What a few months we have had, both in Cambodia and Australia. Highlights included welcoming 13 new students
into Taksenkangbloung Community Centre’s fully supported program, several new enrolments in the centre’s free
English classes and a visit from 12 Warrnambool College students for four fun-filled days.
Put simply, the centre would cease to exist without its wonderful, hardworking, generous supporters. The past few
months have been fruitful in terms of several new monthly sponsors signing up. Thank you to these people – your
contributions are invaluable.
There have also been several successful fundraisers recently. Once again the crew in South Australia, led by past
volunteers Penny, Vicki and Jeanette (with lots of help from their husbands and children), hosted a Cambodian feast
fundraising dinner in July. The event was well and truly at capacity, with 32 guests and eight “staff” in attendance.
Everyone raved about this pop-up restaurant, which raised well over $3000 for Taksen’s programs. Thank you and
well done to these wonderful people! Just try not to drool looking at the pictures of the food!
Taksen’s inaugural golf day at Woodlands Golf Club was a success, with thanks to organisers Alex Strauch and John
Mann, with support from Mark Dwyer. While the August event didn’t attract quite as many players as the boys had
hoped, those who took part in the event raved about it and have requested it be an annual event. And the $500 that
was raised was certainly not to be scoffed at! Over breakfast before the players teed off, important messages were
delivered about Taksen’s projects and responsible development agenda.
Students from Warrnambool College held a cinema night in early September, raising more than $1200 for repair
works on buildings at Taksen. “Gifted” lured in quite a crowd and the students put on a great spread of pre-movie
nibbles. Thanks to all who supported this event.
The fully supported program has increased its numbers to 20 after several students dropped out in recent months
for various reasons (see previous newsletter). Six existing participants have continued to study at the centre for the
duration of their long school holiday period and Visna will return next week after the loss of his father last month.
Thirteen other students will commence next week to coincide with the start of the new public school year at Mook
Neak School. As a first, four of the new students are six years old and will be going into grade one (the equivalent of
prep/foundation in Australia). It is hoped the fact these students are starting school supported at the right age will
lead to greater engagement throughout their school years. We are very excited, as are they!
Before the school holiday period commenced, exams were held at the end of July at Mook Neak School. While we
are proud of everyone’s achievements, two of our students, Sreoun and Sokna, received outstanding academic
results. As a result, the school decided they should both skip grade six and start secondary school after the holidays.
This is a real credit to the girls, who have taken every opportunity they have been given through their involvement
with the centre and ran with it.
Repairs were made to the dirt road into the village, with the help of a donation from the centre. The wet season
takes its toll on the road every year and the centre’s vehicle contributes significantly to the many pot holes that form
on its frequent school drop-offs.
The duck/chicken and mushroom projects continue to have their ups and downs. The number of centre-bred ducks
(which are sold for $8 each) was as high as 80 at one point. The majority of them were sold, contributing valuable
funds to the centre. However, there were several casualties as the wet season arrived. No one is entirely sure what
happened to them. We continue to learn. At present, there are about 30 ducklings at the centre and a few adult
ducks. There are also a few adult chickens and about a dozen ducklings.
In terms of mushrooms, we’re nearing the end of the three cycles of mushrooms that were funded by the Lion’s Club
of Warrnambool. While the profits were well down on the projected income, we’re still happy with the various
outcomes that have been achieved through this project and plan to continue. As with the poultry project, lessons
have been learnt and each crop has been more successful. The training organisation, Trailblazer, has decided to
cease educating people on mushrooms in favour of other crops, which may lead to more demand for our product at
market. After great consideration, we’ve decided to trudge on. Watch this space!
VISITS AND VOLUNTEERS
In a centre first, a group of students from Warrnambool College visited Siem Reap and Taksenkangbloung Village in
late September. They spend four days at the centre, playing sport, using computers together, dancing, singing,
laughing, sharing stories and teaching each other Khmer and English. It was a mutually beneficial cross-cultural
experience that will no doubt be life changing for the Australian students and the Cambodian students.
