May 5, 2002

village visits and pictures

Good morning,

Another week has passed and believe it or not, it's still hot and humid here. I spent most of this week in Kompong Thmor at the Child Survival Project where I am actually going to spend most of my time here in Cambodia. Shortly after I wrote last week I found out that the people I was planning to share a taxi to Kompong Thmor with had a change of plans, so I decided to wait and go up Monday morning. I ended up playing games at the Scott's house again Sunday night and then tried to get my first stipend pay check at the office Monday morning. I wasn't able to get the check, but did get some cash to last through the week at least. I finally managed to get the check and cash it on Friday afternoon when I got back from the project, so that is all taken care of now.

Monday morning I took a moto (motor scooter taxi) down to the central market and taxi stand area. After a visit to a computer shop to make an exchange, I got a seat in a van taxi. Most of the time I have been travelling in car taxis, but the vans are definitely a different experience. They have several rows of seats, each of which is designed to seat 3 people but actually seats 4 plus children. The trip takes a little bit longer since they tend to stop a bit more often to let off passengers, but the difference isn't that much. The price is also a bit less than a car taxi. The main thing that was uncomfortable for me was the lack of leg room. The bench seats are so close together that I had to sit completely upright and even then could not put my legs directly in front of me because there was not enough room. It was better once a couple of people got out and my row was not full, but I survived just fine. I did at least have a window seat so that I could have fresh air. When I got to the project office I spent most of the afternoon getting the Khmer fonts working on all of the computers. I also helped a couple of people with some minor computer problems.

This week the ADRA team was doing some surveys and recruiting in the villages, so Tuesday morning Geof and I went out to visit some of the locations where this particular ADRA project is working. The main goal of the project is to increase the child survival rate in a specific region. Several methods will be used to help accomplish this goal, including training VHVs (Village Health Volunteers) and TBAs (Traditional Birth Attendants, or midwives). The theory is that a VHV knowledgeable in basic health principles can act as a resource person within the village. The VHV can also become a sort of liaison person between the village and the regional health center. Since the TBAs are often the only care provider during pregnancy and child birth, they will be trained to better recognize signs of complication so that they can refer patients to the medical centers when appropriate. They will also be trained in basic health and in principles related to their roles as midwives. Since many children die from relatively simple and/or easily treated problems, increasing the health knowledge in the villages should help to increase the child survival rate. On Tuesday the team was actually doing some research by talking with groups of mothers to determine their current knowledge levels. The villages were very close to the project office, and we visited three different ADRA teams at work. I think it will be much easier for me to just send a couple of pictures instead of attempting to describe what the villages are like in words. On the way back from the village visits we stopped along the way and saw one form of child labor where young children are put to work in the family business chipping rocks into gravel. We also saw a blacksmith's shop where a pony was being fitted with some new shoes, got some coconut ice cream cones for 2.5 cents each, and had some sugar cane juice. The sugar cane juice is widely available and is a tasty drink. When you place an order they run the sugar cane through a press to squeeze out the juice and collect it in a glass or sometimes just in a plastic bag. Plastic bags are widely available here and are used for everything. The fruit vendors even in village markets tend to bag each type of fruit that you select, and then put them all in another larger plastic bag. For many types of drinks they just use a plastic bag with a straw instead of a glass. We got back to the office just in time for lunch and a nap. Since the lunch break here is usually 2 hours long, most people take a mid day nap. I have been napping on and off so far. I'm still not addicted but probably will be soon. After lunch I worked on a few projects in the office.

