Set off at 6am for a half day at the school. Children here go to school on a Saturday until 11am. Spent the first hour playing with the children before going into the English class. I'd taken a few little bouncy balls with me and they loved them. You may remember them - they are the balls which 'rocket' when you bounce them - and I had about 30 children tearing up and down the field, rolling in the dust, and piling on top of each other like a rugby scrum. I suddenly had the feeling I was being watched and when I turned around half a dozen teachers were sitting on the classroom steps watching, with huge smiles on their faces. They seemed to be enjoying the fun as much as the children!
Just before we left for the day, we walked around the back of the school where we had noticed a little boy watering the rice plants. I've uploaded a photo of him in the 'Project' album which shows me playing catch with a bouncy ball I had given him. We spent 10 minutes playing but not once could we get a smile from him. He clearly had so little to smile about. Not being a student at the school, he was there simply to water the rice. Trudging into the pond (which you wouldn't get me into even with waders on) in bare feet and rolled up trousers, carrying an old paint pot of water to the rice, emptying it, and repeating the whole process again & again. Laura and I didn't know what to do or say. We moved on and, glancing back, noticed the little boy get on his pushbike, paint pot on one handle, the little ball in his other hand, and ride away. We just hope that he has some enjoyment from playing with it.
Back in Siem Reap I spent an hour looking around the local market and after buying a $4 can of dried milk for a young mother who had approached me begging only for milk (not money), with her baby in her arms, I decided that I needed to be somewhere quiet for a while. I'd been up since 5am, and what with the heat, the little boy, the pleading in the mother's eyes, and her smile when I bought her the can, I returned to my guesthouse and broke down.
Yes, I'm having a great time here, but I've also had to be very strong emotionally, and today showed just how god damn hard this country is and how desperately I want to help the people here. The majority of Khmers are kind, gentle people, leading simple lives, and yet because of a group of complete nutters (and yes, that includes the interference from the Yanks) who killed between 2-3 million of their own people, we find almost 30 years after the Khmer Rouge were defeated, that Cambodia is still suffering. Fighting here only ended in 1998 and someone I was speaking to today said he cannot see a future without another civil war because of the Communist Government. It's all so bloody frustrating!
I met up with Laura - and another Canadian who Laura knows (Sarah) who is a freelance photographer - at 5.30pm and had dinner at The Villa before heading off to . . . . a 'cello recital!
Dr Beat 'Beatocello' Richner is a Swiss medic who has established 5 hospitals in Cambodia. He is an incredible man and every Thursday and Saturday night he holds a free (donations gratefully accepted : cash, blood, or both!) 'cello recital at the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital in Siem Reap. He originally worked at the Kantha Bopha Paediatric Hospital in Phnom Penh prior to the war, but in 1975 he was forced out by the Khmer Rouge and the hospital was destroyed. He returned to Cambodia in 1991 and opened a new hospital in 1992. Since then he has opened a further 4 hospitals, with Kantha Bopha V opening only last week. The Kantha Bopha hospital in Siem Reap is purely for children and without it more than 100,000 children would die each year from diseases such as TB and Dengue. It is also the only hospital in Cambodia with a maternity ward, featuring effective measures to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission.
Dr Richner's recital lasted 90 minutes, during which he spoke about the work at the hospital, played music by Bach, sang a few songs which he has composed to accompany the 'cello, and ran a couple of short videos which had been filmed within the Children's' Hospital and which were absolutely heart-wrenching. Dr Richner is a man who tells it like it is. There's no softening of the facts. He spoke about the Dengue and TB epidemics, the problems with drugs (certain drugs - which don't work - are developed purely for poor countries) and the corruptin here. Only a couple of years ago he managed to get the one & only CAT scan installed in Cambodia - and someone turned round to him and said "isn't that too sophisticated for them (the Khmer people)". . . .
We left the recital - having had the opportunity to shake hands with Dr Richner in person - pretty shell-shocked at the facts we had heard and went for a drink at the FCC (Foreign Correspondent's Club) where we talked for almost two hours about Dr Richner's work, NGO's, and the help Cambodia needs in general. There is so much that needs doing in Cambodia and so few people who want to help.