New Projects at Work

The previous week of our internship was a very exciting one. We shifted our focus away from the possibility of a vocational training program for entertainment workers, as it was something we believed we couldn’t realistically obtain in the near-future. Instead we’re working on something new, and the goal will be to provide CSSD with interns more frequently. Ideally this program would have the interns come throughout the school year to give CSSD the extra resources and aid they need while GlobeMed’s GROW team isn’t there.

In addition, we also are trying to incorporate more social media towards CSSD’s advantage. Mr. Chanthan’s son Vorth started to create a website a couple months back, but it was only a template and did not have content. We wanted to help them finish it, and decided it would be a great goal for us to complete in the short time we have left here. While CSSD had a Facebook page before, it was created by GlobeMed at Rutgers, and was not updated very often. We concluded that it wasn’t beneficial to have, and deleted the page.

So far both of these projects have been going very well. We created an intern application process and form, and already added the form to the website. We hope to bring CSSD back to the States in this way and attract those that have a bachelors degree in a related field (such as business, management, social development, or public health) to intern. While we are going to find ways of spreading this intern program in the States, we have another intern working with us from England who wants to bring it to the UK. Her name is Lizzie Wait, and is a Anthropology/ Sociology student from the University of Edinburgh. She has been with us for a couple of weeks now, and is a great addition to our team. Lizzie is currently working hard to help get donors from the UK too. It’s really great to see that CSSD is creating more connections from around the world!

We are also learning more about the other staff here, and most of the new members are part of the Condom Promotion Team. They will spend the next year promoting and selling condoms to various venues across Phnom Penh. They are a lot of fun to hang out with, and I can’t wait to spend more time with them in the next week.

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On Friday CSSD held an event in the drop-in center for their MStyle program. During the first half of the workday all of the interns helped out with preparing the room. We helped out blowing up many balloons and creating paper decorations. It was a bit time consuming, but it was nice to do something out of the ordinary. We didn’t know much about the event at the moment, either. We just knew that there would be many people in attendance, evident by all the rows of chairs lined up. The event started after lunch, and we were able to go back to the drop-in center. The event was for MSM in Phnom Penh and included many exciting karaoke and dancing performances. CSSD gave away prizes as well, and the GlobeMed team was able to participate in picking the raffle numbers. Everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves. It was definitely a day to remember!

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That’s all for now!

With GlobeMed love,
– Megan

Tuesday was another holiday!

Tuesday was the Queen’s birthday, so we did not have work again. Instead, we planned a trip to Mount Tamao, a region about 40 kilometers away from Phnom Penh that had a zoo. We arrived at CSSD at 6am on Tuesday morning, after a long walk through the flooded streets, and met about half of the staff that would be joining us on that day. The other half, most of the condom promotion team, would meet us a few kilometers away. One of their staff is a tuk tuk driver, so they would be getting driven by him. Hongkry and Vanna, who were on the staff last year, also joined us! After seeing them in pictures and hearing the last team’s stories, I was so excited to meet them!

To get to our destination, it would be an hour and a half ride on the back of a motobike. I was as excited for this ride as I was for the rest of the day! I rode with Vanna, who was an excellent driver. After getting out of Phnom Penh, especially after one particularly bumpy and wet road, we were on our way through the country. Before we got out of the city, Vanna got a call telling him to wait up! As we learned later, some of the other staff members had stopped for breakfast, but we were unaware! We stopped by the side of the road and got to chat. It was nice to have a moment to bond with Vanna before we spent the next hour together on his motobike!

The country side was beautiful and it was nice to get away from the dust and pollution of the city. It didn’t rain at all that day, though we were nervous it would. It is another way to experience Cambodia, driving down the road, waving and talking to your friends on other motobikes, looking up and seeing the open sky before and after you. It was nice to be at peace and with my thoughts for a little bit like that, while enjoying the scenery and the wind in my hair.

Our motobike gang arrived at the zoo a few minutes before the tuk tuk did. After taking some group pictures with a statue, Jackie was brave enough to ask if she could learn to drive a motobike. A feeling of apprehension spread through our Khmer hosts, but after a moment Mr. Chanthan stepped up and bravely allowed Jackie to try his bike. After showing her what to press in order to start and stop, Jackie got the front seat while Mr. Chanthan stayed in the back of the bike, guiding her. After a loop, the tuk tuk arrived and we all got on the backs of the motobikes we came on.

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The zoo was in the middle of the forest and we drove between exhibits, ie large cages or fenced off areas. I did touch a monkey’s foot and Mr. Chanthan, who loves monkeys, petted a lot of monkey feet. At one cage, the monkey tried to grab him, but the monkeys at the other cages seemed to enjoy the foot rub.

