Work Hard, Party Harder

Driving to the office on Friday morning, the six of us were anticipating to spend another day teaching the CSSD staff English, observing their field work and going through how to write a proposal. We were surprised however, when Mr. Chanthan announced that there would be no work today as it was the only available day for the entire staff to get together with our GROW Team and have a party. I should also note that it was only 8AM, but this doesn’t stop our wonderful staff from throwing a feast of feasts. In comes the cases upon cases of beer and the table is set for all of us to eat. (Note to future GROW Interns: be prepared to drink! They even say “No beer, no cheer”) Shrimp, squid, beef, and vegetables are thrown into a wonderful hotpot to be cooked to a wonderful savory texture. Add a little sauce, drink up some nice cold Anchor beer and you have a meal you’ll never, ever forget. The Cambodians love to “cheers!” their drink every time they take a sip. Although it may seem a little overwhelming at first with glasses being clanked at every which way and direction with people screaming “Cheers!” every other minute, you can’t help but smile and appreciate at how much they just wanted us to have a good time and create some amazing memories.

Once the food settled, it was time to dance! Mr. Chanthan even brought in his speakers from his house that he uses when he works out on his rooftop. The CSSD staff grabbed all of us and brought us into a circle in which we all had to step in one at a time and show our moves – which in my case, I lacked, haha. Something I also noticed among the staff was their ability to make fun of themselves and not be ashamed of coming off as a fool. This type of humility allowed each and every one of us to let go our inhibitions and just dance with the staff despite how goofy looking we might’ve appeared. After a round of dancing to pop and upbeat music, the staff taught us how to dance to some traditional Khmer music. The steps seem a little confusing at first, especially tied in with the appropriate hand movements, but with a lot little help from the staff we eventually figured it out – or at least our own version of it.

And of course, what would any Asian party be like without karaoke?! I’m pretty sure everyone has the chorus from the song “San Francisco” memorized by now, even though we still don’t even really know how the song goes. After attempting to sing a few songs, we decided to hand over the mics to the staff who were more eager (and in my opinion more talented) in singing karaoke.

By 3 o’clock however, many of us began to grow tired and sleepy. I guess that’s what seven hours of straight eating, drinking, dancing, and singing does to you. We all thought it best to leave early and head to the Russian Market which we did. The Russian Market is the best place for any foreigner to visit when they want to bargain for cheap souvenirs. Each of us found clothes, trinkets, and souvenirs for ourselves or our friends and family back home. After our excursion, we decided to head back to the hotel and eat dinner at the cafe where we even have our own little booth which we call our own.

– Alexa

Human Connections and Rambutan

On Wednesday morning, we woke up early yet again to get started on our daily work schedule with CSSD.  The six of us headed downstairs to the Bonitar City Hotel café and ordered our regular breakfast meal consisting of:  lattes, tea, and omelette with bread slices as we awaited the arrival of the CSSD staff to drive us to the office.  (Sidenote: riding on their motorbikes every morning and afternoon has to be one of the best parts about being here in Cambodia).

Entering the office every morning being greeted with friendly faces and ecstatic “How are you’s?” can arguably be better than the strongest cup of coffee.  Seeing the CSSD staff’s enthusiasm to learn English every day is such a pleasure.  Personally, I have been teaching two IPC (Interpersonal Communication) staff workers named Toto and Dareth how to speak English.  Mr. Chanthan had informed me that these two had never spoken English before and I have to admit I was a bit nervous at first because I did not know whether I would be capable of teaching completely non-English speakers how to…well, start speaking English (or at least at the most basic level). I am proud to say however, that my “students” (if you will) have proven me wrong every single day as they become better and better in both speaking and writing in English. Although some of their responses can be quite amusing such as, “What is your name?” “I am car.” I can’t help but feel tremendously honored and proud of their progress in such a short amount of time.

