Monday, 12 September 2011

Who is Savong?

When my friend SL knew I was planning a trip to Siem Reap, she sent me an email about Savong (http://www.savong.com/) which I will reproduce here:

"Savong is the man who started the school which provides free education to village kids and later started the orphanage for kids whose families were too poor to support them. The school and orphanage have volunteers from all over the world.

It was for me a life changing experience to visit the orphanage and spend time with the kids. The Cambodian kids will really melt your heart as they are so polite and well behaved despite their humble surroundings. The kids at the orphanage can speak really good English as they get free English lessons.

Finally, check out this video done by one of the volunteers. These kids are still at the orphanage."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IduKKTUpDS8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

After watching the endearing kids in the video, I decided to make the visit part of my trip. CH had to tag along as well. He's quite used to all sorts of things I do by now. The good thing is, he's such a happy traveling companion.

"Will the kids like me? What can I do there?"
"You don't have to worry a thing. The kids are so warm and welcoming, you'll feel right at home.", SL said, putting all my worries to rest. I couldn't wait to see the kids in person!

I had a week to gather clothes, shoes, toys, books and stationery for the kids. Thanks to the generosity of relatives and friends, I ended up lugging 50kg of baggage to Siem Reap! Imagine if I had one month to solicit, I might end up with a truck load!

Savong, who initially planned to send a tuk tuk to pick us, had to come drive us and the bags to the orphanage in his old but spacious SUV.

It was the start of the rainy season and he was getting anxious about the flooding situation. The outdoor area of the orphanage is still not paved and it turns into a sea of mud when the rain comes pouring down. SL and I contributed some money towards the paving project, but it was just enough for him to purchase tiles.

On the way to the orphanage, we stopped by the builder's shop to order tiles. The cement will have to wait until he receives more funds, hopefully before the Tonle Sap Lake nearby swells and overflows into the village in the coming months.

We drove through a dusty village road about 30 minutes away from the city centre, passing by houses built high up on stilts with thatched roofs. The Rolous area is so prone to flooding during the wet season that the villagers have to wade through muddy water to get about.

Upon arrival at the Savong Orphan Centre, about 30 kids and several dogs came running out to greet us. The orphan centre has seen some improvements since the video was produced. Someone had donated wooden dining tables and chairs so the kids no longer sit on the floor during meal time. The facilities may be simple and rustic but the place is kept very clean and hygienic.

Cheerful graphics on the wall.

Savong makes sure that the kids are always properly attired in clean (though old) clothes. It may be very normal to see naked kids running around in the villages but he doesn't allow it here. The children call him 'Pa' (father) and I can see that he treats everyone of them like his own. Incidentally, he is married with 3 young kids of his own.

Laundry drying in the sun = clean clothes for the children.

The bigger boys helped to unload the goodies from the boot while the younger children quickly returned to the classroom to give us a warm welcome.

One by one, they stood up to introduce themselves. All of them speak English and were very eager to converse with us. This talented girl even sang us a song.

I found the children very well behaved and intelligent. More importantly, they are inquisitive and so eager to learn. During my morning there, I did not witness any rivalry or disagreement amongst them. They are happy and well-adjusted kids. According to Savong, he communicates with them a lot, especially the new arrivals.

During lunch at a restaurant, Svay Savong (below) shared his vision with me. As a young Cambodian growing up in poverty, he had dreamed of building a school to provide free language education to rural children. In 2005, he built the first school with the help of many supporters worldwide. He feels that skills in languages provide a passport for future employment. For 700 rural children Savong’s School provides hope, opportunity and support.

To meet the needs of particularly poor or orphan children, he later established this orphanage which also houses a health centre that treats the villagers for free. He frowns on orphanages that place more emphasis on getting the orphans to produce handicrafts for sale than giving them a proper education.

Volunteers, which he has no shortage of, are always welcome to teach at the school or orphanage. I had the privilege to do a little bit of both that day. Before I came, I thought it would be interesting for the kids to learn about the human body, so I brought along human organ books and stickers which proved to be very useful teaching tools.

