Be the Change Network

aka "Kari's Blog"

Archive for October, 2011

Return to Cambodia

October 10, 2011 By: karig2 Category: General No Comments →

By Paul Chuk

Kong and I are now back in Cambodia after being in the U.S. for almost two months.  It was a very productive trip.  I do feel that we have a better understanding of how both teams (Cambodia and U.S) work.  We have accomplished so much in a short period of time.  While we were together in Colorado, we participated in a variety of important activities: board meetings, a “Cambodian night” mixer,  training sessions, sharing our work at a donor appreciation dinner, a TED speech in Denver, learning about aquaponics, observation of a local IB classroom, and learning how to use Quickbooks software.

Besides all the new work-related knowledge, the personal highlight of my trip was probably the surprise party in Florida that my family and friends had for welcoming me home.  My other favorite moment was the Breckenridge trip that Kari and George took us on, walking an hour on the trail up to the mountain.  The view of all the surroundings was awesome.  I saw snow for the first time!

I have to say that as time went by and we still had several more days in the U.S. before our return to Cambodia, I began to miss Chrauk Tiek, where I have been working and living for the past two and a half years. I started to miss my work, my little room where I sleep, the people that I became close to, the teachers, the students and all of my plants and flowers that we have been tending so carefully to beautify our schools.  I missed the simple way of life that I have become accustomed to. Although I don’t miss the mosquitoes and the hot weather, I did miss eating my dinner with the teachers and their siblings, sitting on a straw mat laid over the grassy lawn near the kitchen when there was still a little daylight before sunset.

Despite the pleasant living arrangements at George and Kari’s house (the comfortable mattress, the large grocery store nearby, clean running water and a hot shower, the refrigerator and the washing machine, the good food and drinks at the restaurants, the paved roads and car available), believe it or not, I still favor Cambodia over the U.S., especially the small and remote town where I work: Chrauk Tiek.  No wonder some people think that I am out of my mind.

Often during my stay in the U.S. I wondered how much of the teacher housing project in Chrauk Tiek was getting done, how many sixth graders will move on to seventh grade, how our scholarship students were doing.  There have been all these ideas in my head, and I envision our schools in the future, especially at Sre Chrap and Buntey Pranak, which we have newer relationships with.

I am anxious to get all the teachers of the three schools to start the school year with a new enthusiastic attitude.  I can’t wait to share new ideas and teaching techniques that the teachers at Dunn Elementary School in Fort Collins have shared with us.  Our schools are really lacking in comparison with Dun, which has everything: printing paper stacked up to the ceiling, school supplies, a huge lunch room, computers and all the school equipment available to teachers and students.  When I saw how plentiful their environment is, my heart went out to our poor students in our villages, thinking that if they were given the same opportunity to go to this school with passionate teachers, good curriculum, and all the volunteers to help out, they too could do well in school.

After seeing that amazing school, I feel that we have almost nothing to work with.  Yet, I do have hope that little by little, through our determination and the involvement from sources all around, SSI will archive its goal.  I am more determined than ever to improve and inspire everyone that I come across and work with, especially the parents, the principals, the teachers and the students.  I want them to do more to improve their schools and to become a better part of our program.

I want to express my personal thanks to George and Kari Grossman for making our trip possible and for the warm welcome they showed Kong and me.  The hospitality, the care, the consideration and all the kindness from them made us feel like we are part of their family.  I also want to say thanks to every board member, all the donors, the volunteers and everyone at the tea shop for being so nice to us, allowing us to share our work experience and getting to know them.  Thanks to Rick and Susie for having us in your wonderful home and showing us around.  We loved the breath-taking view of the mountain from their home.  Thank you, Bob and Elly, for the short visit at your lovely home and your interest in supporting us.  Thanks to Andy, another board member, for having such a strong desire to do more and accelerate SSI’s progress.  Mona, I thank you for letting us use your large kitchen to prepare Cambodian food for our donors.

While I stayed with George and Kari, I witnessed their hectic daily activities.  I saw that they struggle to balance between caring for two kids, running the tea shop, and doing the work to keep SSI functioning.  They don’t seem to have much time for themselves.  While trying to keep everything going, Kari and George got up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for everyone in the family, including us, took the kids to school, rushed to the shop, and divided their time to pick up the kids and return home to cook dinner.  I can’t imagine how George could possibly take care of his two young children and also run the tea shop every time Kari makes her trip to Cambodia.  I give them both so much credit.

Please continue to support SSI so we can do our work to improve all three schools and give poor children in these communities a chance to have good schools and be happy in their own town.  I appreciate everyone who wants to do something to support our program, especially the students who raise money in their own schools to help us purchase playground equipment for Sre Chrap Elementary.  Best of luck to Peter, Maya and everyone who gets involved in the fundraising!  I look forward to seeing those of you who plan to visit Cambodia.


My Experience in America

October 05, 2011 By: karig2 Category: General No Comments →

by Sem Kong

I am first scholarship student supported by Sustainable School International and also first generation in my village to graduate from the university to have job training and improve my

Kong, Paul and Kari atop the mountain

English skills in the USA. My family are poor farmers. We have eight members live in Chrauk Tiek village and my young sister and brother had to drop out of school because the hardship in family couldn’t support me. They had to help my parents to find job to get some income to support me.

