Helping This Way

‘This way’ is the way or ways that we do things… ‘WE’ is the Rotary Club of Beaudesert with John Mann on the ground, I am John.

Beau rotary group

Beaudesert Rotary, leaders, elders and villagers attend the opening of our first school. Chanthou our translator is at the front.


John giving books

John giving books to Ran aged 11. It’s her first day ever at school.


Planning for our first school started in 2007 and I hadn’t realized that our approach would not only be unique but is a model that is easy to replicate – and SO OBVIOUS. I thought everybody did it this way but they didn’t and most still don’t.

I’d been in this remote and heavily populated area for a while; I was the first non Khmer in living memory or knowledge to be seen. I had given a tape player and radio to a blind monk and a small camera to a policeman (who earned and still earns $20 a month and has almost no equipment) and then the villagers asked, “please will you give us a school?”, I replied that I knew they thought I was very rich but that I’m just a teacher and I only have a little money. The villagers continued, “ please can you ask your friends?” I’ve often repeated the conversations of those early days and it really was a magical question…..well, I couldn’t say “no”.

so the elders, the families and I talked and talked and planned and planned…

elders meeting papers

In Chuor Ph’av there were twelve elders. Every person…men and women wanted the school and understood better than me what happens to their children with no education (see the “Harmed” page).


There were lots of papers to sign. No one could write and documents were read to the elders. Stamps and thumb prints are used. The documents were principally for me to take to Australia, telling us that the school would be built well and on time and on budget. Importantly, I think, I have never had to sign one single document. We have now completed three school buildings and a school house and from our point of view, the vital ingredient is that THEY TRUST US. I know that if there was doubt on their part, every obstacle imaginable would make our projects impossible.

I added this photo recently. It was taken during initial planning. It was a very precise moment. Din has just reaised that the cost to build is several thousand dollars more than their original estimate and he is about to tell me.

Recently I received an email from a Rotary Club asking advice because they were ‘having difficulties over a land deal for a school.’ I replied that this was not a small concern; their very foundations are bad. If a village WANTS your school or other project, there will be ZERO obstacles….all decisions in Cambodia can be made either face to face or over the phone – if they trust that what you are doing is GOOD.

And we decided that the village will build and make everything. They will make desks;

All the desks and benches are hand made under the village houses by families.

They will make concrete and build the entire school themselves.

Toilet block.

the site compactor – a sodden log and the developing school.

The elders of the villages have remained 100% enthusiastic all the way through. (this and the toilet block photo added September 2011)

We, in Beaudesert Rotary, would ask the world for money and the village would be in charge of paying its own people where necessary including the Cambodian teachers with the limited money that we would try to raise.

This all meant that offers of international assistance, like – “We will build it; all you need to do is house us, feed us and provide us with tools,” were not needed. Indeed, I have calculated that if you were to add in airfares, accommodation, transport and food that international aid could actually double the real cost of the school!

Perhaps most importantly, ‘this way’ has meant that the villagers, and us have now built three schools the same “way”, LOVE THEIR SCHOOL …. THEY “OWN” IT. ….AND it’s a LOT cheaper than any other model. We employ no one except ALL KHMER teachers, teaching 100% Cambodian subjects.

There is an opportunity, and a small house for volunteer English teachers or nurses;

The school HOUSE or home is on the right next to the primary and middle schools. The house doubles as book storage and solar system for the school.

By definition our area is extremely poor. There is no shop and no cheap guesthouse or hotel anywhere: there is no bar.

When Rotary friends and friends in general visit they need to be VERY accepting and adaptable and eager to live within a village family.

Nat prepares rice for the family meal.

This means sleeping on the floor in the same room as the rest of the family on a split bamboo floor and eating their food. So far we have ONE toilet in one of our villages. That number will grow rapidly as we work on “SANITATION”.

Please remember that these schools and these projects are not designed for us, they are fully owned by the Cambodian villages. What we provide is KNOWLEDGE, GUIDANCE AND MONEY.

We, The Rotary Club of Beaudesert (supported by our friends all around the world) control the money and through me, John, oversee the projects. All money spent is planned, photographed and accounted for. eg. Salaries to teachers in US$ is placed directly into the hands of each individual teacher.

Five of our teachers chat in the village. The teachers sign that they have received payment. Chanthou our translator and principle assistant actually places money in the hands of each teacher. (John speaks Cambodian but for difficult or delicate conversations Chanthou and other good English speakers from Phnom Penh are invaluable.)

We are continuing with this village based approach.


This next section starts in December 2011 with planning meetings for our small school based clinic. The clinc will serve adults and children alike from surrounding villages.

The same system as before but with new builders. Chanthou our main helper and translator is on the right. Lorn our Clinis builder is in the far corner. Then two administrators from the District Government in Kamchay Mear – they are Mum and Ni. In green we have our wonderfuls village leader Cheam. We discuss the clinic and its various roles. A major role is teaching the villages about sanitation, hygiene and nutrition. It will help recognise conditions that require intervention at larger clinics or hospitals. If you read ‘Nang’s Story’ you will see that we now have a good working relationship with the Cambodia’s largest hospital – Calmette.

…. and the celebration after the meeting with 100% enthusiasm from all parties.

Lorn with me, John, at the proposed site.





The Clinic site is the gap between the long building – the school – and the teachers house.

Chanthou in red with six of our teachers discussing the planned clinic on the site.


(added 26 December 2011). This is the start of our clinic. The photo also appears in the section named ‘schools. This exemplifies ‘the way’ we do things. Every part of this Clinic will be hand constructed by people from the villagers.



As ever, we photograph the giving of money. Chanthou gives Lorn and his son Lat money to get started.





I’ve added these two photos of me on a motorbike because it is very much the way we do things. We do not own or want a car or expensive four wheel drive. Mostly when we need to travel, we squeeze into a minivan made for 12 but with 30 onboard, but sometimes I hire this motorbike at $5 per day when a lot of places need to be visited. then there’s a photo of ‘filling up with gasoline. The coke bottles are on racks on most roads and tracks.





On January 25 2012 a group of Australian Rotarians visited to see the schools so far and progress with our clinic. We maintain our ‘way’ of doing things with the clinic and if you look for the BLOG dated February 3 2012 you can see the progress.