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After going around and seeing some animals I have never seen and some that I have, we stopped to eat lunch. Like in Oudong, there were raised platforms with mats and hammocks. As some of the staff started to prepare lunch, someone suggested the GROW team learn how to ride the motobikes.

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Mr. Chanthan sat in the back of his bike as Jackie drove around again and then let her ride on her own! The area we were in had some vendors selling food, drinks, and toys and there was a good amount of dirt roads for us to drive on. It wasn’t so crowded at 9:00am, so there was plenty of room. As we watched and waited for Jackie to finish her turn, I asked another staff member, Geo, to teach me. He was enthusiastic to do so! He speaks only a little bit of English and his main teaching point, referring to both the brake and the gas, was “A little bit, a LITTLE bit, A LITTLE BIT!” After a lap around the lunch area together, his hands on the steering and the brake, it was my turn to go on my own.

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I had never driven a motobike before, but I loved driving cars and I loved riding on motobikes, so I knew I would enjoy this experience. You have to flow with the bike, swaying your body the direction of your turn, instead of making hard turns with the handlebars, I quickly learned. Geo’s bike was fun to ride and though I was nervous about the cost of replacing or repairing it if I crashed, my ride went rather smoothly. I made a few laps, experimented with tight and wide turns, and drove happily around the complex. Jackie was soon on Sam’s bike (our nickname for Sam Aun) and Megan and Nabgha took turns riding Mr. Chanthan’s bike. I had so much fun zooming around on that Cambodian summer day.

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Then it was time for lunch. We had fried fish, chicken with some ants in the seasoning, rice-field crab, snails, and rice rice rice, among sauces and other additions. Up at 6, we started lunch around 9:30 and I was ravenous, as I hadn’t eaten breakfast. We laid the food out in the middle and sat around it, eating and laughing and toasting and CHEERS! As everyone was getting full, we went around the circle telling jokes (some punchlines got lost in translation, but we all agreed to laugh at each other’s jokes, even if we didn’t get them.) There were about sixteen of us, all sitting around and laughing and translating and gesturing. I felt as though I was at a family dinner, just soaking in the company along with the warm sun.

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After lunch, it was suggested we drive on the motobikes again. I used Geo’s again, but there were more school groups, families, and people in the area now, so I had to be careful to go slowly and only use the acceleration A LITTLE BIT. It was a short ride this time and when I parked (successfully) the staff members were in groups, playing cards.

Nabgha, Jackie, and I joined Geo, Ty, Try, and Rhut in their circle. We watched as they played a game which we weren’t familiar with. We started to pick up on the rules and eventually partnered up with the staff members. It was fun to sit and relax and joke and strategize with them, mostly through hand gestures and sounds.

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After a long round of card games, we decided to go on a walk. It was the GROW team, Lizzie, Geo, Seab, and Rhut. We walked around, saw more animals, and enjoyed our time together. It was about 3:00pm by now and very hot. After our walk, we hung around the hammock area again with the staff, watching Sophanny’s elephant dance and listening to Khmer banter. Soon, it was time to clean up and go. Geo is a DJ at a nightclub and he invited the whole staff to come out that night. I was excited to go, but ready to take a shower and leave my backpack at home. However, it was decided that the whole staff would just go to the club as is, (it opens at noon!) without going home and changing.

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I rode on Rhut’s motobike home, because Vanna would not be joining us at the nightclub. It was another beautiful journey, though dusty. We were one of the three motobikes that stopped at Geo’s home so he could change before his DJ shift. As we waited outside, Lizzie and I wiped a full layer of brown dust off of our faces with facewipes. I was sweating and dust-covered, with a backpack and flip-flops, standing in a Phnom Penh neighborhood waiting for my DJ friend to change so we could all go to the club at 5:00pm on a Tuesday. This was not a place I expected to be a year ago. And I loved every single moment of it. After a few minutes, Geo came out and it was off to the High Club.

Inside, it was dark and the music was already loud and blasting with a respectably-sized crowd of Khmer youth dancing away. We sat on some couches, got some beer, and tried to wrap our minds around the situation. The group went from sitting and moving a bit, to standing and dancing, to getting out on the dance floor and rocking it. When Geo came on, he started off with some slow songs and then switched over to some Snoop Dog-type music. It was fun to see how everyone danced, as most people had their own unique style. It was interesting to see the people I taught English to, who I know from the office, people like my boss, the executive director, goofing off and dancing. Soon it was getting late and Mr. Chanthan asked us if we wanted to go home. Nabgha answered patiently, “Wait a second Mr. Chanthan, first let me drop it like its hot.”

