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.
Volunteering & Centre visits
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.
- Mid October: return volunteers Elley and Lorraine visited for a few days, presenting participation certificates and organising a small celebration for all of the students to celebrate the end of another successful year. They also funded the repair of the dilapidated house of one of the students in the pilot program.
- Late October: Katie spent six weeks volunteering at the centre as a classroom assistant, introducing some wonderful classroom activities that quickly improved word recognition and pronunciation skills among the students.
- Early January: Alannah and Daniel visited the centre and the students enjoyed an action-packed day of sports!
- Late January: Lorraine, Carol, Sue and Jenny spent three weeks at the centre. Sue conducted baseline testing for all students studying English at the centre. The data collected will allow teacher Sokhean and classroom assistant volunteers to work with certain groups of children on areas of weakness. The students enjoyed breaking up their studies with bush dancing lessons by Carol and craft lessons by Lorraine.
- Early February: Leanne and Max helped at the centre for five days, assisting in the classroom, planting mushrooms and building a new gate for the centre. Leanne, a nurse, was also able to assist with some basic first aid
- Early February: Lucy and Grace helped for a few days with classroom activities. Thanks to Ilona and Tomas for facilitating the donation of 20 notebook computers retired from a local primary school which were taken over to Siem Reap in January.
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.
As always, if anyone has any fundraising ideas or questions, please get in touch via e-mail or via our Facebook page.
To learn more about ways you can help, please see here.