21 2 / 2012

The girls health classes have been going on since January. Heading into the classes, I had very high hopes and expectations— I envisioned classrooms full of warmth and understanding and trust as I explained all the minute details of puberty, clearing the fog that surrounds this time for every teenager, but especially these particular girls as they grow up in such a communication-conservative culture.

Well, the classes have been positive, but not necessarily as effective as I had hoped. The language barrier is bigger and fatter and more obtrusive than I had imagined. Trying to explain periods and breasts and hormones and cancer and examinations in English to students who just began the study of the language a year or two before… is nearly impossible. The details fall through the cracks and the larger picture is there, but they need the details, the full information.

To try to combat this, I’ve turned to finding a lot of resources in Khmer, including fact sheets and interactive CDROM’s. But these are incomplete, and mostly focusing on women’s pre- and post-natal health and care, not girls and going through puberty. I get all key words in a lesson translated into Khmer, I have their quizzes translated to and from English and Khmer with the help of Chhaylon, I try to act out what I am saying as much as possible, looking like a complete baffoon as I attempt to explain a tampon. But these efforts aren’t equaling effective and complete education on this subject, something that is important and basically the purpose of the class in the first place.

The solution? A real live Khmer-speaking health teacher. How to do this? We will collaborate with the Women’s Resource Center, a local NGO here in Siem Reap that provides health care and vocational training, among other services, to women and girls. By linking up with them, we can have them come to our school to lecture for our girls, and also their mothers. The center would also be able to provide services to the mothers of our students outside of health education. In return, for WRC to also benefit, we will start to provide community English and computer classes for women from the center to join, as well as parents of TGC, and finally, members of the community who apply and are of ample need and ability. New fellows, this is where you come in— this will end up being your baby next year that we pass off in May.

Thus some big things are happening for TGC, blossoming from this simple need for a better health teacher. We’re going to be opening up our walls to the community and branching out, expanding outwards instead of just up.

On the agenda? The first weekend of March, Chanthy (the project coordinator) and I will hold a seminar for parents. Chanthy will lecture on anger management as I coordinate a health crash-course using the CDROM’s.

The lesson? Small problems sometimes equate to big, awesome changes.

Stay tuned as we get this off the ground and establish our union with the resource center.

29 1 / 2012

soccer soccer soccer OI OI OI!!!!!!!

24 1 / 2012

Today I ran into a car.The car didn’t do the wrong here, as they usually do, bounding down the road at full speed without fear of running into people, since here cars are at the top of the food chain and everyone else needs to make way.

And no, thankfully I did not hit a moving car, for that would be dangerous.

I hit a parked car on the side of the road, with the poor driver still inside.

I’ve had minor fender benders before, getting hit by a moto once (not serious, just theatrical) and running into a turning moto once (their fault).

This time it really was my fault. Before the collision I was happily crossing Wat Bo road and following street 26 towards TGC. The road begins with mild turbulance, as the flood damages still haven’t been repaired (weathering has softens the bumps a bit, but not much). Normally I ride these bumps fine and without much trouble.

But today my mind was elsewhere as I listened to Party Rock Anthem, sipping fresh pressed sugar cane juice in the immense heat, feeling the wind in my helmet (ha).

Feeling good, I took one hand off of the handlebars (I am normally capable of such a feat) while simultaneously taking a sip of juice and attempting to change to a Birtney song just as I hit a big pot hole and…

It all happened fast as I went over into the car, the wheel sliding across the front bumper and me keeling over onto the hood, my blood pumping fast.

The driver got out to look at the damage, which was nothing, besides a tiny scrape across the front. I looked at my leg, which was fine except for a few tiny scrapes. The drivers face softened as I watched another man approach to look at the damage, meanwhile I am apologizing profusely. Fears quickly raced through my head that they will demand a large sum of money I do not have, because of my barang (foreigner) status and white skin (= $$$), something I had heard will happen if you get into an accident here.

But his face softened even more, exclaiming, “it’s ok,” and waved me off. I kept apologizing profusely SOHM DOH, excuse me, SO SORRY, in a fusion of English and Khmer, and he repeated himself, waving me off, until I shakily hopped back on my bike, back on my original path towards school.