The focus of the 11-day trip was on responsible volunteering. As part of this, the group learnt about ancient and
modern Cambodian history, experienced local life on a bike ride, in tuk-tuks and by eating and cooking Khmer food,
and participated in a workshop ran by Concert Cambodia. They also learnt about how various inspiring charities are
addressing issues affecting Cambodia today. They met some landmine-detection rats, weaved bracelets and
necklaces to sell out of old plastic bags and watched Phare circus, an acrobatic spectacle that empowers
disadvantaged people and should not be missed! Some students also met with staff from Women’s Resource Centre,
Cambodia, to learn about the invaluable work that organisation is doing with Cambodian women.
The centre is thankful for the financial support it receives from Warrnambool College through its philanthropic
partnership with Merri House and for the responsible volunteering message that the college is keen to spread
among its community. We are hopeful this successful trip can continue to run in the years to come.
Two lots of classroom assistants will visit the centre from mid-November in their school holidays after graduating
from year 12 at south-west Victorian schools. We’re grateful to these four girls for giving up their festive seasons in
Australia to work with the students at Taksen. They will mostly be working with the new intake of six-year- olds while
at the centre to support teacher Sokhean as he integrates these children into his very diverse classroom.
Elaine’s sewing and knitting skills were much appreciated last week, as several sets of hand-made boys and girls
clothes were handed out to some of the younger residents of Taksenkangbloung Village. These children were also
delighted to receive hand-knitted teddy bears, thanks to Elaine. A large number of Days for Girls feminine hygiene
kits were also taken to Siem Reap a few weeks ago and passed on to charity partner Women’s Resource Centre for
distribution. Elaine put in countless hours preparing and creating these items, which were gratefully received. Thank
As always, thanks again for your interest and support. Please let us know if you would like more information about
any aspect of Taksenkangbloung Community Centre. We’d also love to hear about any new fundraising ideas you
Dear friends and supporters from near and far,
Welcome to another addition of the Taksenkangbloung Community Centre newsletter. The centre’s participants continue to blow us away with their dedication and achievements and we have some exciting new developments to share. We apologise for the absence of a newsletter in your inbox for a while. Time has an uncanny ability to pass by far too quickly.
We appreciate that our supporters would enjoy more frequent updates about the goings on in Cambodia and a few changes have been made to guarantee this will happen in the future (although unfortunately slowing down the clock isn’t one of them)…
At an exciting meeting of the committee of Taksenkangbloung Community Centre Inc. in April, a new committee was elected. While at face value, nothing will change, we are delighted by the enthusiasm and expertise the new members have brought to the table. Part of this will be far more regular updates in the form of newsletters and social media posts due to the fact the workload will be shared.
The centre’s founders, the Burchell family, all remain in the mix. However, we welcome into the fold the following people in new roles:
President: Elly Taylor
Vice President: Sam Drummond
Secretary: Alisa Hood
Treasurer: Jenny Burchell
Non-office bearing members: Rebecca Burchell, Emma Burchell, Sue Fraser, Jon Burchell, Alison Glaubitz, Lauren Bourke.
With that bureaucratic news out of the way, it is time to report on developments at Taksenkangbloung Community Centre itself.
The number of students attending the centre’s free English classes has been pleasing, with 22 children sitting on 100% attendance. There are another 30 students who have enrolled and come when they can. Our doors are always open to children wishing to study at the centre.
Disappointingly, the number of children who regularly attend the fully supported pilot program has dwindled to seven over the past six months. The first family of four children who exited the program late last year have gone to help their mother run a small fruit stall set up along the road to Angkor Wat. They still attend the government school and we are pleased about the fact they are managing independently now. The centre’s staff continue to check in on them.
