As the weather gets warmer here in NZ and families begin to gather together in homes to celebrate family and this special time of year we wanted to introduce one of the families that made a big impact on us during a home visit on our November trip to Cambodia.
They embodied the christmas spirit in many ways during our brief yet unforgettable visit and all of us went away feeling a little humbled and privileged to have met them.
Age 13 – Grade 8
Date of Visit: 9th November 2016
Attended: Mum, Dad, Chenda, little sister, Grandfather, neighbours, Helen (interviewer), Chrean (translator), Stacey (photographer).
School & Education:
Chenda attends Ang Seyma Secondary School. Its distance from their home is 3 km - It takes Chenda 30 minutes riding a bicycle along a dirt track to get to school. It is a safe road to take.
Chenda likes school and is placed number 10 amongst 35 students. She likes her teacher and enjoys school. She likes all of her subjects. She takes extra classes of maths, physics, English, Khmer and chemistry. The lessons cost 500 riel (15 cents) per hour for each.
Cambodian students attend school for half a day with most schools running two separate school sessions, morning and affternoon. Usually a student attends either the morning or the afternoon session, however with Chenda’s extra classes she stays all day.
In two years time Chenda will attend Ang Roneab High School for grades 10, 11 & 12. Ang Rokar is 20 km away. She will ride a bicycle to High School.
When Chenda finishes Grade 12 she would like to get a job in Korea. Cambodians who work in Korea get a significantly higher pay than in Cambodia. Chendas parents do not want her to go to Korea and instead would like her to be a teacher and live nearby. They are concerned Korea might not be a safe option.
Chenda has an older brother who is in year 12 at Ang Roneab. The parents dream of him being a doctor however they could not afford the costs to send him to study at university. Instead they would be content for him to be a teacher too. Being a teacher is a very respectable job and attainable.
Living Circumstances & Family Dynamics:
The roads (if you can call them that) in rural Cambodia are single lane clay/dirt tracks designed more for motorbikes and bicycles than cars or vans. To get to Chenda’s home we drive down a long single lane track with rice fields either side, dotted with rural homes and palm trees. Our van driver is very experienced in maneuvering on the single lane tracks (maybe not if so well if it was the rainy season and they become very muddy and awash with water). When the track becomes to narrow for the van we walk the last bit immediately feeling hot and sticky as soon as we leave the air conditioning of the van.
Chenda lives with her Mother, Father, Grandfather, older brother and younger sister. The family is extremely welcoming and greet us with the most amazing smiles and hospitality.
Grandfather has an open friendly face. His toothless grin is wide and just draws you in. His eyes crinkle at the corners with happy wrinkles. His four long silver hairs protruding from under his chin just adds to his quirky character. He wants to please us and make us comfortable urging us to move on to the mat on the table where we might be more comfy, and bringing us fresh coconuts to drink.
The wide smile has been passed down to Chenda, and her Mother. Chenda’s Mum smile is given freely and often. Both children have also inherited their mothers’ beauty both inner and outer.
Chenda is close to her sister. She takes care of her and in the van driving to her house we saw the sweetest interaction. We offered the girls the last two bits of leftover birthday cake we had. There was a big piece and a little piece. Chenda picked the big piece and then handed it to her sister and took the little piece for herself. There was a collective ahhh by us in the van.
The girls play games like any children such as Hide and Seek, and a game shooting rubber bands. Cambodian children do not have lots of brought toys but use their imagination and use what ever is around.
Chenda likes to teach her younger sister Maths and Khmer. They are very sweet together.
The family live in a quaint rural home designed and built by Chenda’s father. It is shady and airy with two sides having large over hanging thatched eaves. Whilst the house is old and rickety it has character and thought has been put into its design. The father was proud when we compliment him on the design.
The main rectangle structure of the house has a traditional gabled tin roof. It is constructed of the wood from palm trees. The stilts are palm tree trunks, the walls, weaved bamboo and the lean to roof thatched palm leaves. Bamboo slat tables are under the eaves where living and eating is carried out in the shade. The back of the house has a rickety filled in lean to as a kitchen. This is very flimsy and we are warned not walk on the floor as it will not bear the weight of a 60kg and over westerner (this is compared to most Cambodian women who weigh an estimated 40 to 50 kilos max.) Kitchens are traditionally partitioned off from the rest of the house and are a simple wood bamboo structure.
There is no toilet or bathroom on the property. The family use the surrounding fields to go to the toilet.
They own the land. It has been inherited and passed down from ancestor to ancestor.
They use a battery to provide light. Cooking is done on a smouldering fire.
The sleeping arrangements are the children upstairs. The parents outside on a wooden slat table under the eaves, and the grandfather has a small house behind their home. The house is waterproof (even if it does not look like it).
Water is stored in large earthen jars. Currently they have plenty of rainwater due to the rainy season just finishing. Later they will use pond water for washing the laundry and other activities. Drinking water will be boiled if taken from the pond.. Water is fetched in large containers and poured into the earthen jars.
The family’s transport is the bike provided by CCT and a motorbike they brought for $500 for their eldest son to ride to Ang Roneab High School 20km away. Maybe in two years when Chenda attends Ang Roneab she too will need to ride a motorbike to High School. It is common to see children of this age riding confidently on motorbikes, girls and boys.
Income & Literacy:
Both parents are farmers. They grow rice crops 3 times a year on the land they own. Her father sometimes works as a labourer in Phnom Penh earning 25 000 riel ($6) per day when he is free of farming.
They also grow for eating and selling; corn, peanuts, eggplants and Morning Glory. A buyer from the market comes to the house and purchases the crops.
Both Chenda’s Mother and Father cannot read and write. This makes it difficult to read information and for them to get any other job than farmer. it is important to them that their children learn. They want a better future for their children and a higher standard of living. They are very proud of what Chenda is achieving.
The parents have some stomach problems described as Gastritis. Gastritis infections can be caused by bacteria and viruses in the stomach. The Doctor has told them to eat regularly and prescribed medicine for 3 days at the cost of 5000 riel ( $1.25).
When the weather changes from wet to dry the children get colds.
The family own two cows. One is the grandfathers and one is parents. Rural Cambodians usually let the cows have calves and then when the time comes to kill the cow for meat the family will sell it to someone else to kill. I was told their buddhist religion does not allow them to kill large animals such as pigs or cows but it seems acceptable to kill ducks or chickens. They will then buy some of the meat back or use the money to purchase meat from the market. The cows live very close within the home area, and seem very docile.
The family have two dogs as protection. Most rural homes in Cambodia have mixed breed dogs lying around. Whilst they are their pets they are not looked after or treated as we treat our dogs, usually skinny and often having mange. The dogs are only fed left over rice, as meat is too valuable. The dogs are very protective and there was plenty of barking and growling as we arrived at the home.
What makes them happy:
This visit was a pleasure. Although the family were poor they oozed a love, kindness and happiness. They were a close family, proud of what they were achieving. From the grandafather down to the children a light shone from them all. This family will make the most of the assistance this sponsorship will give them to go from ultra poor to reaching the next rung in the ladder.