March 24, 2010

Allison and Trisha in Beautiful Kampong Kreang

Allison and Trisha are living 15 minutes outside of Kampot, tucked in the southwestern part of Cambodia about half an hour from the beach. The Graber Millers made their last service visit there from Monday to Wednesday this week; all 19 students will be returning to Phnom Penh in 8 days (Friday, April 2) for several days of reorientation and project presentations. Trisha and Allison work in the small community of Kampong Kreang, which is the home area for Cambodian Parliament Member Mu Sochua.

Sochua was one of our lecturers this spring, speaking about women and children’s issues in Cambodia and her own tensions with some Cambodian government officials. After the lecture we spoke with her about Devi House, a Cambodian-run NGO that her sister runs and Sochua supports. As our service assignments evolved, Trisha and Allison chose to take on working with Devi House. Although they initially thought they would be working with silk weavers or basket weavers, they discovered prior to going to the site that the Kampong Kreang branch of Devi House consists of cookie makers. Women of the village make six different kinds of rolled cookies, which can be found for sale throughout Cambodia. Allison and Trisha’s service assignment has included marketing the cookies in Kampot, Kep, and surrounding towns, getting small businesses to carry the cookies to provide income to the women of Kampong Kreang. They also do some interviewing of local women, including local Cham Muslim women, and some grant-writing for Devi House. Their primary work, though, is teaching English in several different settings in the village.

Kampong Kreang is a rural village at the end of one of Cambodia’s worst, most rocky roads, inhabited by many people of Chinese descent, many of whom have one-level, concrete-style homes instead of the typical provincial wooden homes on stilts. The village runs right along Tek Chhou (Waterfall River), a wide river that flows from and to the Gulf of Thailand. Allison and Trisha’s home has tile floors, and they share a Pink Princess Bed (their description) in a room that also houses their 12-year-old nephew Thong and Mommy, their mother figure in the home. Their family configuration is a bit unusual: their father, Khou, is single and owns the house as well as an outdoor restaurant along the river. His mother, whom the women call Mommy, also lives there, along with an aunt (whom they call Yey, or Grandma) and their nephew, who isn’t the child of anyone living in the house. Khou’s sister also lives nearby with her family. The women’s family has many animals around, including dogs, cats, guinea hens, and chickens, most of which are kept as pets rather than food.

On Monday and Thursday Allison and Trisha teach a morning English class from 9 to 11 a.m. outdoors on Mu Sochua’s sister Kim’s farmette, working with 11- to 14-year-olds. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they co-teach English with Chien from 5 to 6 p.m., at the end of the school day. And three times a week they teach English at night in their home with the women of the house as well as other local women and neighbors whom come by for lessons.

Mu Sochua has invited the women to use the computer at her house whenever they need to, so they occasionally take the 15-minute trek there to check their email, write a grant proposal for Devi House, or work on their term projects. Sochua also graciously invited the Graber Millers to stay at her home when they were there, so they stayed in her remarkably beautiful home right along the Tek Chhou, as did Trisha and Allison the first night the Graber Millers visited. They also were able to swim in the adjacent neighbors’ pool — a Dutch family that has been longtime friends with Sochua and her husband Scott. Having access to the homes made for a comfortable, relaxing visit for the Graber Millers and for Allison and Trisha.

Overall, Kampot Kreang is a tranquil, aesthetically beautiful place with gracious hosts and family members. Allison and Trisha are enjoying their time there and will miss their family and their work.

Over the last week we’ve had a few illnesses (families have been informed) in other service locations, though those who were sick are on the upswing now. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone back in Phnom Penh next Friday for our reorientation. Fifteen of the 19 students will be staying in Cambodia or Southeast Asia for as much as two weeks after SST, so only four will fly back to the States on April 6.

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