Article by Soroptimist member Kerry Beer (SI Melba) , Kerry writes about her recent visit to Cambodia.
In February 2017 I made a holiday trip to Cambodia as well as to represent SI Melba in the official ceremony to recognise the donation of 200 bicycles from the joint Cycles for Cycles Project, involving SI Singapore, SI Damansara (Malaysia) and SI Melba (Australia). The project was created to raise funds for the purchase of bicycles for volunteer malaria workers (VMWs) in Oddar Meanchey, a province in Northwest Cambodia (see separate report on this Project in another article currently on the SI & SISWP website).
As part of my holiday, I also decided to connect with the SI Phnom Penh (SIPP) club as well as visit Sampav Loun the location where the Hands Across Borders (HAB) Project was delivered between 2004 and 2015. I had on previous occasions been involved with SIPP and the HAB project and was keen to catch up with the friendly people there as well as see how their work was progressing. Susannah Dax also from SI Melba also decided to take a Cambodian holiday and weave the SI plans into her time.
The first challenge was to try and contact Sopheap Duong the long time local HAB Project Co-ordinator who would be best placed to arrange my visit. Email attempts were not successful nor the two phone numbers that I was given to contact her. However I thought I would be able to overcome this hurdle when in Phnom Penh prior to visits to the North.
While in PP I was able to meet with Mr Suon Sokoeun who was integral in setting up the NGO in order for SI PP to charter as a club. I was also able to meet with Sineat Som the current President Elect of SIPP. We had a lovely dinner at the Foreign Correspondents Club and it was good to reconnect with Sokoeun who I last saw in 2009 and Sineat who I last saw at the Federation Conference in NZ. We talked about the SI PP project activities and about the Cycles for Cycles Project, Sokoeun also volunteered to try and make contact with Sopheap so that I could finalise our plans for the visit to Sampav Loun.
Happily, Sopheap made contact straight away and we planned a day trip from Siem Reap, several hours in the opposite direction the day after the trip to Anlong Veng.
During our drive to Anlong Veng the conversation turned to what else we were doing in Cambodia and I told Linna from the University Research Company (URC - the organisation which runs the Cap Malaria Program) that Susannah and I would be travelling to SPL the next day. She was very surprised to hear that I would be going to SPL and we explained about the HAB Project. In turn she advised that the URC was running the same Cap Malaria Project in the Battambang Province from the very Hospital that SISWP had spent time assisting through the HAB Project. She excitedly asked if we could meet with her colleagues while in town and of course we agreed to add this to the agenda.
The trip from Siem Reap to SPL was much easier than the previous trips I had made by road. Highways versus poor bumpy roads, it was great to see the development and the Country starting to prosper.
Greeting Sopheap and her family (including the new baby) was a very happy reunion, however it was straight to business as we had a lot to pack into our day.
First stop to the Hospital where it was clear that there has been a substantial improvement in the facilities. The were 4 pristine operating theatres and more equipment and trained staff. The HAB logo was still proudly displayed on the notice boards and my meeting with the Deputy Director of the Hospital clearly showed how highly regarded SISWP is for the early work that set them on a path to be upgraded. He did quietly mention that the X-Ray machine had been out of action for some months and they would happily accept a donation of a new one!
A visit to the school was next. Sopheap had warned me to be shocked. The good news was that the government had determined that due to growth in the town a new bigger school was being built.
The bad news was that the redevelopment meant complete demolition of the existing school and the plans had initially included removing the teacher’s accommodation that the HAB Project had built. It seems that Sopheap had petitioned vehemently and saved this from happening. For those of you have been to the school previously you will be able to recognise the sole surviving tree in the school yard. At the front of the block the teachers are now living in a construction site until the new school is competed, currently scheduled for August.
The temporary school is nothing more than a series of tin sheds with minimal amenities and no power which means no fans for cooling during the very hot day.
Despite the adversity the children are as polite and excitable as always. And Jilly the young teacher who had impressed me immensely when we met previously, still had herself and her classroom immaculately turned out despite the trying conditions.
A meeting with Headmaster Sao Lat didn’t allay my concerns. He was unclear what amenities would be in the new school, only that it would be bigger – two or three stories.
So in this case while progress is happening the improvement path is certainly not an easy one. I asked him what help might be required and he asked that we check in after the construction is completed later this year.
Having listened to him and looked at the construction site my main concerns are that additional facilities that HAB championed such as the water supply, toilet facilities and library may again be needed.
The other potential issue is that they will not factor in adequate drainage to ensure the teachers accommodation is not flooded in periods of high rainfall. Hopefully this will not be the case but I intend to check in later in the year to find out.
Next was the meeting with the local Cap Malaria Team also based in their own building in the Hospital grounds. It was clear that this team were very keen to seek our support to extend the Cycles for Cycles Project as all the senior members of the Program were there to meet us despite it being Saturday. Coincidently one of the gentleman involved in the meeting was the former Hospital Director Meas Maysak who I had met on two previous visits to the hospital. He has semi- retired and was now involved as a consultant to the Cap Malaria Project and was keen to meet with Soroptimist International once again.
We listened intently to their program details and why it too would be greatly beneficial for their VMW’s to receive bicycles to extend their reach and effectiveness just like the VMW’s in Oddor Mancheay.
We also visited one of the VMW supporting a nearby village to hear first-hand her feedback if we were to expand the Project into the Battambang Province. Here in Sampav Loun is intended to expand the role of the VMW into supporting the detection of HIV and TB. In order to support the work in this area we would need another 168 bicycles.
While we are yet to formally launch another project, if you or your club are interested in helping us provide these bicycles please contact me by email and I will get you involved in the next round of activities.
So a lot of ground covered in a short time and quite a few “homework” activities to maintain and progress from the great work that SISWP clubs have undertaken in recent years.
Kerry Beer - SI Melba
Email Kerry Beer