20 February, 2014

Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time at a place called Wat Opot there was a chicken.  This chicken was not satisfied with her nest in the chicken coop thus went about looking for the best place to lay an egg.

She pinpointed the Girls Dorm as a safe place and found a rather unusual spot right next to the hot water pot.

The problem with her newfound nest was the activity surrounding her.  As girls came and went she would cackle and crow and become distraught if all was not quiet.  Apparantly laying an egg requires quiet concentration. 

She then decided that next to the hot water pot was actually not so good, she may have found out that one of her potential offspring was abducted by Srey Nou as she strategically placed one of the eggs in the hot water pot, boiled it, and had herself a nice snack…I found this out after I prepared my instant coffee and to my confusion, saw bits of egg floating in it.

One day I came into my room and found my clothes all over the floor.  I knew I didn’t make that mess and first thought the cats had a go round in my cabinet…

but then I looked a bit closer.

I would randomly catch her in the act in her new nesting place leaving me a treat each afternoon.  This process went on for a few weeks.

But then she must have told her sisters because soon it was like an easter egg hunt most days and the sisters were not too particular where they laid their eggs!  They continued to use my clothes as their nesting place, but also Sokah’s bed…

The girl’s hair tie bowl…

But alas, all good things must come to an end and as we are closing down the current chicken project, Henny Penny, Clucky Lucky and Chicken Little have left our property and the girls dorm is once again only filled with females without feathers.

09 February, 2014

A visit from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

The University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong organizes student trips to Cambodia and Wat Opot has been one of their stops on their bi-annual trip for many years.  The children look forward to their arrival for weeks and because of the hands-on approach the university students have, an activity filled day is sure to please.

Some of the students have been here before, but for most it’s their first time at our home. The day usually starts with a couple of the kids hanging around the main gate listening intently for the unmistakable sound of a large bus rambling down the small dirt road that leads to our community.   A few shouts of “Lan Crome mou, Lan Crome mou” (bus come, bus come) sends the impatiently waiting populations screaming, shouting and running to the gate.

The first timers may be overwhelmed by the camaraderie, but there’s no stopping the kids!  Some construe the physical reactions of the kids to visitors (hugging, hanging on, jumping on, sitting on…etc.) as a severe lack of attention but I remember going to my sisters house and having her kids run to me and want to jump, play and roughhouse while hanging all over me.  My nieces and nephews were not starved for attention; they were kids happy to see their aunt.  They also knew I would give them a ‘new’ attention they don’t get every day.  When I left, they didn’t sulk back to their rooms waiting desperately for my return and some love, they went about their day happy and content.

That’s how it is with our kids, they get to hang on me and Wayne and whatever volunteers we may have every day, but when a bus load of young adults show up, they are ripe for the picking!  Wayne and I also don't have cool phones, cool camera and cool sun glasses but our visitors do! Plus, there are usually over 20 of them!  That’s like 1  and a half  children for every adult! 

This time, instead of the HK group coming directly to Wat Opot, we met at Phnom Tamao (like a zoo, but it’s an animal sanctuary).  We arrived first and as usual, while negotiating our supposed non-negotiable ‘free’ NGO status, the first of the ‘un-caged’ wildlife appeared.

Some brought along the youngest members of their family; just as we did.   Something else we share with our furry cousins…a real “No child, (er…monkey) left behind!”

Since the two rented large vans arrived at Wat Opot early, and the kids clamored aboard squealing with delight, we arrived at the Zoo earlier than planned.  The zoo is huge, and unless you have a bicycle or motorbike, you cannot see everything in one visit.  It’s overgrown and sometimes feels more like you are trekking through the jungle.  To get to the bus parking, you have to drive by many of the animals and once you get off the bus one has the normal tendency to continue to move forward. 

So that is what we did, walking directly to the play area, well, actually that's not an accurate description, for anyone thinking maybe our kids have changed -let me rephrase that.  It should read, "The children RAN FULL FORCE yelling with joy to...".  Yep, that's about how it went. The main focal point of the play area is this big Bear Tongue Slide!