Later that day, me and Becky (or otherwise referred to as ‘Ra-be-kah’) were able to go with Dareth, Samnang, and Seiha to observe their field work with a group of MSM.  We were brought to an apartment-type complex with a dark winded staircase in which we walked all the way up to the third or fourth floor. We met a group of 5 MSM’s some of whom I believe lived in that small room together. What amazes me most about the work that CSSD does is their commitment in making sure that their target groups are felt like a part of their family.  They are even given $2 for food to offer during their group discussions in order to make sure that the MSM’s feel at home and comfortable with the IPC workers and to ensure that the time spent together isn’t just an agreement of students being lectured on safe sexual practices, but a time dedicated towards strengthening a community that is discriminated and stigmatized.  In a broader respect, this is what CSSD is all about. At the end of the day it isn’t about how many people are treated like clients, or how many condoms are being sold at outlets, but whether or not the people feel okay with being themselves and that their livelihood and health is being accounted for. One man from the group discussion who surprisingly spoke very proficient English even said, “We enjoy being with CSSD. After our group discussions we like to eat with them, talk with them, and listen to each other’s stories.” He was also able to enlighten us about the red spikey fruit that we all love to indulge in – google: Rambutan (it tastes a lot better than it looks, trust me).

On Thursday, we began our regular routine of teaching the staff English.  However, after eating lunch, Me, Tracy, Sai and Timur were able to go to a nearby clinic and observe the type of responsibilities and work being done there.  Many of the IPC staff take both EW and MSM groups into the clinic where they receive free STI screenings, as well as group counseling sessions.  The collaboration of both CSSD and these clinics are a tremendous help to these target groups influencing both the social aspects as well as the health portion of public health service.

Being able to witness CSSD’s work up close and personal has allowed me to realize how important human connection can have on even the remotest group of people or those people whom you don’t speak the same language with.

– Alexa

I DON’T HAVE THE DIAMOND!

Oh Monday! Monday brought the reality of work! Begrudgingly parting from our linen sheet paradise, we woke up with lingering memories of a dazzling weekend. The reality of implementing our goal for the GROW trip locked into our minds. After a quick breakfast provided by our beloved Bonitar Hotel staff, we rode like warriors on our moped chariots, armed with ideas and hope for the chance to truly solidify our partnership with CSSD. Along with that hope was an anxiety…would we really be able to contribute to CSSD as much as we had hoped?

Our goals for the next two weeks, skills CSSD identified as needing the most help in, included teaching conversational and written English (all staff were at different levels of aptitude), instructing them on how to write project proposals and grant proposals, creating templates of self and cross evaluation forms, and organizing and compiling various data collection forms to integrate into more compact and universal formats.

Mornings at the office are a frenzy of activity! Some volunteers are preparing paperwork for the day and others are loading up on supplies like informative games and condoms (for free distribution to the target community) before heading out to lead community education sessions. We seemed to not know our place in the office, but the warm smiles and beckoning hands of the CSSD staff directed us to sit next to them at their desks. For the next hour, we broke up into units and tried to teach the most confusing and convoluted language in the world – English. Laughter enveloped an atmosphere of intermingling English and Khmer words and we soaked in the obvious camaraderie in the air despite immense language barriers. “The more I teach, the more I learn…how little I know.” We saw eager and sincere students in the staff but we realized that teaching English well would be a challenge that we would have to approach with utmost preparation and patience.

After the morning English lesson, we headed over to the M.STYLE drop-in center next door. There, we observed as Channa and Touch expertly led a group information session about safe sexual health practices for an audience of about thirty local MSM. Channa lightened the mood with some fun (and educational) games and after some smaller discussion sessions which the peer facilitators led, Touch  capped off the activities with a thorough explanation as well a summary of key points. Although the GlobeMed team was still struggling to understand the Khmer language, the enthusiasm of the participants as well as the CSSD staff was as clear as day.

