Dear friends and partners,
It is a difficult year in Cambodia. Like many areas in the region, Cambodia suffered from a drought – a drought that left families struggling to produce a rice crop to meet their yearly food needs – a drought that left 3 million Cambodians migrating to Thailand and urban centers for work.
In one small corner of Cambodia – Kampot/Kep it also suffered from drought but this area had a secret weapon against drought – they had a dam. In early October this dam was opened and the area went under flood. Initially the flood was severe and families were moved into safety but tragedy was avoided as the rains did not fall as normal.
In a tiny Village of Ongkrang Raech we were building a school – a school that we hoped would be finished for the new school year in end of October. But the flood water was waist high and this slowed down the process.
Yesterday I visited the school – what a delight I was to see children in the classroom, teachers busy teaching, chiefs waiting in line to say thank you. This surprised me as we had told no one that we were coming until 15 minutes before arrival.
What made this visit so special was that the school still needed another coat of paint – it wasn’t completely finished -yet the children were in class! Of the 321 students – 234 had never gone to school – they had never learned the basics of reading or math. The remaining 87 students had gone to the nearest school 10 kilometers away – too far for daily attendance – too far to be consistent.
The students could not wait another day – they could not wait for the paint to dry or the grounds to be completed – they wanted to learn and they wanted to learn now. Teachers, textbooks – everything was there. As adults we were loathe to start something that wasn’t completed – as children the desire to learn over rode all our objections – and the school has started.
What was different was that the lessons did not stop on my arrival – the teachers were delighted to see us but hey, it was the middle of a lesson! It was the smiles and the eagerness – there was no shyness. The students who had never attended school did not yet have uniforms but that was okay. This would come.
The chiefs came and presented us with a thank you letter – they were a bit ashamed as it was not framed – yet they wanted us to know how very grateful they were for the new school. It was a magical hour in a time when Cambodia is struggling with so many sorrows again.
Once again I was reminded that I live a life of privilege – for me attending school was never an issue, floods and droughts never affected my ability to eat – I have never felt such a strong desire as a child to stand up to adults and go against their authority to go to school. I am humbled by the struggle to live, by the struggle to survive against all odds. I am in awe of the strength of the human spirit – that never gives up despite adversity.
The children gave me a gift – they gave me the gift of life – the expectancy, the dreams, the visions of lives that have great potential, of lives that can still see the good in the midst of the hurt. I thank my God for that privilege; I thank my God for all of you who have made this happen. How good that is!