A hand up, not a handout

March 24, 2014

Lovely day yesterday out at the Chbar Chros Community School in Kampong Speu province, which is run by the charity I’m tangentially involved with, the astonishingly great CamKids.

They were having a blessing for the new school building. I’d been out there a few times to do reports on the progress of the construction for the single donor, a chap from California, so have watched this thing develop from a plot of dusty ground, into a vast and elegant pair of classrooms. It doesn’t sound like much, when you look at it on the page like that, but it is, actually, a very significant achievement for all involved.

Two years ago, there was nothing there; CamKids has now built two school buildings and a clinic. Two years ago, there were no pupils; now there are 272. Two years ago there were no staff; now, doctors and dentists visit every week, and a dedicated staff of teachers instructs the kids. They are growing vegetables and have installed a bio-digester, and despite the involvement of CamKids, this is truly a community project, with the locals involved in every aspect of the running of the school. So it doesn’t follow the paternalistic model of imposing what Westerners think is best which you see so often over here: instead, it’s down to the local community to make the decisions. As CamKids says, “a hand up, not a handout.”

Most of the 272 pupils were there, with their families, and local community elders, and I could have sat there all day, just soaking up the happiness and elation that was in the air.

A little girl called Vuthy Nary is presented with a certificate and a backpack for her hard work at school.

A little girl called Vuthy Nary is presented with a certificate and a backpack for her hard work at school.

We’re currently deep into the dry season, with temperatures up into the 100s (high 30s), and it now hasn’t rained for months. It’s amazing how much the countryside has changed from a couple of months ago: whereas at Christmas the whole country was deafeningly green, now everything is sere and parched, the fields a uniform ochre as far as the eye can see, and everything is covered with a thin layer of orange dust. Soon the rainy season will be upon us, and everything will go green again. I rather like that. If you looked from space, Cambodia would be like a gigantic malfunctioning traffic light, cycling between green and orange, annually.

And did you know that the colour known as gamboge, which is the traditional colour for monks’ robes here, gets its name from Cambodia? Gamboge comes from gambogium, the Latin word for the pigment, which derives from Gambogia, the Latin word for Cambodia. Its first recorded use as a colour name in English was in 1634. You learn something new every day…

The pigment, and colour, gamboge

The pigment, and colour, gamboge

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One Response to “A hand up, not a handout”

  1. Ohh. That’s awesome to hear about how the schools and clinic were built, how they are being locally run, and seeing those smiles on the students faces.

    I didn’t even know that color existed even though I’m familiar with it, having seen it so often. That’s cool!

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