Whilst this is not a proper school, it was still amusing to see dogs sleeping or toddlers strolling in while lessons were going on. The kids were fast learners who displayed initiative and teamwork. From here, I could clearly see why Savong is forging on despite all odds. He is on the right track. With his guidance and support, the kids will have a bright future.

When I asked if he expects anything in return from them, he said, "No. With an education, they can get a better job and perhaps they will help the other orphans in future."

When we were done with the lessons, the kids gave a most enthusiastic display of their singing skills. It was so charming to see them singing their hearts out. Their energy was really infectious, we were soon singing and swaying along with them!

We then proceeded to the library to unpack the bags of goodies. The library is something which Savong is proud of. Here, the kids have access to children's story books and board games brought by donors.

We brought so much stuff, there was something for everyone. The water bottles contributed by my sis in law will come in handy during excursions while the stationery items are great for lessons. Two boys insisted on wearing the Santa hats despite the sweltering heat. There were cheers all around, it felt like Christmas.

I brought lots of new t-shirts in various sizes from Singapore. Soon all the girls were wearing blue tees like an uniform.

Next, Savong lined them up to see if they could fit into the shoes that used to belong to my nieces. It was like a Cinderalla moment. Alas, I did not bring enough for everyone yet I didn't see any shoving or discontentment amongst the girls. It was just so amazing.

The lucky ones were overjoyed to have new shoes and clothes, they kept asking for their photos to be taken.

There were lots of new toys to play with too.

From pick-up sticks to Uno, they know all the games well. They certainly knew how to beat me everytime!


When it was time for lunch, they put the toys away systematically before proceeding to the dining hall where they washed their hands before tucking into a meal of rice, fish and vegetables (harvested from their own organic farm in the school yard).

In the afternoon, we went to Savong School located nearby in the same Rolous village.

The walls here are also beautifully painted.

Savong School offers free lessons 5 days a week, from 1.30pm to 7.30pm. It has 5 teachers, 1 librarian and a director who liaises with volunteer teachers who come regularly to teach language classes. Since 2010 full university scholarships were awarded to the top performers in the senior examination. These scholarships provide fees, transport, a laptop and a monthly living allowance to support full-time study at Angkor University in Siem Reap.

Classrooms.

Outdoor classroom which comes in useful on days when the turnout is overwhelming.

Observing an English class in session. The students (mainly teens and adults) were very eager to practise their language skills with me.

Savong showing me the ropes... I mean the leaves the locals use for cooking.

Savong wanted the orphanage to have its own supply of vegetables, eggs and food. So the school built a simple house for a poor villager within the school compound. In exchange, the villager maintains the farm in the school yard so the orphans will have a constant supply of food.

As for me, it turned out to be a life changing experience as well. I will surely be back!

Chicken coop.

9 comments:

Malar said...

Wow! Sucha beautiful experience! I dodn't know about this place. You're just so generous Ting! It's hard to get a person like you and CH!

Blur Ting said...

I didn't know about the place before too. Now that you know, you could surprise the kids one day if you happen to travel to Siem Reap!

Steph said...

Is so heart-warming and meaningful to see those "carrot", "whale" tees and "organs" bringing smiles to these kids ^_^ Many thanks for the effort Ting!

My SINFONIA said...

that must have been a wonderful trip! next time you'd need to charter a plane to take loads more goodies!

Blur Ting said...

Steph - Yes, the joy on their faces is really something. Rarely do they get brand new clothes.

Blur Ting said...

Kelly - Oh wah, a plane! LOL

ginncher said...

wow....i am inspired to bring the kids there...maybe we could go there together next time....then we all get to experience how lucky we are !

Glad you have a fruitful trip and thanks for the detailed recounts.

Blur Ting said...

Ginny - Yup. It will be an eye opening experience for the girls!

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