Friday, July 30, 2010

Child's Dream - Cambodia

We were lucky enough to be invited on a 2-day tour of school projects that are sponsored by Child’s Dream – an aid organisation founded by 2 young Swiss bankers in 2003, who left their lucrative careers and decided to help destitute children in SE Asia. Whilst the head office is in Chiang Mai, Thailand they also have a locally staffed regional office in Siem Reap, Cambodia which is where we started from. Firstly we had an interesting talk with the regional director who had first-hand experience from the Khmer Rouge era and then we set off with 2 staff members to visit the project sites.

It was a great opportunity for us as we saw first-hand how the organisation works with the communities to ensure the success of the projects. Child's Dream staff visit each site and establish the viability of partnering with the village before deciding to fund a school building. Many factors are taken into consideration such as class size, student population, existing or nearby facilities and water resources. Probably the biggest criteria though is village involvement – unless the village demonstrates a real commitment to the project, involving project management, funds and resources, the project will not likely be approved.

The 10 sites we visited were quite a mix with some being initial visits, some with construction underway and we even got to see some completed projects. Many of the sites being proposed were heart-breaking to see as the existing facilities were so dangerous that we felt unsafe even going inside. Dirt floors, scraps of blackboard and rotting, termite infested timbers were all these children had – hardly a good environment for learning. The completed schools were in stark contrast however with bright, airy and colourful rooms.

One of the most special moments in Cambodia occurred at one of the poorest villages during a meeting - we had wandered off to take some photos. We sat under the shade of a tree on some benches and a group of kids came and sat with us. In about 15 minutes these kids, all under the age of 10 had taught us how to count to 1000 in Khmer with lots of laughter along the way. This experience highlighted to us that it is not intelligence that will hold these children back, but opportunity.

Note: This was just our first experience with Child’s Dream, we have since met with the founders in Thailand, and plan to visit their Laos operations in September. But more about this in later blogs....

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