We were driven home by some of the staff members. It was my first time doubling up as a passenger, meaning Nabgha and I were both getting driven home by Sam on his bike. It was nice to get into the cool air, though my ears rang until the next day. After getting dropped off at our hotel, we decided to go get dinner at one of our favorite places to eat, the Laughing Fatman. We ate our burgers (veg!) and fries and Megan and Jackie fell asleep on the tuk tuk ride home. Only Megan and I managed to shower that night, as Jackie and Nabgha laid down and passed out immediately upon arrival.

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June 18th will definitely be one of my favorite days in Cambodia. I feel so much closer to the staff, to my GROW team, and I have many, many more fond memories of Phnom Penh and Cambodia. It was a long day, but I enjoyed every moment of it. Thank you thank you thank you!

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With much GlobeMed and GROW love,

Gabby

Come Along to Oudong

On Saturday, we decided to set out for Oudong. Instead of traveling the 40km distance by bus, we opted to rent a tuk-tuk, which would allow us to arrive and leave at our leisure. So our day began with a two hour tuk-tuk ride over hills and dirt roads into Kampong Speu Province, a trip that I spent dozing off to the soft countryside sounds. I woke at a checkpoint, where we had to pay one dollar to cross into the town of Oudong. After driving us around for some time, the tuk-tuk driver dropped us off near the foot of a flight of stairs. In our typical enthusiastic GROW team fashion, we decided to climb the stairs and quickly glance at whatever was on the summit.

It turned out that the flight of stairs was 509 steps long.

We were scaling Phnom Oudong, the mountain that is the main attraction of the town. At the summit, we found ourselves surrounded by a breathtaking view of the countryside below, dotted by palm trees and temples and small shacks on stilts. There was a modern stupa at the top of the mountain, flanked by the remains of more ancient monuments and stupas.

IMG_1368Without any guides or clear plan, we took time to explore the mounts nearby, ascending and descending through the trees. Every now and then, we would happen upon a clearing with more ruins. Our impromptu explorations and discoveries made me feel like we were unfolding a map, unraveling the land in front of us.

We descended from the mount and followed a road to the Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Center, a stunning monastery complex. The word picturesque has seldom been more appropriate for any place that I have seen in my life. Earlier, while we were at the peak of Phnom Oudong, I had glanced towards the center from above and vaguely thought about how much I would like to visit it. The fact that we subsequently stumbled upon it was surreal.

IMG_1376 IMG_1374The inside of the central temple in the complex was as remarkable as its surroundings. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling in murals and a massive statue of a meditating Buddha sat at one end of the hall. I sat for some time in the temple, finding myself unable to move on for a few moments.

IMG_1378Somewhat satiated by the ample amount of time that we spent in the complex, we decided to head back to the main road. Just as we were leaving, it began to rain. A lot. We sought shelter under the thatched roof of a nearby shop, playing cards and watching dogs run through the rain to pass time. When the rain cleared, we set out to ascend to the peak of Phnom Oudong again so that we could climb down the 509 steps we had initially used. Back at our starting point, we were able to re-orient ourselves and look for food. We settled on buying some fish and baguettes, then found a cozy space near some hammocks to eat and relax. I thought that I would just rest my eyes for a few minutes and ended up falling asleep in the hammock.

IMG_1388The tuk-tuk ride back to Phnom Penh was smooth through the countryside, but just as we entered the city, the rain came back with full force. Our driver was very careful and attentive, using plastic covers to keep us dry and comfortable in the flooded streets. We spent the night in the hotel, relaxing after a long day.

On Sunday morning, we had brunch in a coffee shop before visiting the Russian Market. After shopping for some time, we settled into a small restaurant, where we ordered drinks, relaxed, read, and got some work done. We spent the evening in our hotel, preparing for English lessons the next morning just before dozing off. Just another memorable weekend during the internship of a lifetime.

– Nabgha

Aside

Perfect blend of work and play.

This week at the CSSD office flew by rather quickly – faster than any of us have hoped. For some reason, our 7-5 workday is gradually feeling shorter and shorter. We are no longer the ‘new’ interns in the office; the staff treats us like we are family to them. When we arrive in the morning, the staff who we teach English to on Monday-Wednesday warmly welcome us into the office by saying, “Good morning, Teacher.”