After a scrumptious lunch of flavorful fish curry and tangy tomato beef, prepping for proposal writing began. We tried to digest this immense task of instructing individuals how to think about and choose project ideas wisely in addition to writing them up in an organized and effective manner to receive grants and funds. The most interesting man in the world, Mr. Chanthan (or
“Poh”, meaning uncle in Khmer), took the task of listening to, digesting, and translating complex ideas about writing format. The staff came out of the session a tad confused so we planned to refine and redesign our methods of trying to teach proposal writing.

After an eventful day we headed back to our hotel and indulged in delicious lattes, fragrant ginger rice, and refreshing leechee Fantas  (America, you need to get on manufacturing these exotic flavors!). Re-energized, we tinkered with our plans for the next day, making the necessary adjustments as we reflected on the staff’s reactions and needs once more. After doing some work, we succumbed to the welcome sight of clean, fresh sheets and pillows and slumbered deeply.

The next day’s schedule was similar, but a surprising change was where the CSSD staff took us after work. We hit the mall! 😀 After some delicious pizza (which the staff sneakily paid for, as we had done last week), we went to a skating rink on the top floor of this colossal mall. Was the rink wooden or ice? Actually folks, we skated on hard plastic. The Cambodians think of everything! With skates similar to ice skates, we zipped around the rink in a Congo line and despite some falls, had a blast (and a workout!) jamming to some music. We topped off the night with some ice cream from the famous Svenson’s Ice Cream Place, enjoying unique flavors like cantaloupe, yogen berry, and Turkish coffee. Ummm YUM!

Balloons on a stick!

-Sai

“Eat, babies, eat! Don’t be shy”

As are most sundays, we spent the morning getting some much needed rest. We took a modest time getting ready, eating some breakfast, and creating lesson plans for our first english lesson with the staff! I only hope that we will be as great teachers as they are students. After spending some time prepping for a long week ahead, we got a call from Mr. Chanthan- he invited us for supper with his family. This invitation, although seemingly a simple gesture, had so much meaning; our partnership is more than just business, but filled with friendship, love, and trust.

Before we headed over to Mr. Chanthan’s, we got to venture into the long-awaited Russian Market. The market was incredible. There were vibrant colors everywhere, assorted goods, and foods. I could easily spot my, now, favorite fruit, rambutan, from miles away. Delicious! Walking around the market, the different stands could easily distinguish us as foreigners. We had to haggle our way through cutting down prices for different goods, but we all eventually left the market extremely satisfied with our purchases.

After the market, we met with Mr. Chanthan, and arrived at his home. Upon walking into his abode, we were greeted with smiling faces from his son, wife, and some neighborhood friends. A beautiful home, a beautiful family. His son, or informerly known as “Wat”, created a sort of english club within the neighborhood. (Joke: “What’s your name?” “Yes! That is my name!”). Furthermore, when the neighborhood kids heard that we were coming to Chanthan’s home, they all rushed over to have a conversation with us and practice their english. I was extremely impressed at how eager all of them were. We sat in a circle, and listened to the stories about their lives. We came to know that a few of them were able to travel abroad, through scholarships. Nita, a university student studying pharmacy in Cambodia, was able to travel to America, and visit both Illinois and Washington DC. I was incredibly impressed at how far their determination can take them. Their futures are so bright, and they will surely succeed in what they put their minds to.

After a pleasurable afternoon, we made way upstairs onto the roof. Mr. Chanthan is all about having a good time, especially on the roof of his home. We quickly came to see that it was hard to not have a good time, when you’re surrounded by great company, delicious food, and a beautiful home. We spent the night drinking some angkor, furiously taking the shells off of fresh shrimp, squid, and home-made soup with noodles, shrimp, and assorted meat. It was the meal of the century. Mr. Chanthan continuously told us, “eat, babies, eat! Don’t be shy.” And believe me, none of us were shy with our food- we were stuffed to the brim.

We ended the night with some karaoke, and dancing. It’s not surprising that by the time we arrived back to our hotel, we slept. It was a great night. One that none of us, surely, will ever forget.

Dirtybit.

– Rebecca

We’re On a Boat??

