Cambodia

To have nothing, is not an excuse to do nothing.

There are many stories to tell from my time in Cambodia with Edukid and I intend to share them via here, on my Facebook and my Instagram. Some full of hope, some inspiring and some also full of sadness.
 
First off, I’d like to introduce you to the most empathic, selfless, driven, kind-hearted, gentle and caring woman I have met – Bonnie.
 

Watch Bonnie talk about her story here:

 

 
I had the privilege of meeting Bonnie on several occasions during our trip. What struck me immediately, was that consistently she was always putting others first. Whether that be fixing one of the groups broken flip flops, spending a bus journey making origami frogs for one of our younger members, sorting out a confused coffee shop order or cooking for us at the Homestay. It’s just instinctively and intuitively in her nature. No education or training can provide someone with these qualities. However, what education can do is enable someone to embrace those qualities and facilitate opportunities for them, to pay them forward on a much bigger scale. Bonnie had the tenacity to recognise this, when she decided at a young age that she wanted to study medicine. Her desire to study medicine was instigated after she witnessed a pregnant lady and her unborn child die – because they were unable to afford medical care.
 
However, as Bonnie conveys during the video – studying medicine was going to be fraught with barriers. Notwithstanding the cost, there was the fact her parents didn’t want her to have an education as they felt she’d be better off earning money collecting recycling, then marry a man and become a housewife – a fate already decided for many girls in Cambodia.
 
Fortunately, Edukid were able to find a sponsor for Bonnie to allow her to attend university and study medicine. Her sponsors were among the delegates on my trip and it was an honour to be there the moment that they met each other for the first time. Through their generosity, Bonnie will be finishing her medical studies in 2018 and she hopes to become a gynaecologist.
 
Of course, Bonnie has bigger dreams than “just” being a Gynaecologist. She has ambitions to also open a clinic in the slum areas of Phnom Penh. There she will offer free health care to those who are unable to afford it (all delivered around her “day job”). Already, still in training, she makes herself available 24/7 to anyone who needs medical care (often woken at 2 or 3am to see people).
 

A truly altruistic and magnaminous human being. Hopefully, through Edukid we could make her clinic a reality.

Please consider making a donation to Edukid – my Justgiving page will remain active indefinitely: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kistography

Other ways to donate: http://www.edukid.org.uk/donate/

Choum reap lear Cambodia

After an incredible 11 days in Cambodia, sadly, its now time for me to begin my journey back to the UK.

Our itinerary has been so jam packed that its been impossible to blog everything as it has happened, however when I’m back home I fully intend to share the stories, descibe the places we visited, explain the experiences we had and introduce you to the incredible people we have met along the way.

I have so many tales to tell and challenges I want to take on.

From hopelessness to hope.

So yesterday I arrived in Phnom Penh and met up with the Edukid delegates who I will be spending the rest of this week with. We enjoyed an evening meal together and did our introductions. The group comprises of children, teens and adults, from various walks of life, different areas of the Country, but all with the same goal – to try to promote and support the work Edukid does in Cambodia.

 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

“From hopelessness to hope.” This is how one of the Edukid delegates descibed our day, today here in Phnom Penh and I think this sums it up rather eloquently! Our day started with a visit to S21 Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide.

Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide.

Tuol Svay Pray High School sits on a dusty road on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge renamed the high school S-21 and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center. Of the 14,000 people known to have entered, only seven survived. Not only did the Khmer Rouge carefully transcribe the prisoners’ interrogations; they also carefully photographed the vast majority of the inmates and created an astonishing photographic archive. Each of the almost 6,000 S-21 portraits that have been recovered tells a story shock, resignation, confusion, defiance and horror. Although the most gruesome images to come out of Cambodia were those of the mass graves, the most haunting were the portraits taken by the Khmer Rouge at S-21. Today, S-21 Prison is known as the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. Inside the gates, it looks like any high school; five buildings face a grass courtyard with pull-up bars, green lawns and lawn-bowling pitches. The ground-floor classrooms in one building have been left to appear as they were in 1977. The spartan interrogation rooms are furnished with only a school desk-and-chair set that faces a steel bed frame with shackles at each end. On the far wall are the grisly photographs of bloated, decomposing bodies chained to bed frames with pools of wet blood underneath. These were the sights that greeted the two Vietnamese photojournalists who first discovered S-21 in January of 1979.”

