Cambodia Visit Jan 2012

                                                                                                                                                View pics of Bob's trip

After my recent fact finding  trip to Cambodia  I would like to bring you up to date with the progress of our projects and hopefully give you a flavour of life in this beleaguered country.

After much preparation and efforts with help from Jenny & Myra at the Good Shepherd and the wonderful staff at the  primary school schools .   I conceded that after packing 160 pencil cases  320 finger puppets  plus an abundance of classroom posters, drawing paper  and teacher supplies along with 500 packets  of seeds - kindly donated by Stonehill Nursery – I didn’t  quite have enough space for the kitchen sink  ! . But I was taking items that we’d been asked for through months of discussions since Bernadette’s visit in August  had  highlighted the desperate situation  and needs of the people

I was travelling with the party of 11 from East Anglia led by Bob & Katie Maidment  . My brother-in-law Pete  was travelling with me so we could  bring a bit of  east lancs grit to the table.

We started from Heathrow and the journey to Phnom Penh took us a full day .We were met by Fr Greg at the airport and after my five years of DVDs  , photos and emails, it felt  wonderful to actually be there -.- I was living Action Cambodia Today.

After sleeping for what felt like 20 minutes we were up and out travelling through the chaotic traffic  along the colourful streets of Phnom Penh and into the harrowing experience that is the horrors of S21 - the school which was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and used as the torture chambers and death cells for  thousands of people during the Pol Pot regime only 33 years ago . Our guides who had been there many times, still looked visibly shaken as they talked us through the history ………Two of the survivors were there with information and books of their experiences which was good to see . Afterwards we were able  to reflect and gathered to pray for the victims and  also remembered Bishop Michael of East Anglia who died last year

Travelling through the country we visited many   educational and disabled    projects , we visited the Church on the floating villages and were well entertained by the 100 or so  children gathered for the rice soup programme. . We  were treated to a traditional Khmer dancing  concert at Bishop Kikes church. and  we sat in the homes of the  poor & elderly  which is a very very humbling experience.-  although they have next to nothing they seem to have an inner calm and acceptance of their lot which leaves a strong message when compared to our lives over here.

 Like most third world countries  there is no welfare state in Cambodia or health service and  you have to work in order to survive and if you are ill you must pay or go without medical attention -. What sets Cambodia apart is that they lost all their doctors and professional s  and so due to a distinct lack of trained volunteers and also the ignorance of basic hygiene and health matters things are pretty grim to say the least. we sat with Lean a young  36 year old  family man who had terminal bowel cancer, Lying in agony without painkillers – as they cost too much ……

                                                                                                        View pics of Bob's trip

 Another centre has a hostel for older boys & girls in their  final year at secondary school who all have  great ambitions and  aspire to go to university  - if they can find the sponsorship - a couple of really bright lads we met  want to be doctors but the fees are £750 a year so you wonder if they will ever get the opportunity - as its such a big commitment. -We will be hearing  from our five university students in the coming weeks.

At the church In Battambang we experienced a wonderful Sunday mass  mainly sung  in Khmer -which is a major  part of  the Jesuit mission - in  helping  them regain  their Cambodian  culture  - so  dancing  incense and flowers play a major part in the key focal points of the mass as much as singing does in ours .

The second week I met up again with Fr Greg for the  visit to our school .Whilst travelling  the  100km  to Siem Reap  we passed many children biking  their way to school ,we also saw some of the wonderful ingenious ways of transporting on the moped - one fellow had a row of 20 or so chickens suspended from a bamboo pole another  had 3 live pigs strapped on a harness oinking away ,trotters kicking  !.

 We  travelled along the dusty bouncy cratered road for the hour & half journey to Chompok So  .I talked with Srey Mom the JS  coordinator for  this area -which covers a dozen or so villages and schools –she works tirelessly and is everything to these rural villagers, organising the schools, social work and site agent for buildings , are just a few of  her many roles.She is helped by a Jesuit seminarian at the moment its Br Hoc who took the photos of the children you see at the back . We eventually arrived  at  the village and  we went into our school -The New Bonneys  and it was wonderful to meet and exchange greetings with  the children . Fr Greg explained that some of the older children being  just grade 3 or 4 at 17 years old  will get a very  poor chance of education. There was a wonderful interaction with the children  and  singing and clapping  as some Korean seminarians performed an akapela song which created a magical atmosphere.

Back at the Jesuit Centre afterwards we  decided it would be best if I  gave a presentation  explaining the benefits of all the resources I had brought so they could hand out  the pencil cases and puppets the following week   Fr Greg & Srey Mom did the translation.  The teachers asked if we could help with the extension  classroom to meet the requirement  for 6th grade ,and we  then went on to talk about the land and building costs,  this would be for construction next year as they are restricted to building from Feb – June  as when the rains come there is no access ,

We visited houses in the village that had been ravaged in last years monsoons. One was completely flattened and the villagers were trying to make a makeshift shelter for the family of nine -  another young family of 7 who are on a rice support programme are living with their ox right next to the sleeping area of their home which is just about standing . Fr Greg explained that  although there are several homes  urgently needed they only have one in the budget so as things are the family of seven would miss out - as the family of nine definitely wouldn’t survive the next rainy season. - I talked with the committee when I got back and it was decided that the money you have given could  fund this  extra house .

We discussed the home garden scheme which teaches them to nurture new crops,  . You will see in the photos   the children on their tidy up programme clearing up the rubbish – this is a new initiative and the villagers will receive tools and seeds to plant in exchange for bags of  rubbish. They  are mainly trying to grow corn to mix with the rice as staple diet .

They are so pleased in Chompok So that we are helping the community  in a holistic way  -.this is Fr Gregs idea to make this village a pilot project for sustainability,  we are reaching a more exciting phase  now with our charity as we get to know more closely the individuals we help.

Education remains  at the core of all our projects and there is a long way to go, but the ethos of the Jesuit mission is  slow and steady  and a way that is inclusive for all faiths- as such it is missionary work in its truest sense.


The other day I was asked if I could mention a great vocational job  opportunity that has come up at St Johns Catholic Church in Siem Reap - they are looking for a  farm manager in the wonderfully named Farm of Jesus this is a 2 year position for a strong hard working  over 25 year old with an  agricultural background please ask around-  a bursary would be available for a suitable applicant.

I hope I have brought you an insight into our charities work in Cambodia I would be interested to know if anyone would like to make the trip next year  it is a hard journey ,exhausting but very worthwhile >You will be inspired  by the joyful efforts  of the small Catholic communities  which balances  the  deep sadness etched in the heart of the people .

During  Lent I know that we are all torn between supporting our small charities and the bigger ones that now  have the matched funding , and I would  certainly recommend that we all do our best for Cafod    But please keep a few pence back for our friends in Cambodia.

 I have brought some handicrafts back –made at the disabled centre in Phnom Penh we are hoping to establish a regular trade with Fr Greg please have a look.The craft items are available to order  The KRAMA -scarves are available to buy today. 

I am  preparing  a summary of all our different projects  which  will be ready in a few weeks – hopefully in time for our next event the Michael Buble tribute night April 14th


Bob Turner