At the end of this week we had the opportunity to visit our students in Oudong, a relatively short, one-hour car ride northwest of Phnom Penh in neighboring Kampong Speu Province. We have three SSTers living in this area, working for two different NGOs in the community.
Dan and Kate are working and living outside the city of Oudong in what began as a refugee community for people displaced from Phnom Penh when the land they were living on was land-grabbed. They were awakened during the night in January 2009, and were forcibly removed from their homes, which were then bulldozed. This happened yet again the following October when the first location they moved to was also on desirable land. They were loaded onto trucks in the middle of the night and were dropped off at their current location. There they were set in the middle of an open field, with very few personal belongings. Each family was given a mere 4 by 6 meter plot of land and a blue tarp. Their community is called Tang Khiev, or “Blue Tent” in memory of their initial living situation under blue tarps. Click here for more information about the village of Tang Khiev’s story.
Fortunately, Kevin Knight (a Canadian) and Leakhena Plan Knight (a Cambodian) have taken this community into their hearts and they have started an NGO named Manna4life to provide basic support for the community. They have worked alongside the villagers, starting with town meetings and with the construction of permanent homes (Kevin has a background in construction), and have now developed a sweet little school that has a formal morning program and an afternoon enrichment program including art, music, and physical education, among other things. The school is named “Mango Tree School” because of the rows of mango trees they planted in the village a number of years ago. Kevin and Leakhena are working to develop a farming project that the community itself has been integral in planning. Because the voices of community members are included and listened to, there is great buy-in, and land has been purchased near their community for the farm. A number of Tang Khiev men are at work to build a wall around the farm (to keep neighbouring cattle out). Individual families work together on small projects to make a living. Here is a video of a community member turning palm fronds into cording for basket-weaving. In this video, we see a man repairing a fishing net.
Dan and Kate are helping in a number of ways and have quickly immersed themselves in the community. Each lives with a village family. Kate’s service is focused on art education and creating a mural for the outside of Mango Tree School. She teaches up to three hours each afternoon and she spends her mornings preparing her lessons and working on developing the mural. Dan’s assignment has been more fluid because the hydroponics project he was hoping to help with is still waiting on some key components to arrive. In the meantime, he is working on a creation care curriculum that will be put into place as part of the school afternoon enrichment program next year. Dan has also been putting his experience growing up on a farm to good use, as he has been able to help with various handy-man type jobs around the village.
Isaiah is working a short distance away in the city of Oudong at an NGO called Community for Transformation (CFT), which is a sister organization to KADRA, where Hannah works. CFT also partners with World Renew and Heifer International. CFT works in numerous outlying villages teaching and working alongside community members. Isaiah’s service involves assisting with editing and updating CFT’s website. He will also have a chance to travel to the local and regional communities that are supported by CFT. Isaiah is enjoying his host family. His mother is a meat vendor in the market, his father a moto driver, and his younger sister is in high school. He values the opportunity to build meaningful family relationships and improve his Khmer.
Dan and Jill had a very nice visit with all three students, and enjoyed an overnight with them in a local guesthouse. In the morning the group met Isaiah’s host mother at the market and had a breakfast of deep-fried bananas and Khmer coffee. We continue to be impressed with our students and how they have so ably transitioned to new communities in Cambodia.