Life here is simple. It surely can be difficult and a spiritual full court press. It can be appealing. It can keep you reeled in like a Marlin to a fisherman or vice versa. You’re not sure what it is, but it can penetrate your soul without remnants of a single pierce. It can sometimes burn you physically and mentally. Life here is all the above, then some … full of contradiction and gray crooked lines … Life’s lessons. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Causation of reflections after six weeks in rural Cambodia is inevitable and so are pictures. Enjoy my Picassa Web album, which is linked (click on the picture) to this splendid sunset in Takeo Province.
The last two weeks have been busy (Sustainable Agriculture Community Training and Environmental and Teen Leadership Day) and HOT!!!! Did I mention it was HOTTTT!!!???? Even generational rural Khmer find it difficult to stay out in the beating sun on a Friday afternoon training!
Such is life during this time of year, which is relatively the HHHOTTTTest and driest of the season! Nevertheless, we carried on training the targeted HIV/AIDS and impoverished adult community as well as 8 WOCC youth on 3/29/2013.
The Sustainable Agriculture training was planned, organized and executed by me, taught by CEDAC, targeted beneficiaries courtesy of Partners in Compassion aka Wat Opot Children’s Communtiy, and funded by … YOU! This was a multilateral partnership necessary to bolster this community. Thank you everyone!
2nd Sustainable Agriculture Training (3/29/2013)
This second installment was successful. We built upon the training conducted one year ago, which included composting, raised beds, circle gardens and liquid compost.
21 of 30 expected beneficiaries returned from last year; Khmer New Years is coming up and some didn’t attend because of last minute in-country travel obligations. Hence, we had room to squeeze in 8 WOCC teens to participate in the day. Though 21 to 30 seems to have little coverage; remember, these beneficiaries are currently volunteer teachers/educators representing over 20 villages. Thus, the coverage expands to well over 200 people already served by these volunteers via an already existing health program. The idea is to give these leaders an additional module (sustainable agriculture) in hopes they will spread their refined agriculture techniques to peers within their community. This is the basis of our community development model for those of you new to this blog.
The following was covered during the training:
Finding life takes persistence and cultivation sprinkled with a genuine organic fertilizer (literally and metaphorically) … Agriculturally, prepping the beds properly and composting so we may cultivate and optimally grow plants vibrant and full of life. WOCC youth, prepping the youth dance teams, working with and engaging them properly everyday so we may cultivate and optimize growth in their confidence, skills, and smiles; vibrant and full of life …
WOCC 4th Dance Competition
We just had the dance competition Saturday night! I’m proud to report the kids worked diligently every night this past week - that is, as diligent as kids can be :) - and were elated and fully engaged in a joyous occasion. We had 8 teams formed, which was a record number ranging from 2 to 3 per team. I saw tremendous improvement in style, confidence, smiles/esprit de corps, musicality, and variety (only 2 Korean Pop songs this year! - “Thank goodness!”) compared to a year ago. However, there still remained a slight struggle in working together as a team such as the way they communicated to each other during practice; nevertheless, they all improved and progressed well. They made us all proud.
The videos and pix from the night will be put up during the next post because the the nature of the large files; ~ Wednesday.
The adjustment from last year is we will not only give monetary prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, but, also, will recognize the remaining groups and individuals with superlatives via Certificate Awards so they don’t feel left out, thus, recognized amongst their peers for their efforts. For example, “Most Talented”, “Best Entertainer”, “Best Dressed”, “Best Headstand”, or “Most Improved”, among others. We will conduct an awards ceremony this coming Tuesday.
In addition, we gave non-packaged, healthy, freshly chilled banana and watermelon fruit skewers as snacks to all participants for both the individual and team competitions.
As discussed in a prior post, since I last left the WOCC gardener with the help of WOCCs children and stakeholders had at least been making and utilizing composting as well as staggering rows to optimize root growth of crops they’ve grown. The gardens have supplied the community with home-grown veggies (beans/string beans and lettuce/cabbage) as well as bustling banana and papaya fruit. However, it is still not enough to supply the entire 100+ person WOCC with food. We still must improve their techniques to at least supplement food costs significantly.
In addition, two of the boys (Somnang I and Thear) used the compost and planted some type of gourd (phonetically in Khmer - “Clough”). It is typically pan fried when harvested small and put in soups when allowed to grow big as illustrated below. They were very proud as we recognized them for feeding everyone for at least one day after evening meditation!
We harvested the first batch of open air compost piles started by WOCC’s gardener, Mr. Po, about 2 months ago. These three piles yielded about 150 kilos of compost, which is almost enough to build the soil for i) a raised bed, ii) one circle garden, iii) adjacent flower bed (attracting pollinators), and iv) primary nursery. The two covered compost piles will be finished soon and will provide the remaining compost for the second circle garden.