Another family of four children has also recently exited the program, one by one. This family was the inspiration behind establishing the centre and the children have thrived and enjoyed their time at school for the past three years. Their family circumstances changed recently and as such their guardian directed them to return to their old life of begging from tourists at Angkor Wat rather than attending school. Sothea and Sokhean (the centre’s director and teacher) have worked with the family to try to find a solution, but the income generated from begging is just too tempting at this stage. This is a problem all over Cambodia and highlights the importance of educating well-meaning tourists to help in responsible ways. It goes without saying, they will always be welcome at the centre if they wish to reengage one day.
The children from another disadvantaged family will be commencing as participants in the pilot program from next week. The children have been regular attendees at the centre’s English classes and are motivated learners, but their family situation means they cannot regularly attended public school. We wish them all the best as they embark on a new educational journey that we hope will transform their family’s destiny. We will keep you updated on their progress. Another five or six students will be included in this fully supported program by September. As always, Sothea and Sokhean will work with the village chief to determine the families this opportunity will most benefit.
In early February, a group of students from the centre had the opportunity to attend the Giant Puppet Project Parade in Siem Reap town. This local children’s community art project provides a creative platform for disadvantaged children to foster and promote self expression by making giant puppets in workshops in the months leading up to the parade. From all reports, there were lots of wide eyes as these giant and very dramatic puppets passed by just on dusk. Everyone looks forward to attending again next year and maybe getting involved in some capacity in the future.
It has been almost a year since the mushroom project was rolled out at the centre and there have been both successes and lessons learnt along the way. The income generated from this project has been pleasing, but modest when compared with projections. It is hoped that the current cycle of 900 plants bears plenty of fruit, or fungus!
The poultry breeding project is also experiencing some success, with the ducks leading by example ahead of the chickens. At one stage there were 70 ducks fattening up at the back of the centre, ready to be sold for US$8 each from three months of age.
Warrnambool College’s Merri House is in its third year supporting Taksenkangbloung Community Centre as its philanthropic recipient and on a recent fundraising day, students worked hard to raise more than $2200 for the centre’s programs.
Long-time supporter and recent visitor to the centre, Carol Price, has been working hard in Warrnambool to spread the word about Taksenkangbloung Community Centre’s programs. Presentations at a local chapter or Probus and the women’s auxiliary of the Uniting Church were well received and we thank members of those organisations for their generous donations.
A screening of The Zookeeper’s Wife in Warrnambool in May raised an amazing $1,650 for the centre. Thanks to those who worked hard to sell tickets among friends, family and colleagues. Cinema nights are generally great fundraisers but our hearts are always in our mouths up until a few days before wondering whether we will sell any tickets. Thanks to the Capitol Cinema Warrnambool for supporting these initiatives.
Penny Bruce’s children’s book, My Home Near Angkor Wat, continues to sell well. To date, sales of this book have generated more than $2700 for the centre, with plenty of copies still available. Please let us know if you’d like to purchase a copy for $10. It is a fantastic way to explain to our own children the similarities and differences between their lives and the lives of children in Cambodia.
We were also very grateful to Elaine, who donated a few dozen Days for Girls kits to make menstruation time more manageable for women in the village as well as hand-made teddies and children’s clothes for the younger ones. These will be distributed in September.
Taksenkangbloung Community Centre students are looking forward to a visit from 12 students from Warrnambool College in mid-September. For the first time, the college is running a philanthropic tour to Siem Reap focussing on responsible tourism and Cambodian history.
The students’ itinerary includes four days helping out at the centre as well as visits to the Angkor Archaeological Park, a genocide memorial, a hospital and Phare Circus, a talk by Concert Cambodia, a cooking class and a countryside bike tour. It will be a busy but memorable time for the students and we wish them all the best on their travels.
Since the last newsletter, the community centre has been visited by several people from Australia. If you would like to read more about our policies regarding volunteers and visitors, please see here.
At about the same time, infrastructure to connect the internet was finally available at the centre and several volunteers chipped in to have it connected. This is making Sokhean’s job of preparing lessons and gathering resources much easier. The older children in the pilot program have also created e-mail addresses and are learning how to navigate the net.
To learn more about ways you can help, please see here.