On the 03th of August 2011, I left from Phou Chen Tong Airport to USA with Paul who is Country Director for SSI.  To accompany me, my mother, grandmother, sister, brother, uncle, and brother-in-law came to meet me at Phnom Penh and they took me to Phou Chen Tong Airport.  They were very happy and wished me success.

From Phnom Penh to USA, I had to fly for more than 16 hours on the airplane with Paul. When the airplane took off, I was very, very scared because this my first time that I took it.  We had a mistake with filing form so when I landed at LA’s airport, police officer checked my form out.  It was wrong with my passport’s address and they didn’t believe me.  They took Paul and me to their office for one hour and half to check it again.  I was very scared with this situation because they separated Paul and me far away from each other.  They asked me and Paul a lot of questions and checked all my form that I applied at US embassy in Phnom Penh and address in USA.  After they got enough information, they said okay and let me and Paul go.  Oh wow! I was very, very happy after a terrible situation in LA International Airport.

And after we got out from LA airport, we found Eric. Eric is Paul’s son, he lives in LA. He took us to his apartment to stay there ten days.  It was really nice in America because everything is very different from Cambodia.  Even though I was tired with a long trip, I tried to look out bus’s window to see big streets, building. When the bus stopped at its station, we had to walk to take the Metro on the ground for more than thirty minutes.  We got to Eric’s apartment.

I slept much time because I was very tired with the trip and jet leg.  In America it is cool and different 12 hours from Cambodia.  All the people here they eat rice a little bit so I had to change with sleeping and also food.  It not easy and I was sick more than one week. When I got well, Eric and Paul took me out of apartment to visit new places that I never saw before.  LA is very attractive for me because it is a huge city. All the streets are separated for four to five lanes for cars and keep sidewalk for the people.  In grocery stores and also restaurant and garden, it was very nice with hygiene and it is not like my country.  America is a heaven for all the people in the world want to live, but everything here is more expensive than my country.  For more than one week, Eric and Paul took me to visit a lot of places in LA and I have had a question to myself “If my country became like America, may be it be perfect”.

On the 12th of August, Paul and I had to leave LA to go to Colorado where I have to train for my job.  From LA to Colorado, we had to fly for two hours and half and drive from the airport to Kari’s house more than one hour and half so we got here at about 1:00am.  In Colorado, it is a high attitude that is higher than Aural Mountain in my country and I got jet leg again. I couldn’t sleep well for a few days, but I still happy.  Colorado like LA, it is cooler than Cambodia and environment very nice and all the people they know their duties and respect law.

There was a big a big festival and this ceremony was for two days.  Kari took me and Paul to tea house by bicycle. Tea house is an office of SSI, it is very nice and has a lot of customers and George is her husband and a manager there.  After then, she took me and Paul to where t her husband sells tea during festival days and there were nine concerts and crowd that join and play with this ceremony.  It was very, very happy and I have met new people during that time.  Some people donated some money from one cent to one dollar or more and someone volunteered with SSI to sell tea to raise some money.  They were very polite, kind, honest and friendly when Kari said that I’m a scholarship student of SSI that just graduated at university and visit here. They congratulated and welcomed me.

Kong and Paul see snow for the first time.

One more thing, Colorado has a lot of bicycles and they have built and kept lane for bicycles. It is really good and on the other hand, all the people they respect all the bikers and all walkers not like my country. In the city, they have decorated with colorful flowers and hanged on the light post of. When I look, it was very beautiful.

After the festival finished, I have a meeting with Kari and Paul to discuss about the plan to run SSI and all the problem that we have seen in Chrauk Tiek.  We have had a hard time to discuss about it, but with this meeting I have got new experiences that I never knew.  Before we want to set up a proposal, we have to have a clear plan to run with.

After that, on the 20th and 21th of August, I joined with the board for a big meeting in Colorado for SSI. All the members were very, very active. The main purpose was to find a good way to run program smoothly and shows all the donors what SSI has been doing in Cambodia.  All the members showed up with good ideas that were very, very interesting even though my English not good and I couldn’t understand all of it.

After board meeting finished, I joined training for five days. This training is really good for me because all the technique that teacher and all the members discussed is very good.  The teacher allowed Kari, Paul, Sam and me to show up with the problems that we have and give us new model like trying as group to relate all main points where we have to start first to solve problems.  So we can get good solutions with all the villagers where we have to start, how can we solve problems, how can we convince them to bring their children to school, join the meeting, care about their children’s future, school, community stand up to eliminate corruption, bribe, how can we solve problem if villager lost their land, or don’t trust each other.  To solve all the problem, we have to observe with the real situation what they need and how can we help them.  Moreover, we have to receive feedback from them because sometime our goal is not right at all with community.  All the problems have to have a good way to settle, but it will be success if we solve with wisdom and trying with right way.

When I return to my country, I have to try with my best experiences to do my work with SSI to solve and build up my school, community become as a strong community.  Moreover, I’ll show them about the main purpose that SSI has and why SSI has been trying hard to help my community.

I would like to thank you very, very much to Kari, and George that support and help me a lot.  If without you, my life wouldn’t have this day, maybe I have become a farmer and can’t get a future like now.  I appreciate being here for training to become a leader and have a lot of fun trying new food, visiting new places and so on that I can’t describe all about it. And also thank you to all the board members, donors, and volunteers that grant me to be here. I wish you, your family, board members and all the donors have success and glory with happiness, prosperity forever and live for a long time.