The first Saturday of our stay in Cambodia had arrived, and the staff at CSSD was planning big things. Little did we know just how big!

Our day began at 8 AM. The staff swooped in on their motorbikes and we vroom-vroomed from our hotel to our first stop: the Tuol Sleung (S-21) Genocide Museum. Once there, we gathered knowledge of the genocide from wherever and whoever we could. You might find us sneaking an earful from a nearby guided tour, or speaking one on one with some of the CSSD staff. The experience was surreal; seeing the many faces of those who lost their lives to a heinous regime, discovering that only seven survived from S-21 and hearing the amazing stories behind these seven men. This was many of the staff’s first time visiting as well, so we were able to observe the reactions of those affected by the regime first hand. Sharing this experience truly added to the foundation of our partnership.

We followed up our trip to the genocide museum with a look around Choeung Ek, the most well-known of the killing fields utilized by the Khmer Rouge regime. Here we learned more of the atrocities committed by the regime, saw mass graves and a Buddhist stupa dedicated to the lives lost. After all this, I wondered how the Cambodian people could be so kind and light-hearted. I suppose when something as traumatic as this happens, the only thing one can do is look up, think forward, and smile  about the beauty of today.

Always concerned about our appetites, the staff then took us to a nearby lunch stop. We sat on giant tables framed with lazy hammocks, and food was hurried over along with fresh coconuts to drink. Once again, our meal was delicious and we lounged around in true Cambodian fashion until everyone was ready to hit up our next destination.

Travel tip: if you’re going to the Royal Palace be sure to cover your legs and shoulders! We had the chance to go back to our hotel and change- a much needed break from the heat. But soon enough we were at the Royal Palace, looking on in awe at the beauty of its architecture. Grandeur gates lead to even more grandeur structures, with amazing interiors to match. All the while our staff was busy snapping photos of each other. I’m sure our album will be overflowing by the end of our trip. Besides admiring the architecture of the Royal Palace, we prayed to Buddha, had some fun with instruments up in the trees, fed a bunch of hungry koi, and splashed our faces with magic water.

The adventures did not end there. We continued to the riverside and caught a boat tour where we were able to unwind and munch on some fresh corn. Laughter permeated the air as we cruised through the water. These khmer people are true goofballs, every last one of them. I think that’s why we were able to settle down and feel comfortable with CSSD so quickly. They might not speak perfect english, but they sure do know how to laugh, and laughter is a language spoken by every human being. That boat ride was a beautiful moment, so simple but so meaningful.

Prior to our boat ride we saw Channa down in the grassy parts of the riverside. Later we learned that she had spotted a couple kids huffing glue, the drug of choice amongst impoverished Cambodian children. It was a scary sight, one that made me realize the honest necessity for people like Mr. Chanthan and the rest of the staff at CSSD.

Finally, we perused the night market and after a long and confusing deliberation, settled for dinner at a touristy restaurant right outside the market. Happy hour allowed us all fifty cent beers, and we cheers-ed to a successful day out in Phnom Penh. We, the GROW staff and I, decided that it would be a kind gesture to pay for everyone’s dinner after all that they had done for us. Needless to say they were not pleased, but I hope the gesture was not lost in translation. It was the least we could do!

Our ride back turned into a mini nighttime tour of Phnom Penh. Hongkry took Sai and I on his bike and we rode the scenic route back to our hotel. Upon returning, we thanked them all furiously and proceeded to pass out one by one.

Thank you CSSD, for a marathon of a day

Til next time,

–Tracy (Known by some as “Crazy”)

True Partnership

Once again, we were met with the smiling faces of the CSSD staff this morning in our hotel lobby. They arrive at 8am sharp on their motorbikes and wait patiently for us to finish our breakfast-they always want us to start the day on a full stomach. They merge so effortlessly into chaotic traffic, and cross puddles ponds (it is rainy season after all) to get us safely to CSSD’s office. The space is starting to feel so homey already. We respectfully take off our shoes before entering the office, and let the stone tiles cool our feet as we greet everyone. The staff members are all relatively young at CSSD, and their energy creates such a buzz in the air that gets everyone excited. It’s clear from their interactions that they’re like a family. Even though they speak in Khmer, you can tell that they’re always teasing each other and making jokes, and that they really enjoy each other’s company. The dynamics in the office remind me a lot of our GlobeMed chapter meetings and I can’t help but smile at the site of their camaraderie.