It’s really hard to find words to truely articulate the experience of visiting S21. This was evident as we all gathered at the end of the tour for our Tuk Tuk ride back to the hotel – somewhat pensive, contemplative and reflective. I’m glad that I was in the situation where we visited this as a group, as it enabled us to share our thoughts and experiences on the journey back. We were all touched in different ways by the exhibits. For some it was the reality of standing within the confines of the cramped cells, for others it was seeing the faces of the victims depicted in the countless photos, for me it hit home when I spotted an English man had been caught up in the atrocities. John Dewhirst, aged just 26, was on a sailing trip with New Zealander Kerry Hamill, and ended up in Cambodian waters. Their boat was seized by a Khmer Rouge patrol vessel and they were brought to S21. The circumstances of their deaths are unclear. One thing is for sure, they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. About halfway through the audio tour I decided to stop listening as it all got a bit overwhelming. The physical reminders, visual images and paintings were over powering in their own right.

After the museum visit, over lunch we got to meet Care For Cambodia who work in partnership with Edukid. Here we were blessed to meet Srey Da who’s story you can watch here:

Srey Da – Edukid

Tomorrow we will be travelling to Srey Da’s village to see the difference she and Edukid have made in supporting the children to receive an education.

We had a small amount of time to browse the sensory layer cake that is the russian markets. Clothes, jewellery, watches, trinkets, motorbike forks, live crabs, a rainbow of fruit & veg…it’s all sold here! I didn’t buy anything here this time, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being there with others as they haggled and bartered for their goods.

Our day was rounded off nicely, when during late afternoon, we all piled into Tuk Tuks and headed off to meet with a group of University students that Edukid are supporting to study. They had organised for us to have a boat ride on the Mekong and they’d prepared a selection of local cuisine for us to eat, which included frog, Amok and fish egg soup! My daughter had challenged me to eat something unusual whilst in Cambodia, so this was the perfect opportunity! I decided to try frog and I’m pleased to say it was actually really tasty!

We had lots of opportunities to mingle and chat with the students. Their grasp of English, significantly better than my Khmer! Their commitment and dedication to their education is inspirational. When we visit the village tomorrow, we will get to meet a number of the students again, as remarkab they now volunteer as teachers in the village, selflessly paying forward their gift of education.

We had lots of fun when we were set the challenge of getting the funniest group photo. Here’s my groups efforts!

 

 

And here is all of us together:

All templed out!

So as mentioned in my previous post, temples are a must see if you’re in Cambodia doing the tourist thing.

Here’s a little overview of the temples from Tourism Cambodia

ANGKOR WAT was listed in World Wonder List

Angkor Wat, in its beauty and state of preservation, is unrivaled. Its mightiness and magnificence bespeak a pomp and a luxury surpassing that of a Pharaoh or a Shah Jahan, an impressiveness greater than that of the Pyramids, an artistic distinctiveness as fine as that of the Taj Mahal. Angkor Wat is located about six kilometers (four miles) north of Siem Reap, south of Angkor Thom. Entry and exit to Angkor Wat can only be access from its west gate

.

The entry pass is definitely good value ($62 for 3 days) if you make the most of it and see as many temples as possible…although, having said that its really easy to end up templed out as many of the temples end up looking the same. Ta Prohm is the temple I found the most intriguing as the walls have been over grown by trees in places and its fascinating how nature has taken hold. (Unfortunately I can’t share the pictures from there as I’m unable to get them off of the camera at the moment).

When you arrive at any of the temples be prepared to be hounded by sellers peddling their wares, persistently! They’re mostly adults but children as young as five or six hounded me, relentlessy trying to get me to buy their freshly cut mango & pineapple, postcards, magnets or guide books. Buying from children is a big no-no. It keeps them trapped in the poverty cycle, when actually the best solution for them would be to go to school and get an education (and not to work). It takes quite a lot of strength to resist their charming English pleas, but you must politely decline and walk on by.

Also in and around the Angkor Wat site it is very likely that you will see monkeys (Long-tailed Macque). They are a delight to watch but beware – they will go for humans, especially if they think you have food or water!

Shortly after taking the photo below, of the monkey admiring its reflection in the moped mirror, I turned around to photograph another monkey and felt a jolt on my back, I spun around and the monkey had jumped onto my backpack… Much to the amusement of three children looking on! Fortunately, it jumped off straight away but i definitely wouldn’t have wanted to get into battle with it!

