Published: March 31st 2007March 31st 2007
This is a copy of a recent email (with a few minor edits) I sent to my friends at Intercambio de Comunidades in Boulder. AFTER reading my blog, you should check them out at www.intercambioweb.org - They are great people who are amazing at what they do.
*** I've been thinking about you guys and figured it was time to write and say hi....
So I left on my Southeast Asia adventure in mid-January with basically no plan. My one-way ticket said Bangkok, and that's pretty much all I knew. I didn't know where I would ultimately end up, but I did know I wanted to either teach English or volunteer in some capacity. I loved several places I passed through in both Thailand and Laos and a couple of times I considered staying put and looking for work. But something kept telling me, 'just wait for Cambodia' - so I did, and after about a month in Thailand and a couple of weeks in Laos, I arrived Cambodia and loved it immediately. I am now in Battambang, and I just started volunteering for an organization that works with HIV/AIDS patients and AIDS orphans. I'm teaching English
to the kids. Ãf you are interested, you can check it out at www.teanthor.com.
I have been traveling (and now sharing a house) with a girl I met from Switzerland, Jenny, for over a month now - We met in Thailand at a yoga/meditation retreat and she too was interested in finding somewhere to volunteer in Cambodia - we hit it off immediately and decided to head to Cambodia and look for work together. First we searched in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia - visited several orphanages but didn't find anything that felt right. Very often organization and orphanage directors put on a nice show to get donations/ foreign funds and then spend only a portion of the money on the kids or the cause. The rest goes to them or their families, etc. So we moved on, and after checking out a couple of other places here in Battambang, we found this organization - the director is a really special person who is completely humble and so truly caring - he lives extremely simply (he doesn't even have a house, he lives in the back room of the organization's office with his wife and baby) and is
quite progressive for Cambodia in terms of how he runs his organization. Although the website is fairly well developed, Tean Thor has very little money - It is halfway through a small 3 or 4 year grant from a German church organization - EECD. Its just been about two weeks, but so far its been great. Jenny and I are teaching together - the classroom is on the grounds of a Buddhist temple complex in a village about 15 minutes outside of Battambang - its an outdoor classroom covered only by corrugated aluminum roof - the kids sit on mats covering a dirt floor and the only teaching materials available are an old worn down chalkboard and a box full of chalk 'nubs' - Most of the kids, but not all, have their own small notebooks which they carry to school in plastic bags to protect from the rain. Also in the same bamboo building where we are teaching, the Tean Thor (which in Khmer language translates into 'Acts of Compassion') organization trains young women how to sew on old sewing machines - this is done in hopes to keep them out of the sex trade - the theory is
that if they can earn a couple of dollars a day to take care of their families by making clothes, they are more likely not to become prostitutes and not contract HIV/AIDS. Also in the building, there are a few rooms for AIDS patients to stay when they are feeling sick. The organization has a couple of 'social workers' who visit the patients in their villages - if any are too weak to care for themselves, they are invited to stay for a week or two in one of a few small rooms at the temple complex - not much, just a bed on a dirt floor - there is a man there who specializes in traditional medicines, which seem to help. Once they are feeling better, they are sent back to their villages...but often they are shunned from their families and other village members because of their disease. There is a complete lack of education here about AIDS and many see it as an embarrassment to be associated with an AIDS victim. So often they are left alone without anyone caring for them - essentially left to die alone. Its unthinkably sad. One of the things the organization Tean
Thor does is it trains monks about AIDS, so they can then go into villages and talk to people about the facts of the disease - mostly to preach compassion to those who are suffering. Anyway, everything is all still very new to me but I really like it here and plan to stay for a while. Jenny and I found a house to rent while we are volunteering. Its $50 / month. The kids we are teaching are great. Many are AIDS orphans, but I don't think they all are. Some are just extremely poor. But they all are eager to learn English and are so happy to see us everyday. I learned really quickly how different it is to teach kids whose native language is so completely different than English (as opposed to Spanish). And I don't speak a work of Khmer (maybe one or two), so its been a challenge. But we've been very creative and I can tell already we are effectively getting through to them.
I have a huge favor to ask you guys. We have hardly any materials to work with. The kids have no books and the resources for teachers are extremely
limited here - We just found a crappy picture dictionary, and bought it immediately. Otherwise we are making worksheets ourselves and photocopying them for our 80+ students. I just bought them all folders to keep the worksheets safe. Anyway, I know you have all (mostly Shawn) been working hard on creating your own materials. I don't know if they are published yet or not, but I was wondering if there is any possibility whatsoever of getting my hands on an electronic version of the low-level books. I don't know what your policy on this is, or how sensitive any copyright issues may be - but I can assure you that anything you can do in this regard would be so greatly appreciated and truly make a HUGE difference. I have spent lots of time on the various English teacher resource sites, but nothing compares to what you guys have.
OK, that's my story. I also started a blog (I haven't written much, just a couple of things) that you can check out if you are interested at: http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/Eri-number2/
Other than that, just want to say hi and that I miss you all - I've told Lee and Vicky
this before but I'll say it again. You guys are a truly special group and have created something amazingly wonderful - that's nothing you don't already know, but I figure its nice to hear from time to time. So keep it up! And if you have a chance, I'd love to hear what you're all up to.
Take care and a big hug to all of you! Lots of love...Andrew
(Thanks Vicky for the SIT recommendation - I was accepted but will defer for at least a year.)
There are more photos below