After receiving some very gracious and practical gifts from Mr. Chanthan and the CSSD staff, it was time to get down to the nitty gritty and start fleshing out the details of what we, the GROW  team, will be doing over the next couple of weeks. Mr. Chanthan, the Executive Director of CSSD and our main partner contact, created a quick itinerary for the day. He started with introductions from all the CSSD staff. Here’s a little something about everyone (I hope I spelled everyone’s names right!):

Mr. Chanthan: Although he’s the Director of CSSD, he’s as youthful and energetic as any of the staff. Originally from a remote village, he’s really a self made man. From his reckless youth to his meaningful work with CSSD today, Mr. Chanthan’s story isn’t short of adventure, danger, loss, love, or purpose.

Sopia: Head of administration at CSSD and a shy beauty. Like so many people we’ve met here, Sopia exudes warmth and welcome and keeps the office running smoothly from behind the scenes.

Pheaktra: Pheaktra is head of accounting at CSSD and oversees the finances of all of CSSD’s projects, including GlobeMed’s project. She’s outgoing and can be heard playfully teasing the staff at CSSD.

Sathya: Sathya works closely with Entertainment Workers in 3 districts as an Interpersonal Communications Staff. He’s always impeccably dressed (even in this ridiculous heat) and despite his efforts to be “the cool guy”, he’s a total goofball.

Spreypo: Spreypo is also an IPC Staff and works with EW’s to refer the to monthly STD screenings and other reproductive health check ups. Although English isn’t her strong point, she was able to grasp what GlobeMed was all about very quickly. She said she was impressed by our commitment to CSSD and looks forward to the work we’ll do together.

Thida: Thida also works with EW’s in a couple different districts. We saw her in action in a group discussion with EW’s in the community. Although the discussion about safe sex and condom use was conducted in Khmer, we could tell Thida was really engaging and used creative tools to get the message across.

Touoh: Touoh is the newest staff at CSSD and still a little shy. He’s a project officer and works to train peer facilitators who will work with MSM (men who have sex with men) to diffuse stigma and promote safe sexual practices.

Channa: Channa is an outreach staff who works on the IAEKL project (which I think works with individuals who have HIV/AIDS) as well as with MSM. She’s outgoing and her facial expressions are pretty hilarious. We also learned she’s a great singer and dancer when we played some embarrassing ice breaker games the other day.

Samphy: “Phy” for short is second in command. She has over 20 years of experience in working with Entertainment Workers and other vulnerable communities in Phnom Penh. She taught us all a lot today about the difficulties CSSD faces when working with these women, who are often illiterate and lack a basic understanding of reproductive health, how condoms work as preventative measures, and how to even use them properly.

Samnang: He’s a community facilitator who works with about 150 MSM in 4 different districts. He’s not shy around us and wants to practice his English with us.

Hongkry: Hongkry is also a community facilitator who works with 150 MSM in 4 different districts. He’s so adorable (had to say it) with his bright smile and gentle demeanor. He also impressed us all with an acrobatics show when he climbed up a tree to retrieve us some yummy mangoes.

Seiha: Seiha means “August”, since she was born in the month of August. She volunteers with finances and accounting. She was also the first one to break the ice and ask for our Facebooks.

Saramy: Saramy is the M-Style club manager, an organization/brand that caters to the MSM community in Phnom Penh. She’s definitely got a lot of spunk, despite being one of CSSD’s most seasoned staff members. She runs the drop in center next door to CSSD and pops in and out throughout the day.

Pheakday: He’s the CSSD office guard. He seems quiet, but we all suspect he must have some secret ninja skills.