You went to Wat?!

The main staple visitor attraction in Cambodia is the ancient temples, of which there are many, so it was pretty much a given that I’d include these in my itinerary.

The Angkor Archaeological park in the Siem Reap Province contains the most famous Khmer temples – Angkor Wat and Bayon.

I met Mr Thon (To-To) at the hotel reception at 9am and after getting me seated in the Tuk Tuk, he pulled a laminated map from the roof and talked me through the temples – explaining that travel to the main temple area was free as part of my hotel package, but if I wanted to explore further it would be $20. I was more than happy to stay within the main Angkor site. He then explained that there were three ticket options for the park – 1 day $37, 3 day $62 and 7 day $72. I decided to buy a 3 day ticket because I knew that I’ll be visiting again next week as part of my charity trip.

To-To’s English isn’t great (most definitely better than my Khmer though) but he was able to do some basic introductions and explained that he’s not originally from Siem Reap, but he’s moved here because of family and he has three sons. On the way, he would stop at significant spots and give me some tit bits of information such as at the end of the hotels unmade, pot-holed track he felt the need to apologise for its poor state. He’d probably seen me wobbling & bouncing along in the back and was concerned, but I was loving it.

A side note for the ladies here…if you ever feel the need to test whether you’re bra is supportive, then get in the back of a Tuk Tuk on the Cambodian road system and you’ll soon find out! A note to Victorias Secret… If you want an influencer to test & review your lingerie in this manner, then feel free to slide into my DM’s!

To-To stopped beside a newly built, grand, eastern looking building, close to the Angkor Wat ticket office, and explained that it was a newly built hotel. It was part of a chain, with another one in Phnom Penh and they were now extending it further, out the back. I felt that the building was actually quite vulgar in comparison to the other humble and modest buildings nearby… But I’m also aware that tourism is vital in increasing the wealth in this area. Incidentally, the Angkor Wat ticket office is built in a similar style and I was surprised by how grand it was – when I’d read about it previously, I’d envisaged a small, tin roof shed!

The ticket office is modern and very well organised, with separate queues for 1 day, 3 day and 7 day tickets. Each bay has a ‘greeter’ and someone in the kiosk. The greeter checks you’re in the right queue and then checks your nationality. What I wasn’t expecting was to have a mug shot taken! With my hair scraped back, no make up on and still deficient of sleep, the resulting photo would definitely not look out of place on Crimewatch….it actually makes my passport photo look half decent! You have to produce your ticket at every temple, so I was constantly reminded that I look like a suspect throughout the day!

After leaving the ticket office its quite a straightforward journey to Angkor Wat. To-To made one last stop at a road side cart and asked me if I knew what it was on the tray. Having read a bit about Cambodia before I came….and looking at the rather unappealing blobs in front of me, I guessed at snails. I was correct! To-To explained that these carts weren’t great as they had no cover over them, so the dirt and dust gets on them…DAYUM! And there was me hoping to indulge in a bag full!!

Coming up next: The temples and a backpack hitchhiker…

Sleep is over rated anyway!

By the time I arrived at my hotel (Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa) I hadn’t slept for 35 hours, so as you can imagine I was far from a fully functioning human! Even the exhilarating, white knuckle, tuk tuk ride in, hadn’t done much to wake me up. After doing my best to remain compos mentis whilst the receptionist talked me through check in, I headed straight to my room and grabbed two hours sleep.

One thing I had paid attention to when the receptionist briefed me, was that they offered a free community village tour which they run in the morning and afternoon. I decided to do the tour in the afternoon, after I’d slept.

I was met at hotel reception by my guide and also my Tuk Tuk driver ‘To-To’). It had rained during the afternoon and the tour took me through puddle filled, sodden dirt track roads, which weaved through the bustling local community. As we wobbled along in the Tuk Tuk, the guide explained about the people, houses, buildings and land as we passed them. We reached a track which appeared in good repair compared to the one we had just left, the guide told me that the community pays to keep it maintained. We headed out along this track which cuts through the flooded farm fields. Along the way we passed numerous groups of people chatting, cooking and fishing, until we reached the end of the track, where we stood and chatted for an hour, watching the sun set.

My guide (on the left in the photo) told me how he was lucky as he’d gone to live with a monk to get an education, which is where he learned to speak English and it had enabled him to be a tour guide. This allowed him to break the cycle of poverty he’d grown up in, in Phnom Penh.

