Annie Martens is living and working in near Svay Rieng town, only one province away from where she grew up when her family was serving with Mennonite Central Committee in Cambodia. Annie works with International Development Enterprises (IDE), a non-governmental organization that works with agricultural and sanitation projects. IDE’s director is Mike Roberts, spouse of SST Cambodia family assistant Sreyhem Roberts. Most of Annie’s work centers around visiting Farm Business Advisers’ villages and seeing the impact of various IDE projects. Over time, Annie will develop either human-interest stories, a blog, or other public relations materials for IDE, and she’ll also…
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The Graber Millers enjoyed a momentary respite the first week after SSTers left for their service assignments. Ann and Keith took the opportunity to do a five-hour Cambodian cooking class at The Frizz near the National Museum. With Mennonite Central Committee volunteers Ron and Roseann Sachs and five other random people, they learned how to make Cambodian fried spring rolls and fish amok, a common Cambodian delicacy.
Between Friday and this morning (Tuesday), all 19 Cambodian SSTers ventured out to their service assignments, and they are now scattered in all four directions across Cambodia. For some, service began almost immediately, with their villagers asking for English lessons or giving out additional task assignments just after their arrival. For others, service was a bit delayed since they needed to stay behind for a family wedding in the city (Annalisa, Annie, and Julian); because their Non-Governmental Organization contact wanted them to start a day or two later (Allison, Trisha, Annie), or because of an SST-typical minor glitch or two…
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The final week of our SST Cambodia Phnom Penh program, which overlapped with the Chinese New Year, ended Thursday. Over the last 10 days of the program several lectures were cancelled because speakers were traveling with their families or otherwise unavailable. All over town we were treated to magnificent, circus-like acrobatic displays known as Mongsai, or the Dragon Dance. The photos here are from one Mongsai just below P’teah Goshen, at the home of a Chinese family. The dangerous act took place right on the street, stopping traffic as performers at times reached as high as 25 feet in the…
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Sunday evening we celebrated the first half of SST, and especially the graciousness of our hosts, with students’ families. About 85 people, including all of the students and representatives from all but three of the host families, took place at Sreyhem Roberts’ beautiful home about seven kilometers outside of Phnom Penh.
Khmer teacher Prum Sisopantha offered students one of their most entertaining and practical lectures Wednesday afternoon this week, helping students through some of the most basic steps and hand movements in apsara dancing and modeling usage of the krama. The cotton krama, a large, usually checkered-patterned scarf, is ubiquitous in the city and even more so in the countryside.
All 19 Cambodia SSTers fanned out across the provinces Friday and Saturday this week, getting a taste for independent, small-group travel and for provinical life. In many SST locations, these “village studies” have been a staple for the last 40 years as a way of preparing students for their countryside service assignments. Students have the opportunity to arrange for their own travel on public transportation, secure a guesthouse for the night, and do careful accounting of SST monies.
Monday afternoon we heard about the textile industry from Anne Ziebarth, a legal consultant for Better Factories Cambodia, an organization that monitors working conditions for textile factories that export their goods to the U.S. and elsewhere. Between 80 and 90 percent of the clothing made in Cambodia is sent to the U.S., and sold at stores such as Gap, J.C. Penny, Victoria’s Secret, Saint John’s Bay, Wal-Mart, Abercrombie and Fitch, and elsewhere.
Over the weekend, we had our final group trip/exploration to Rabbit Island off the southwestern coast of Cambodia. It was a 3 1/2-hour trek by bus, so we breakfasted at the Royal University of Phnom Penh before heading out on the early-morning journey. After dropping off our bags at the Beach House Hotel, we boarded four different fishing boats for the 20-minute ride to Rabbit Island. About seven Cambodian families live on the island, providing guest huts and local foods to visitors.
Among the most memorable parts of the Siem Reap field trip was Saturday’s grand adventure to Kampong Phluck, a village built on 20-foot stilts right along the Tonle Sap. Two students — most likely Julian and Annalisa — will do their service assignments at the village, teaching English and possibly basic computer skills. The village is memorable because of the complexity of getting there, and because of the otherworldliness of the wooden homes rising out of the ground. Several students said the journey to Kampong Phluck rivaled the delights of the Angkor Wat component of the field trip.