is similar to how the Cambodian Public Schools grade their students, only that students can fail classes and get sponsorships at the public schools. So far I’ve noticed that many more students do their homework when they get points for it and that they care a lot about how good they are in class now.

[…]

Around three weeks ago Leon and I started to go to Khmer class every day from 4 to 5 o’clock. So far it has been a lot of fun however it is also quite a lot to learn and another addition to my already busy schedule. Right now we only study how to speak Khmer but maybe in the far future we will give a shot at also learning how to write and read Khmer.

Even though we still have lots and lots to study I already start to understand a lot more when I hear people talk Khmer and I’m already able to go shopping at the market or talk to Moto & Tuk Tuk – drivers completely in Khmer. It is a great feeling to be able to understand and speak a little bit of the language and see the reactions of the Cambodians. It makes me feel a lot more at home in Cambodia than before.

On the weekends I either spend my time in Phnom Penh or I stay at the center in Boeng Chhuk. When I stay at the center I usually try to sleep long, do my laundry do some more work for SCAO, go to the internet café nearby and research for classes or Skype with friends and family. When the kids come home from school we sometimes play monopoly together or try singing recent chart songs together, it’s always great to enjoy some time with the center kids and get to know them better. Weekends at the center are pretty quiet most of the time, but I like to spend some time alone, without all the students around me, just hanging out in my bed and relaxing.

Weekends that I spent in Phnom Penh are quite the opposite. Most of the time I share a room in a guesthouse with at least one other volunteer. During the day we are either procrastinating and using the wifi in the guesthouses for almost the whole day and then go out for dinner somewhere on the streets and later for drinks and going out with the volunteers or we spent the whole day running around Phnom Penh, from market to market, from fruit stand to fruit stand and browsing the shelves of the biggest supermarket. However these days also end at dinner and drinks with other volunteers quite often.

[…]

One of the moments that was quite new to me, was the day that a monk from the local pagoda joined my beginners class. At the new school many monks have been coming to conversation class for a while, but before that one monk came to my class we didn’t have any monks from the pagoda joining us at the Old School. In the beginning I was not really sure how to treat the monk. I had read about many rules regarding the relationship between monks and women. I was not to look into his eyes, not too touch him and if I would greet him he wouldn’t be allowed to answer. Some people even said I wasn’t allowed to talk to him. Since the monk was now my student not talking to him was not an option though. After some classes I figured out a way how to treat the monk that worked for him and me as the teacher at the same time. Obviously I did speak to him and I also looked at him, however I still try to not look into his eyes for too long or in a way that might be mistaken. Whenever I walk through the classroom or I pass him the marker, I make sure that I do not touch him and that I give something with my right hand.

Now I’m really happy about the situation. The monk in my class has a great level of English and is always very interested in learning more about Germany and my German life.

Having a monk in my class also helped me a lot to be a bit more relaxed about Buddhism and monks in general. The first weeks I’ve always been very careful that I wouldn’t do anything that might be against the rules of Buddhism. Having the monk in my class though helped me realize that I do not have to be that tense all the time and that even monks are normal people, like everyone else.

 

I hope everyone had a good start for the new year and i’ll write some more posts about my family visiting me and recent changes around here soon.

All the best from Cambodia,

Lilli

Daily life at SCAO

Since two months now I live and work at the Save poor Children in Asia Organization, afterwards referred to as SCAO.

SCAO has two schools and is planning on building a third one. One (SCAO School II) is located in the village of Som Roung, around 15 kilometers north of Phnom Penh. The other one (SCAO school I) is in Boeng Chuck, a village close to Phnom Penh, and besides the school there; this is also where the center is located and where I live.

“The center” is the home of Mr. Sameth, founder of SCAO, his wife and 18 children, and since September my home in Cambodia.

My tasks at the center include many different things. Together with Leon I’m responsible for paperwork, the volunteer planning and for the smooth running of the school.

In the mornings I usually get up at around 7.30 and have breakfast together with the other volunteers before the first classes start at 9. Right now my first class starts at 1, so I have the mornings off to answering emails and doing paperwork for SCAO, planning my classes or doing my laundry (by hand).

From 11 till 1 we have lunch break and there are no classes at the school. Usually most of the volunteers go to have iced coffee at a small little shop down the street and after that we all have lunch together.

We have 4 different classes at SCAO; ABC class, which is the lowest level, beginner, elementary and pre-intermediate, which is the highest level.  I teach two beginner classes (from 1-2 and from 3-4) and one pre-intermediate class in the late afternoon from 5.30 to 6.30. After 6.30 I assist Lion, who also lives and teaches at the center, in another class.

When classes are finished all the volunteers have dinner together and the day is nearly over. Most of the time you stay up a bit longer, playing with the kids, reading books or watching a movie.

I hope this gives a short insight into my life and work here in Cambodia. If you have any other questions or comments just let me know.

All the best from Boeng Chuck,

Lilli