Regarding the primary nursery, we are nursing two kinds of cucumbers, bottle gourds, and bonanza loofah gourds (similar to a squash). Currently, the seedlings have sprouted within 6 days; cross your fingers that nothing happens to these sensitive seedlings. We will select a handful of those seedlings which look strong and hardy (similar to picking good breeds lowering the risk of disease and susceptibility to some pests) and transfer those seedlings to the raised bed after about 14 days.
The remaining vegetables (carrots, Thai basil, and four different kinds of cowpeas) will be planted directly in either the raised bed or circle garden(s), as there is no need to nurse. We are currently constructing a shade cover for each bed, hence, minimizing evapotranspiration (water loss) from plant and soil surfaces. A green netting commonly utilized by Khmer will suffice for now until the banana trees - maybe other trees - become mature. Shading is especially needed during the upcoming hot month of April.
Lastly, the compost tea is finished. It is currently steeping and will be ready in another week, which is great timing for show-and-tell during the upcoming Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security training.
Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Training (Community Training)
The community training is scheduled for 1-day, next Friday March 29, 2013. We are still trying to finalize the curriculum. See This Link for the draft curriculum created by myself and CEDAC. We will be enhancing their seasonal and raised bed techniques and show them how to make “Bio-Char” (a high organic carbon made from slowly heating dead plant materials such as rice husks). The training should cost about $350 (CEDAC trainer, food, transport for 30 participants, materials), which is just $35 under the projected budget (see the following link for up-to-date Financials/Expenses). I may purchase reusable plastic bottles for the attendees to refill with water provided from a large jug, which will also serve to cut down on the need for disposable cups - always got to think “green”.
Lastly, we drafted and finalized the monitoring & survey forms (see the following link to the Bi-monthly, Monthly and Post-training Monitoring & Surveys). The first survey will be distributed immediately after the training this coming Friday.
Environment & Teen Leadership Day (ETLD)
We anticipate the ETLD to be held on either Friday, 4/12/13, or Saturday, 4/13/13. In discussing the curriculum with Dara, Wayne and Melinda we modified curriculum. We will be giving scenarios to act out, which the youth encounter everyday for each group. We will discuss feelings after each brief performance. Lastly, we had to eliminate one activity due to time constraints, but most curriculum stayed intact (see the following link for the Up-to-Date Draft Curriculum).
Stay tuned for the next posting which will be of the Dance Competition …
Returning to Wat Opot Children’s Community (WOCC) and this rural village is truly a blessing. The simple life often gives me a breathe of fresh air. Children playing, birds chirping, pigs oinking, exotic and fragrant flowers, sugar cane, papaya, and banana trees flourishing, and bright sun light waking me up in the morning is refreshing. However, being out here for a long period of time will likely make me start to crave something a little faster. That means you San Francisco/Bay Area!!!!
Wayne and Melinda are some of the two most dedicated and humble human beings I’ve had the privilege to know. Raising over 50 at-risk, nonetheless beautiful, youth and supporting over 25 adults day-to-day, while looking to always extend aid to some of the most impoverished families in Takeo, Cambodia. It truly amazes me! My value is to support and bolster their efforts because it is very difficult to do it on their own.
Enough with the cuteness! :) The following is a discussion of the three programs (WOCC Gardens/Sustainable Agriculture & Food Security Training, Environmental & Teen Leadership Day, and Dance Competitions) I wish to execute for this project.
The Wat Opot Garden
Since v1.0, the WOCC gardener (Mr. Po) has adopted some of the techniques he learned in 2011 and 2012. He started utilizing and understanding the value of compost and utilizing resources available to create the material, especially, when crops started growing better. He heard I was coming approximately 1 month ago and proceeded to build three open air compost piles!!!! In addition, he staggered the bok choy (Spy in Khmer) rows to optimize root growth … fantastic, but there is much more he could could still do to increase food production for WOCC.
I started working with the youth on-site to build two covered compost piles (food scraps, cow,chicken & pig manure, water hyacinth, dry brown leaves, ashes, sticks, paper) and two raised beds.
First, the covered compost piles will speed up the composting process (~2-3 weeks), but is more high maintenance via needs turning every two days. Open air takes ~ 2 months with only one turn necessary.
Secondly, we anticipate planting two types of cucumber, two types of gourds and two types of basil in the raised beds. The planting will occur during March and growth during April which is the driest and hottest time of the year. This is rare as most Khmer believe you can’t grow anything during this time, but with the adoption of the techniques (compost, raised bed, shaded protection, and daily watering) we hope to show it is possible with some diligence. The day can be exasperating not only because of the heat, but, also, because the soil is a hard and thick clay. It’s like breaking through cement with a hoe! Lastly, the banana trees from v1.0 have “babies” growing from the roots. We will separate these and re-plant near the location of the two raised beds so we may increase natural shade for the beds and compost piles.
Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Training
To share the knowledge beyond WOCC’s property, we conducted a training during v1.0 for 29 village leader volunteers whom themselves live with HIV/AIDS and/or poverty. We will be conducting another training for v2.0, which builds upon the first training. I met with our sustainable ag. training partner in Phnom Penh, CEDAC, whom will be conducting the training. We developed curriculum which aims to 1) refresh raised bed and composting techniques taught during v1.0, 2) add cycle gardening and/or seed saving techniques, 3) train how to become an effective farmer-to-farmer trainer, and 4) learn how they may disseminate knowledge via forming farmer collectives/co-ops.
This all sounds good, but the ultimate question is how do we ensure people are following through with this valuable knowledge given and ensure donors’ support is not going to waste? Answer, Wat Opot and myself devised a monitoring plan. First, we would have existing Khmer staff ask several questions in addition to their weekly monitoring performed for another existing program. Secondly, Wayne and/or Melinda volunteered to follow-up with a site visit and evaluation complete with pictures. This will likely be performed monthly, or, every other month on a handful of the 29 beneficiaries (aka: a random audit) to assess progress and need. Finally, a very brief report will be submitted to me via email. Currently, I am working with all stakeholders to develop an effective and efficient questionnaire.
Environmental & Teen Leadership Day (ETLD)
I spoke with Wayne and Melinda to receive their feedback for the ETLD curriculum I drafted. Additionally, I just met with WOCC’s talented and wonderful psychologist/sociologist (Dara) to further the curriculum. We have yet to decide a date, but it will likely occur early April. Click the following link to see the Draft Curriculum (not yet updated with feedback). The suggestions included imparting lessons about accountability, conflict resolution, and communication via having each teen led group to act out/dramatize scenarios, subsequently, discussing issues they may encounter daily and how they feel. I will work this into the curriculum. Lastly, we hope to get some of the teens/youth from the village to attend this time around.
I am getting old! The first day I arrived I danced with the kids, but my moves were a bit rusty and break-dancing made me sore. I needed a good yoga session thereafter. The kids were great, but they looked at me with subtle consternation wondering if this was the same Brian from last year! But, don’t worry I’ll get back in shape soon.
The children were very much into the “Gagnam Style” song and dance … Go figure!!! I had to break this regressive trend with a brief and simple routine. I found a Black Eyed Peas song and taught a count of 8 routine for the youth.
Stay tuned for the next posting on DANCING with the children … In essence, I am elated to be back! See the Following Link for the Updated Financials/Expenses.
I am here in Phnom Penh! Off and running! The day after I arrived, I met with our partners, CEDAC, to develop curriculum for a 1 day training. Due to additional donations, we may have enough to conduct a two day rather than one day training, which may give our target beneficiaries additional techniques! I haven’t dove into the Details of the Budget, but, another day of training essentially doubles the costs. We’ll decide whether to carry out a two day training after re-assessing the budget and verifying the availability of the trainees.
The weather here is comfortably hot and humid, but, the heat will likely ramp up come April; causing much discomfort. Nevertheless, Phnom Penh is as beautiful and bustling as I remembered.
I find most Khmer people endemically kind; though, to an outsider, their history doesn’t quite scream altruism. But, deep inside I feel there is this drive to be a part of the world and to do it with grace and beautiful smiles.
The smells of fragrant Frangipani trees and vibrant Bougainvillea line the streets.
Fresh young Coconut, Mango, Mangosteen, Rambutan, Passion Fruit and other tasty and exotic fruits salvage otherwise pungent and crowded markets
The food is traditional, but because of the presence of many ex-pats, the food is also eclectic- unfortunately including fast food - and tasty while being affordable. If you haven’t been to Cambodia, you’re missing out!
I get around Phnom Penh via bicycle by day and moto-bike/tuk-tuk during the evening. I love biking the streets of Phnom Penh; best described as “a trip” and an appreciative sensory overload.
This Sunday I will head to rural Cambodia, two hours south of Phnom Penh, to Wat Opot (Samrouch He Village, Chumbok Commune, Bathi District, Takeo Province). Here, I will launch the v2.0 project via three programs as highlighted earlier (Sustainable Ag. & Food Security Training, Environmental & Teen Leadership Day, Dance Competition). In addition, I will be working to develop and maintain WOCC’s organic garden & demonstration plot started in 2011 as well as dance with the kids daily!!!
Changing the Course - Pints for Poverty: Elixir SaloonGuest Bartender Charity -
A night of friends, networking, conversation and fun … all for a good cause.
Thank you for the support, encouragement, and positive energy everyone! :)