I’m adding this first paragraph today. Since writing everything below on ‘sustainability’ the building of or Clinic is complete and we have discovered after several years visiting other South East Asian projects that we are in fact very nearly sustainable by comparison. We employ absolutely no one except nine Cambodian teachers and have ZERO admin, travel, accommodation etc costs – SO – we have started to improve the income levels of the villagers themselves ( see several BLOG posts) so that the possibility of the villagers completely caring for their own schools is now MORE possible.

‘Sustainability ’is a wonderful goal to be treated with great thought and care….however, at its worst it is an unconscious excuse to stay in an area for a short time and move on or go home.

There are, sadly, examples of projects that have collapsed as soon as funding was withdrawn or help has gone somewhere else. I have visited villages in Cambodia that are now on our “help when we can” list with faded plaques thanking Australia or the UK, France etc where teachers can’t be paid, there are no longer any books and where toilets are no longer used.

In our Cambodian world, ‘sustainability’ means that if I give you a fish every day, you eat NOW….if I teach you to fish, you eat fish forever.. it sounds wonderful does it not?!…… what goes wrong?…..….first a very brief background of our children, their mothers and their grandmothers:-

Pol Pot, Brother number one of The Khmer Rouge, in four years partly succeeded in his aim to return Cambodia to its ‘greatest era’, the time of Angkor Wat in the fourteenth Century.. BUT what he actually did was to return Cambodia to the Iron Age or even the Stone Age…but it was worse than that because what he left behind was – no hope and no optimism…people trying to pick up pieces felt, ‘everything I try fails” …. It is worth repeating often that in just 4 years The Khmer Rouge killed 90% of all teachers, teachers of teachers, doctors, nurses, monks, actors, writers, leaders and politicians, scientists, speakers of foreign languages and eventually -anyone who wore glasses ( glasses gave the clue that the wearer could read – which was towards the end of the regime, punishable by death.) [ see Khmer Rouge section for a fuller history that has relevance for us]

80% of Cambodia is very similar to the villages and people you will come to know within this living website; they have just enough rice for their family and no inspiration or knowledge to find an income other than their subsistence rice growing.. they can grow just enough vegetables and fruit.. they can build their own basic house…(mostly a completely adequate bamboo frame and palm or banana leaf walls and roof) and cooking on a wood or charcoal fire usually inside the home with smoke drifting through the roof)….BUT BUT BUT….none of the adults have ever run a school because none of the adults ever went to school because there wasn’t one. If the Khmer Rouge years hadn’t happened, eventually leaders and teachers would have found their way into the rural areas as they have in neighbouring Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

Our task in rural Cambodia (again, remember that 80% of the Cambodian population lives exactly like those in the photos placed through our website) is first and foremost to understand the depth of the task.

To a man and woman, our families want help. We know that they need help and fortunately our Cambodian people are very grateful and very determined to work with us. (You will learn elsewhere on this site that every part of our schools, from terracotta tiles to desks and benches to concrete beams and doors, window frames and bricks are handmade and built by the men, women and children – from within the villages).

Generalising, Khmer people (Cambodian) are a justifiably proud people who understand the causes of their situation. Of what we used to call Indo – China, Cambodia was the worst affected country through decades of invasion, even before Pol Pot!! Phnom Penh, Saigon and Bangkok were at one time on a par with each other as vibrant, exciting cities. There aren’t large numbers of old people obviously in Cambodia but those who are still alive in the villages remember the better times and know and understand our ‘barang’ (foreign) help. (50% of our villagers are under the age 15 and incidentally when I first visited the villages in 2004 I was the ‘first white person’ that any of them had ever seen)……

1. At the start of the dry season, the village children grope through mud to find tiny fish and snakes for the family to eat later. There’s a man with a battery powered prod for killing snakes that bite children.

2. The fish are taken to houses for gutting and salting for storing as desperately small amounts of food. The lady on the right of the fish gutting photo is a very rare 85 years old. I am the first non-Cambodian person she ever saw.

(added photo September 2011) sadly she can see m no more. With no medical care (and we were too late in getting her to a Phnom Penh hospital) from cataracts to glaucoma – Auntie is now totally blind.

So, ‘sustainability’ is the correct goal but it’s a long haul. We have a school in a village (actually three schools covering twelve villages), we have bought clothes for children and pay the teachers and we don’t charge families to come to school…. meanwhile the villagers are under employed, have virtually no health care and zero health care anywhere near our villages, the water is technically undrinkable, there is no electricity and no toilets (except the ones we have built at schools). The villagers are being taught RIGHT NOW that to urinate and defecate right outside the house next to the family well causes serious but preventable sickness….SO you can see that, yes, we are aiming for sustainably very much improved villages within the district of Kamchay Mear within the Province of Prey Veng within Cambodia BUT there are steady steps to be taken before our children can do it themselves.

I talk about abuse often because it’s a key reason for our urgency. For each and every girl you see we know that our very presence in the villages is preventing those specific, individual girls disappearing forever into the worst excesses of abuse.

These children are standing in front of a little children’s’ shrine (our Beaudesert Rotary School is just off to the left). All the bigger girls in bits of uniform attend our school. The reason it’s only bits of uniform is because they often give other bits of uniform to family members who possess NO other clothes whatsoever. The little girl, Tee, in the blue skirt and a necklace is not old enough for school but owns no other clothes.

This is very much a living website with constant news and if you are with us in heart you will know that we are striving and winning the fight, so far, for 1000 children.