CSSD staff introductions were followed by some quick introductions on our part. We also explained how GlobeMed functions as an organization, and how we break down roles and responsibilities. They were curious about how we raised money for our project with CSSD and how we convince others to donate to our cause. After explaining who we are and what we do, I think the CSSD staff had a greater understanding of our partnership and commitment to them, and were even more eager to work with us.

We dove into discussing what skills we could bring to the table for CSSD as we work with them on the ground. Even as students, we understand how to compile, organize, and analyze data, write clear and effective reports and proposals, and communicate well with potential donors and the communities we’re trying to reach. We plan to bring these skills to CSSD over the next couple of weeks, so that they can better engage with their communities, and track the progress that they’re making in a more efficient way. The discussion was loose, but flowed organically as one idea led to the next and involved lots of translating between Khmer and English. Our excitement for our collaboration with one another, evident in the huge smiles on everyone’s faces, crossed the language barrier and, as Sai put it, was representative of “a true partnership”.

We didn’t realize how hungry we all were until the discussion wrapped up and it was time for lunch. The CSSD staff has this wonderful routine of cooking homemade meals for lunch and eating together everyday outside on the patio. With some simple cooking tools and fresh herbs growing right in the backyard, they whip up some pretty amazing meals. Even my mediocre cooking skills were put to the test as I helped put together lunch today. We love this time of the day when we can bond with the staff and enjoy the sense of family that makes this seemingly simple place something truly inspiring.

This post was super long (thanks for reaching the end), but I could go on and on about how impressed I am by CSSD’s sense of community and commitment to their work. Mr. Chanthan takes such pride in his young and empowered staff, just like GlobeMed does. As we learn more about each other, we realize how similar we are and how well we fit together in our partnership. I can’t wait for all the jokes, awkward smiles, motorbike rides, and meaningful work to come in the weeks ahead.

– Selena

Settling In


The morning of our first f
ull day in Phnom Penh, nearly all the staff members were downstairs to greet us with warm smiles. We hopped on the backs of their motorbikes, something that has already become so natural for us all, and scoot-scooted to the CSSD office located in a complex close by.

Following some curious inquiry about our appetites, they realized that we had not yet eaten and quickly decided to take us to a nearby chinese restaurant- the first of our trip. Noodle soups and tea all around! I think we’d all agree that the food was fantastic, and the tea just as delicious. And to top it all off, our meals only cost us each $1.50 (a steal if I’ve ever seen one).

After breakfast, the staff took us back to the office. Mr. Chanthan was out to a meeting with a few other staff members, but the remaining staff were still ready to work. Without delay, we broke up into two groups of three, and followed a pair of staff members into the homes of the people that would be cooperating with CSSD. Becky, Alexa and I followed Hongkry and Channa first to the home of an entertainment worker. There, the CSSD staff showed her and a few other guests how to properly use a condom. They had been there three months prior, but were back to make sure that they truly learned what they had been taught. Hongkry quietly translated for us foreigners, making a few unintentional jokes along the way.

Afterwards, we continued on to another home but this time about four or five entertainment workers were present at the meeting. After our introductions, they played a game similar to bingo. In between each draw they would ask the women scenario questions that involved which, when answered, was followed by a round of applause. Moral support seems to be a common theme within the CSSD EW and MSM program.

Now it was time to return to the office, where we played a few games while some staff members cooked us lunch. We shared a lot of laughs, got to know each other’s names a bit better. Lunch was then served, and it was just as delicious as breakfast.

The last part of the work day was spent visiting two MSMs. The first was 30 years old and worked as a food salesman. The second, an 18 year old who was living with his uncle. CSSD provided both with free condoms, their main role being a means of moral support. Both MSMs seemed to have a very close connection with the CSSD staff.

As the rain began to lighten, we were driven back to our hotel where we, a tired bunch of kids, quickly fell asleep one by one. Tomorrow would be a new day.

Aw kumh (Thanks),

-Tracy