He shared many stories with me as we stood chatting – my favourite and most touching being how, out of principle, he wouldn’t eat dog (although most of his friends do). He revealed that he had a pet dog when he was growing up, who he was very fond of. He returned from school one day to discover it had ran off, and as he searched for it for days he soon discovered it had probably ended up at the ‘dog market’… Since then he has refused to eat dog. He then told me a tale of how his friends tried to prank him into eating dog. When he left the table, they’d concealed dog meat below his chicken – but luckily he noticed. He said it made him so angry that he wanted to fight with them. It warmed me that, like me, my guide was in awe of the sunset (despite him living here, he didn’t take it for granted). As I snapped away with my camera he was happily snapping pics of it with his phone.

We dropped the guide back to the hotel and following his advice, I asked To-To to take me to the old market to get something to eat and I finished off by grabbing some pics of the wonderful illuminations.

I popped my long haul cherry!

First time long haul flight musings!

This is the first time I have ever flown long haul and it is proving to be an enlightening experience! As I write this, according to the techno wizardry on the screen in front of me, I have flown 2583 miles and I’m currently 37,000 feet above Chelyabinsk (wherever that is?), with 3100 miles left to travel.

1) For weeks I had been suffering ‘anxious, avoidant suitcase attachment disorder’. My mind chewing over what would happen to my precious little pink fella as I travelled between airports from Heathrow > Amsterdam > China > Cambodia. Well guess what…my cheeky little rectangular bag of possessions is making it’s own way there, shadowing me along the route, hopefully meeting me at my destination! How’s about that?!

2) I’m a tech geek kind of girl, so also causing me worry was charging up my various gadgets (the tablet I’m writing this on, my kindle and my iPhone). Well who’d have thunked that in this day and age planes would come equipped with USB charging points… Evidently, not me as Schipol Airport mugged me off £18 for a European power adapter plug!

3) With an 11 hour flight I figured the sensible thing to do, would be to get some sleep… I mean the airline kindly provides a wafer thin blanket, a dwarf size pillow, a scratchy eye mask, ever so slightly reclining chairs, a playlist of soothing and enchanting whale song, seats that only jus accommodate your average size 12 Westener… and luckily for me they also provided me with two adjacent passengers who were more than happy to hog the arm rests for the entire 11 hours! With such comfort afforded to me, I’m sure you can tell I was very appreciative of my two ten minute power naps!

On the subject of arm rests…what’s the deal, because in theatres, cinemas and on planes I always seem to dip out on that front? Answers on a postcard!

4) Nobody needs or should have to endure a hangry Kim. Conscious of avoiding this predicament and oblivious to the seemingly continual provision of free airline meals (having only ever flown budget airlines previously), at Schipol Airport, I decided to grab something to eat. I opted for some unidentified chickeny pizza. Little did I realise I’d get hot meals during each flight. We had two on the 11 hour stretch.

5) …On arrival at Schipol, I was very diligent and checked the departure boards to ensure they married up to the gate information printed on my ticket… ’07’. They did, so I settled myself down for the two hour wait beside ‘Departures 07′, at a charging point (with the aforementioned, gold plated(?), £18 power adapter), to charge my phone and make use of the free Wi-fi. Whilst guzzling down my UI chicken pizza, out of curiosity I thought I’d browse the Schipol Airport website to see what departure information they had for my flight. As I scrolled down, I was immediately perplexed to see that my flight was open for boarding. I looked across at gate 07 and the boards were showing a New York flight.

Confused, I thought I’d look at the airport map. To my horror, I quickly discovered that Schipol Airport was in fact EIGHT times bigger than I’d realised, with gates A through to H! D didn’t actually stand for departures after all! A quick scan of the map revealed I needed G07… Which was over the other frickin’ side of the airport! I hot footed it over there (as fast as one could without looking like a muppet who’d been sat at the wrong gate for the last two hours)! Punctuality is something I pride myself on and I still managed to make it to the (correct) gate with 20 minutes to spare! PHEW! That was a close shave.

6) on a final point….Note to self. China blocks every social media…so no Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp or Twitter for me!! I had to go all retro, old school and people watch there instead!

