Our visits to the SST service locations have started off with a bang! With a little more than a week since all of the students scattered, and a little less than a three hour car ride from Phnom Penh, Dan and Jill arrived in the southeast capitol of Svay Rieng Province, not far from the border with Vietnam. The city itself is aptly named Svay Rieng. Interesting little fact: many Cambodian provincial capital cities share the names of their provinces. That makes it much easier for Cambodian children playing that “name-the-province-and-its-capital” game on a long car ride!
We were in Svay Rieng to visit Hannah. Svay Rieng is predominantly an agricultural state, although we did see evidence of garment factories in the area. Svay Rieng province juts into Vietnam on three sides. Hannah’s village, about 7 kilometers outside of the city, is so close to Vietnam that Dan got a warning on his phone that it was roaming in Vietnam.
If you want to imagine Hannah’s village you need not do more than take your mind to a National Geographic pictorial. Hannah led the way to her charming and secluded little village. She rode her bicycle along narrow, winding paths through rice paddies and groves of palm trees. There is no road for about the last two kilometers of her ride (see a video of this). As we drove back into where her house was, we passed the village school and a small market which also serves as the community gathering place. There is no electrical service here. Families each have small batteries charged by a communal generator. With their batteries they are able to run a light bulb or two each night and charge their phones.
Hannah is working with an NGO in Svay Rieng called the Khmer Angkar for Development of Rural Areas (KADRA). KADRA partners with a number of NGO and faith-based external partners, including World Renew and Heifer Project International. They provide training and resources for local groups/individuals to develop their own communities through agriculture, nutrition and education. Hannah is living with and working alongside a young family (mom, dad and two little sisters) that has received significant training in sustainable agriculture. Her host mother (who is really closer in age to a sister), Ms. Lily, is an entrepreneurial and creative dynamo and has an amazing small farm. She produces excess food for the community and she sells produce in the city. Ms. Lily also shares what she learns at various trainings with her neighbors, showing them how to better utilize their resources. Along with the encouragement and training she provides to others in the village, she is also deeply involved at the local elementary school. Hannah’s host father is also creative and resourceful, having built their home and accompanying furniture, animal shelters, and various outdoor living spaces along with Ms. Lily.
This assignment is ready-made for Hannah, an environmental science major very interested in sustainability. She notes in her journal that she has never lived nor slept as close to the land as she does here. She observed that camping with her family while growing up prepared her well for this experience! Nearly everything they have and practically everything they consume, including salad greens, cucumbers, onions, fish and chickens (Hannah helped slaughter and prepare a chicken last week) come from within a few steps of their outdoor kitchen. She has become a true locavore! In the short time Hannah has lived with Ms. Lily, she has been inspired and has fallen in love with her family and village. She is so thankful that she has been able to travel across the world, and to be able to experience the kind of simple and peaceful life she had only imagined before is a dream come true. After only a week and a half, she is already anticipating how difficult it will be when it comes time to leave.