Wednesday the ADRA team was doing some recruiting in villages a little bit further from the office and we went out to visit them again. Everyone in the ADRA team gets around using scooters which were purchased brand new for this project. They have spray painted the ADRA logo on them, which helps to make them look less new and hopefully less attractive to potential thieves. It is quite the motorcycle gang that pulls out of the office in the morning when everyone is headed out to the villages. In the villages we visited on Tuesday the children were pretty healthy overall, but on Wednesday there were some that were not so healthy. Several of the children were sick with easily treatable conditions, but the people didn't know what to do. This particular area was a ways from the nearest medical center so hadn't had as much contact with it as some. It is fairly common for the village people to be wary of the health centers as well, and they often wait until it is too late before they even try to seek treatment. They told me that in this particular village most of the people are illiterate because the school is not very close and in the past there have been security concerns because of illegal logging in the area. The parents would not let their children go to school because the road was not considered safe. Now the road is safe again and children are able to go to school. On the one hand the village conditions are quite sad, but at the same time it really demonstrates what this ADRA Project is designed to accomplish. The goal is that by the time the project is finished, children will be getting the appropriate treatment when needed, and the overall village health will be much better. Wednesday afternoon I worked on several projects, the most interesting of which was to figure out how to install a voltage regulator for the office. One of the local staff members and I first figured out where the electricity first enters the building, then realized that it is split into three before actually entering any sort of breaker. Each of the three sections is then on a separate breaker. I asked if there was a way to turn off the power outside the building, and was assured that it wasn't possible. So, being one to take things at face value I suggested that we go look around outside, and found a panel on the telephone pole with some pretty questionable looking wiring, about six or eight usage meters and two switches. After asking around and borrowing a wooden ladder from one of the neighbors, we got a closer look and confirmed that one of the switches was wired to our usage meter and did indeed turn off the power to our building. So, now we know how to turn off the power to install the voltage regulator, which is one of my projects for next week.

In the office we have a fairly interesting religious make up. I think the majority of the staff members are Buddhists, with a few Christians. I'm not certain but I think there are one or two SDAs besides myself. Geof is Christian, but not SDA. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings we have worship led by Geof. At the moment we are just reading through some basic Bible stories, and then Geof talks about them a little before having prayer. The person doing the translating is Buddhist and has never heard any Bible stories before, so it is quite interesting at times. On Thursday morning we had worship with breakfast at Geof's house and made our first attempt at singing. We sang "Father I Adore You" along with a music CD, and it worked pretty well. At the moment we are reading the story of Joseph and discussing how God led him and had a plan for his life all along. After worship I spent the day in the office working on several projects.

Friday morning I worked some and then before lunch I caught a taxi back to Phnom Penh so that I could work on getting my stipend before the office closed. I shared the taxi with a couple of mothers with sick children who we had found during the village visits. Geof decided to help them get to the hospital in Phnom Penh, which is free for them once they get there. The main costs that they needed help with were transportation, food and lodging. Geof arranged for them to stay at his house while seeking treatment. One of the children has a tumor on the neck and the other has a case of cleft palate. Often the people are too poor to even afford the trip in to visit the free hospital. Another problem is that they are sometimes too scared of western medicine and refuse to undergo the recommended treatment once they get there. Since these people are staying with Geof he and his wife will be able to help them understand what is going on and what needs to be done when they visit the hospital. Once we got to Phnom Penh I first got my stipend sorted out, and then stopped by the medical clinic to get another two vaccinations. From the clinic I went to a couple of markets to get a computer program for the project and some fruit for the weekend. I got mangosteens and Asian pears this time. Friday evening I pretty much just took a long bath/shower and went to bed early.

Sabbath after church I had lunch with Reimann's (the ADRA director and his family) and then took an afternoon nap. In the evening I watched Joshua and Caleb, the two Reimann kids so that their parents could have some time together. The boys actually were asleep in bed most of the time so I watched a DVD movie. Actually, most of the evenings at the project I watched a movie on DVD with Geof as well. Although they are DVDs, they are often not DVD quality, especially the newer movies. Typically if it has actually been released on DVD in the states, you can get the good quality DVD here as well, but before that the "DVD" is usually made from a bootleg version of some sort.

The other volunteers are all gone this weekend, two to one of the projects, and one to the beach, so it is pretty quiet around here. The Internet has been on and off a bit this weekend, but I have at least been able to do some email. I also got my email working at the project office last week so I won't be completely out of touch up there. This coming week I plan to be at the project again. Whenever we get the books (they have been ordered) I'm supposed to start teaching English to the project staff in three one hour sections per day, so that will take quite a bit of my time once it starts. In the mean time I've got several other projects to keep me busy.

After several attempts at getting my pictures online, I finally gave up on my usual methods and instead decided to try something new. I have created a page where a few pictures are now online using the same web site that the Benton family uses to keep in touch. A few of you are already members of that site, so will already have access to the pictures. The rest of you can go to the family site and use the login and password I sent you to get to the pictures. The space is pretty limited on this site, but it allows me to only upload once to get the pictures on to the Benton site and this one. In order to stay within the space limit I will have to delete the old pictures whenever I add new ones, so they won't be online for very long. Eventually I will get the rest of my pictures on to my other photo site, but I'm not sure when that will happen.

That's all the news for this week.

Until next time,


Posted by andrew on May 5, 2002