Going Solo

Anyone who has known me for a long time now, will probably agree that after years single, I have grown into a strong, determined, independent woman…however don’t let that fool you! The prospect of travelling abroad, across the other side of the world, solo, unleashes a contradictory and stomach churning spectrum of emotions. Whilst it’s definitely liberating, thrilling and exciting, I’m not going to deny, it’s also daunting, overwhelming and terrifying! I’m a firm believer in facing your fears, so taking this on is actually quite exhilarating! Looking forward to those butterflies in my stomach and what lies beyond them.

I have four days on my own, before joining up with the other delegates from Edukid. I fully intend to embrace the whole experience.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR LIES FREEDOM & HAPPINESS

Three days ’til lift off! Ten interesting Cambodia facts

I fly to Cambodia in three days so I thought I’d share a few facts about the Country to help you (and I) understand a bit about it’s history.

  1. More than two and a half million people in the country live on less than $1.20 per day.
  2. Cambodia has the largest population of amputees in the world caused by landmines. Over 64,000 casualties related to landmines have been recorded since 1979. Almost half of the landmines are yet to be removed. It’s estimated there are still 4 million landmines still to be cleared in Cambodia.
  3. Cambodia is one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia with an average growth rate of more than 6% in the last ten years.
  4. Cambodia’s flag is the only one in the world to feature a building, Angkor Wat.
  5. Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument, covering an area of 162.6 hectares.
  6. During the Khmer Rouge era, there was an entire generation of young Cambodians who were uneducated and illiterate due to the closure of all schools. Educated people and teachers were treated with suspicion or executed. After the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1978, only 5,000 of the 20,000 teachers across primary, secondary and university levels from 1970 remained alive. The education system was rebuilt from scratch, with the new system based loosely on the Vietnamese education system.
  7. The value of education is low amongst the general populace. The value of money rates more highly and so many children work instead of going to school.
  8. According to the Cambodia 2001 Child Labour Survey, sponsored by the ILO, it was estimated that there were about 1,516,363 children aged 5-14 who could be considered “working children” (44.8% of children in this age group). 
  9. Most Cambodians don’t celebrate their birthdays and many of the older ones don’t even know how old they are.
  10. Because of the genocide of the ‘70s up to 63% of Cambodia’s population is under thirty.

SOURCES:
https://www.lasallianfoundation.org/page.aspx?pid=354

https://www.geckosadventures.com/tales/facty-things-10-facts-cambodia/

 

58 Interesting Facts About Cambodia

10 interesting facts about Cambodia

Why Cambodia?

On the 18th October, I begin my journey to Cambodia and I thought it would be useful to explain what has led me to this point.

Back in July 2014 my daughter (Lois, aged 15) went on a trip with her school to Swaziland with an organisation called World Challenge, for which she had to raise £2200 for. I was incredibly envious, but proud and wish I’d had a similar opportunity whilst I was in school. Two years later, whilst at college, Lois was presented with the opportunity of travelling to Uganda with the charity Edukid. She jumped at the chance. Again, I reflected on what a wonderful opportunity it was and I did explore the possibility of me going too, but work commitments meant it wasn’t possible.

In 2017 I changed jobs and I heard that Edukid were arranging a trip to Cambodia in October 2017. I made contact with Chris who runs the charity and after meeting him I decided this was definitely something I wanted to do, so signed up that day.

Who are Edukid?

Edukid is a Christian UK registered charity that helps children living in poverty and conflict have an education.

In the territories we support Edukid avoids imposing ‘western ideals’ by partnering with local people and organisations, helping them to develop projects born out of their deeper cultural understanding of what is needed and likely to be effective.

Many of these local partners are themselves living in poverty so Edukid acts responsibly and ethically in the way it financially supports their efforts.

Many former students from our scholarship programmes are now ‘giving back’ by helping Edukid.
SOURCE: http://www.edukid.org.uk/about-us/

Having worked within education and with children for over 10 years, the work Edukid does is something I am really passionate about. One other thing that appealed to me about Edukid is the work that they do with schools in the UK. They run a National Schools Programme where they link children from their projects in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with schools in the UK. This enables the schools to build relationships with the children that they support.

Watch this video to see what Edukid does in Cambodia

 

 

Even though I’ve reached my individual fundraising target, you can still donate to my fundraising and the money will go directly to Edukid: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kistography

My first 4 days of travel will be independent, where I will get to explore some of the Country myself (based in Siem Reap), before joining up with the rest of the Edukid participants on Sunday 22nd October. 

Watch this space as I hope to post regular updates whilst I’m travelling.