Riding away, I shakily laughed out of embarrassment and relief that what had happened wasn’t worse. I retracted and thought, I should have given him some money… but had only 500 Riel (12.5 cents) in my pocket.

After the after-shock faded, I had a slight sense of embarrassment, for next time, I should give them the benefit of the doubt. Khmer people are friendly and more often than not, actually do want to help you, contrary to the few bad stories that circulate throughout the ex-pat circles.

And after all, I was the blumbering barang riding one-handed along the pot-holiest of pot holled roads, attempting to drink and change the song at the same time.

20 1 / 2012

Minerva Fellows Mark O’Shea and Brenny Kinnane are working tirelessly to get water to the clinic in Ddegeya, Ugana, which could ignite the expansion of the clinic to include a maternity ward, as well as provide the village with better access to fresh water, spurring further growth.

DONATE HERE! They’re trying to raise $3500 by mid February!

Here’s what Brenny has to say about it: “The first goal of the water project is to provide an endless supply of water for EHC so that its staff and residents would never need to fetch water, or pay to have water fetched, down at the borehole ever again. There are four buildings on Engeye’s compound and only one of them is currently harvesting rainwater. By placing gutters on the additional three roofs available EHC would capture nearly quadruple the amount of rainwater it currently can. And rather than purchasing more plastic cisterns to store this water, it would be more efficient to collect all the water in one place, a massive belowground tank. Having observed such a tank at a nearby NGO and discussed the design with the engineer who oversaw its construction, it seemed prudent to mimic the structure in our project. The fifty thousand-liter tank would increase water storage capacity more than six times the present capacity and thereby effectively assure that EHC never experiences a dry season again...”

If you would like to learn more, here’s Brenny’s post about the water project.

15 1 / 2012

24 12 / 2011

(yes that is me)

23 12 / 2011

Lida & Ella. So magical.

22 12 / 2011

The following took place over the course of a full school day, because communication in Cambodia always takes some time.

It began one morning in the teacher’s room, the air conditioning on far to low, everyone sitting quietly and stoically at their respective places.

I broke the silence with, “Sopha, my mom and sister are visiting soon, what would you like them to bring for you?”

Sopha sat next to me at his desk and shuffled in his seat uncomfortably after the question. Hem hem, clearing his throat, “Oh, well, do you mean a gift for TGC, or do you mean a gift for the person? uncomfortable laugh Because for TGC there is a wishlist.”

"No no Sopha, I mean a gift for YOU, and for each teacher. A personal, fun gift."

With that his eyes got big and he held his big tummy and smiled wide out of embarassment. “Oooooooiiiiiiiiii for ME???” He squinted his eyes, his smile a half-moon. He shook his head. “I could not know such things.” And after much prodding, he confessed, “In my culture we do not tell the giver what we want, normally we tell all our friends and hope the giver knows to ask them.”

Three hours later…

Packing myself up for the day and readying to leave school, Sopha interrupted the process in his usual fashion:

Hem hem (smile)

I looked up. “Yes, Sopha?”

"(high pitched) So, Eliza, I am wondering. If a friend asks a question, do you answer yes or no, truth or no? If your friend asked another friend to say one thing, would you want the friend who is to answer to speak the truth or to not say anything? Yes or no? Because maybe the friend does not want to embarrass you or himself. Yes or no?

Lost in the hypotheticals, I replied “…………….yes?”

He wiggled, looking down at his desk, “Really? Are you ready for this?” And then he exploded, straining his eyes as if it pained him to speak and he had to push it out all at once, “Oh your culture, WOOOO (motioning his hand over his head) so much I do not understand!!!! (so glad it’s mutual) So when you ask me before, what I want from your mother and your sister, I am so embarrassed I do not know what to say. But if you are asking…. and this is ok with you…”

"Yes Sopha, that is why I asked."

He smiles. “Oooooookayyyy!”

And he proceeds to explain in great detail while still being incredibly vague that he would like something to play his English listening exercises, something to use in private, assuming with headphones. And then he apologizes profusely for his honesty and hopes it does not offend me. 

Mom, are you listening? =) 

20 12 / 2011

…. =)

20 12 / 2011

spreading christmas cheer means singing loud for all (even the neighbors) to hear