Then I had this great idea (of course it was great, aren't all my ideas just that) to have the kids all hang on the, umm...hanging? bars -what are those things called??  It would be such a cool shot with their matching t-shirts!  With Sokah on my hip, I was having trouble getting some of the smaller kids hoisted up on them, so I called for Isabel’s help.  She was putting kids on the bars and then some would loose their grip before others were up, it was kind of like digging a hole while the sides are caving in.  She tried her best, but the last photo says it all – Isabel’s smiling look of defeat as we gave up on it. (this time…but the idea’s not forgotten!)

Spiders are our friends!  Or at least the large cement ones who produce rope webs are.  We also like the friendly cement tiger cubs.

After playing for a while, I realized that in all the email correspondence with the HKUST coordinator, we never planned a specific place to meet; and since there’s no “normal” concrete structure main entrance to the zoo, I didn’t know how we were going to meet up.  It was decided to walk back along the road towards the main entrance to intercept their bus, thus experiencing many animals along the way, which we had never had the pleasure to view; crocodiles, deer, the awesome otters, and an albino something getting groomed by a helpful friend.

All of a sudden the kids started yelling –what else could it be than the bus!  The students were given their usual "I haven't seen you in a million years" greeting as the unknown human attraction factor paired up kids with students.  It was a school day, so only the primary school students were allowed to take a day off from school; with 33 kids and 26 adults, everyone had a hand to hold!

And a lucky few had two!

The zoo trip was the first time we had organized to meet outside our home and it was definitely a big success!  After lunch, we boarded our respective vehicles both heading back to Wat Opot.  The kids rested as Wayne gave our visitors the infamous tour and then the students organized their craft project. 

One reason we love the students visit is that they don’t come with THEIR perceived idea of what WE need.  There is no "We Have Come Forth To Teach Yonder Children To Brush Their Teeth!"  Think about that for a second...I know there is this image of an 'orphanage' with poor dirty children, children who surely have never held a toothbrush and if they have seen such a thing, then surely no one has never ever taught them the proper way to use it!  Let us go forth and teach those orphans how to BRUSH. Dear children BRUSH, brush like there's no tomorrow!  BRUSH like you've never BRUSHED before!  Okay, little harsh?   Well how about I come to visit a friend or even a friend of a friend.  I arrive at your house with toothbrushes, and paste and declare that I will henceforth teach your children how to brush their teeth (because surely you and your spouse, their primary caregivers, have somehow neglected to do so).  How would you react?  Exactly.
Where was I...oh yeah, Hong Kong.  There is a healthy email communication taking place before hand.  Questions such as “what can we bring?”, “What do you need?”, are able to be answered; thus the items they gather at home and the items they purchase in Cambodia are exactly what we desire.  School clothes, backpacks, shampoo, soap, hair accessories and an abundance of good quality used (and new) clothing are a welcome sight.  We also welcome toothpaste, if needed directions are on the box.

Their shirts say it all!  The 'learn' part being my favorite.

Another reason we look forward to their visit is their preparation before they arrive.  The students had put together ‘zoo books’ for each child to have.  Under photo’s of animals on each page, there was a place for the child to write the Khmer word for that animal –a wonderful thoughtful idea!

Then came the awaited craft project.  I sucked in my breath when I walked in and saw these creepy beings staring emotionless at me and I starting having flashbacks from the last time the kids had masks!

But then the paints were brought out and I breathed a sigh of relief.

And in the end our children’s individualism (which we so strongly encourage!) shined through.

Then positive impact the HKUST students have on our kids is one thing, but the tears streaming down the faces of some of the university students as their bus pulls away is another.  One thing some students have shared (from the cards and letters they have written) is that their day with us has changed a part of them.  Seeing kids so vibrant, trusting and healthy after going through so much in their short lives makes the things you worry about seem kind of insignificant sometimes.  For some, it helps bring them back to the important things in life; things that can't be bought.  You know...little things like compassion, selflessness and what's the other one...oh yeah, love...

You can get all that from a day spent with us?  For some, yep you sure can!