Renae and Henry in Svay Klang

Henry and Renae on their front doorstep.

Renae and Henry are living in Svay Klang in Kampong Cham Province, about a 5 1/2 hour van ride away from Phnom Penh. Their home is situated right on the Mekong River, though the riverbed directly in front of their home is dry at this time of the year (the hot and dry season), and community members grow crops on the land while they have a chance.

Svay Klang is a largely Muslim community in a Cambodian Province that is 50 percent Muslim, descendants of the Cham people who once occupied much of what is now Vietnam. Our local assistant, Sen Marya, also is a Cham Muslim (or Khmer Muslim, as is sometimes said now) and knows Henry and Renae’s parents, so she helped arrange for this service assignment.

Renae and Henry both are living with Sa Hapsa (Ma) and No Min (Pa), the village chief in Svay Klang. Two of their brothers have left home and settled elsewhere, but brother Min Satroni usually is home for the nights and brother Min Visal stops by occasionally.

In Svay Klang, as in most provincial settings, houses are left open throughout the day and neighbors and neighborhood children wander in and out fairly freely. Poo (Uncle) Dam Saa is a regular visitor, and was at the house off and on throughout the time Keith was there. When Renae and Henry showed Keith around their small village, young neighbor Ameeyut and his sister Meselmaya accompanied us on our walk through the village, stayed with us at the coffee shop, and remained attached to us as we went to the school.

From among the SSTers Ann and Keith have visited thus far, Renae and Henry seem to have the busiest schedule. They teach English about four hours each day, at least six days a week. Henry teaches a rather raucous fifth-grade class from 10 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and Renae teaches a sixth-grade class during those same hours six days a week. Keith enjoyed watching Renae and Henry work at corralling the public school students, and was impressed with what natural teachers they were.

The Svay Klangers also teach high school students Monday through Friday at another privately funded local school, though their schedule at that school is a bit more irregular. In general, they teach an intermediate class from 1 to 2 most days, a pre-intermediate class from 5 to 6, and sometimes an intermediate class from 6 to 7 p.m. On some days, Renae has begun wearing a head covering for teaching the high schoolers out of respect for her many Muslim students.

Svay Klang is largely a tobacco-growing community, so Henry and Renae sometimes get in on stripping stems out of tobacco leaves and assisting with other tobacco-related tasks. They enjoy an iced coffee almost every afternoon at the local coffee shop 100 metres from their home. Their mother, Sa Hapsa, is an excellent cook, so Keith got to enjoy an extraordinarily good spiced tofu dish and a kimchi-like chicken dish when he spent the night at Renae and Henry’s home.

Keith was up at 4:30 a.m. to take a dump shower before returning to Phnom Penh. The village’s call to prayer sounded at 5 a.m., the first of the five calls to prayer broadcast throughout the day. On the trip back to Phnom Penh, Keith’s 12-passenger van (with 22 people in it, which is pretty typical for Cambodian traveling) crossed the Mekong on a ferry.  

Keith was home about 20 hours before the whole Graber Miller clan headed up to Siem Reap to visit Audrey and Joel in Kampong Phluck, and Sara K and Jake, who live in small villages outside of Siem Reap. Those visits will happen over the next couple of days, so watch for a blog by the end of the week. Jake celebrated his birthday at the end of last week, and Corey’s birthday is coming up Tuesday.


  1. Kevin Stewart says

    First, thanks so much to Keith for the flow of reports on the SSTers, how they’re doing, what their daily work is like, and what their host families, neighbors, students, coworkers, and environment are like! These reports and the dozens of photos are sometimes posted so frequently it can be difficult to stay current.

    I think the best part of the photos was the ongoing presence of the children Ameeyut and Meselmaya!
    One other observation: The recurrence of the “Angry Birds” theme, as in pictures 26 and 41 of the 59 posted. It will interesting to learn why they appear to be so popular.

    I understand that central to the SST experience is joining with the host community and accompanying people in their daily activities. However, the most conflicting part of that so far, at least for me (as a health director with the American Lung Association), is seeing Henry’s participation, in a practically negligible, yet symbolically powerful way, in the unfortunate proliferation of tobacco farming–and hence tobacco smoking–in Cambodia, with its concomitant potential for adverse health consequences (See, for example,

    One final topic: Although Henry says he hasn’t yet seen this blog posting, he wanted me to make sure an error in photo captions for the “Renae and Henry in Svay Klang” entry posted on March 17, 2013, was corrected:

    The tower by the road along the banks of the Mekong River in Svay Kleang (pictures 24 and 25 of the 59) was NOT built by the French, but rather by the Cham 150 years ago. Henry has learned that the Imam sang from it, and that it was partially destroyed (but not leveled) by the Khmer Rouge. Henry felt strongly that the mistaken captions be fixed so that the Cham to get their due.

    This tower is not to be confused with another tower (pictures 20 and 22 of the 39 posted by Keith on February 16, 2013 for the “Village/Town Studies” entry) near Kampong Cham city that was built by the French in 1930.

    Best regards to all.

    Kevin Stewart

  2. keithgm says

    Thanks, Kevin. I corrected the captions on the two photos. The tower is about the same age as the house Henry and Renae are living in — 140 to 150 years old. Henry had sent me a correction but I hadn’t changed the captions yet — we’ve been on the road for much of the last two weeks.

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