Upon completely the monitor and evaluation survey last week, this week was devoted to conducting mock interviews with the entertainment workers to see if our survey is clear, effective and applicable in the real setting. The Peer Facilitator staff who go out into the community to educate and work with the entertainment workers are instructed to devote one meeting session to conduct a mock interview with the EW. Each Peer Facilitator was able to take one or two GROW interns each (only 2-3 people can fit on 1 motorbike) to go to meet with the EW and observe the interview process. This was a good opportunity for us to see how the EW react towards the questions (even if they are said in Khmer) or if they look confused, uncomfortable, etc. Using this information, we can modify or add/delete questions in the survey if necessary. Sopany and Channa were the Peer Facilitators that took Megan, Nabgha and I to meet with 2 entertainment workers to conduct the mock interviews. We rode on the motorbike to the back of a small house complex, where the 2 girls lived in a small room together. When we entered the small 12×10 foot room, we saw that the only things in the room was 1 bed with 2 pillows, a few pots and silverwear on the floor in the corner, and a clothes line hanging a few articles of clothing. The 2 girls that lived in the room motioned for Nabgha, Megan and I to sit on the bed as Sopany and 1 of the girls conducted the survey on the cement floor in front of us. There was no room to fit all of us in the room together so Channa and the 2nd girl conducted the interview outside. As much as we wanted to observe the interview take place, the 3 of us felt a little uncomfortable starring directly at the girl as she answered many personal questions that Sopany asked. These questions inquired about her knowledge of HIV/AIVS, sexual behavior, contraceptive practices and economic status. We would occasionally catch her starring back at us, looking partly defensive and partly ashamed. We tried to break the tense atmosphere by quietly talking amongst ourselves as the survey was conducted.

ImageAfter conducting the mock interview, we al reported back to the office to discuss the results. This was also a great time for us to converse with the Peer Facilitators about any changes we want to make about the survey process so that it is clearer and more effective.

In the beginning of the week, we also welcomed 9 new staff in the office – one Program Director and eight members of a team working on a condom promotion project for CSSD. The new staff members were former staff at other NGOs in Cambodia, so Mr. Chanthan was confident that they would be productive additions to the office. They are all very friendly and eager to get to know us. Next Tuesday we planned a staff trip to Phnom Tamao – an animal reservation about an hour away from Phnom Penh. It is a holiday in Cambodia (Queen’s Birthday) so nobody has work that day – it should be a great day for staff bonding!

On Thursday, a few of the staff invited us all for dinner at a place called Vitking House. It is a vegetarian restaurant that serves delicious Cambodian Cuisines with a Western fusion – one of Chenda’s favorite places to eat!

ImageChenda, Ruttanak, Sopphea and Strayon picked us up at our hotel on their motorbikes and we all rode to the restaurant. During dinner, the staff were very generous in making sure we all had enough food on our plates. Naturally, they set aside a portion of their food and served it to us. Without hesitation, we also offered our food to them to return the kind favor. Instantly, we were all indulging in everyone’s dishes aside from our own – reaching over to try a bit of every plate. That outing with the staff showed us all how incredibly generous and selfless they are.

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It is humbling to think of how far we have all come since Day 1 in the office and how complete strangers have turned into our very own Cambodian family. Consequently, our time in Phnom Penh is getting shorter as we face 2 more weeks ahead of us.

With GROW love,

Jackie

Some Sunday Sightseeing

The GROW team had the whole Sunday free, and so we wanted to make the most of it. We turned to our usual trusted guide of Phnom Pehn, Vorth (Whut), for help. The day earlier he agreed to meet us at our hotel at 10:00 AM, when we would start our adventure. In the morning we met with Vorth and his cousin, and the four of us took a tuk-tuk to our first stop of the day- the Killing Fields.

The Killing Fields site we visited was more specifically named Choeung Ek, and now is a genocidal center memorial. Choeung Ek is the most well known of the over 300 killing fields throughout Cambodia. It was where, under the the Democratic Kampuchea regime, prisoners from detention camps and interrogation centers were eventually transferred to. Tuol Sleng (the genocide museum we visited earlier) was just one of the many places of torture the prisoners came from. But being sent to Choeung Ek was comparable to being given an execution sentence, and death was near certain.

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Learning this information was merely scraping the surface. Listening to the accompanying audiobooks provided more in-depth details of the place where so many horrible atrocities occurred. There were numbered points along the pathway that correlated to the audiobook, the stops included  mass graves, executioners’ offices, areas where killing tools & chemical substances were stored, and a tree aptly named the Chankiri Tree (Killing Tree)- where young children or babies of the adult prisoners were murdered against. There was the Memorial Stupa, where over 5,000 skulls are stored, and where most have been shattered or smashed in. There were recordings of personal narratives, survivor stories, that twisted the gut and shattered the heart to listen to. Throughout the trip to the memorial everyone was quiet, in deep thought to these unimaginable events. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Any emotion of sorrow or anger I felt seemed inadequate. Even describing the visit right now just seems like a feeble attempt to encompass it all. We can learn the facts, read and listen to them, but the amount we can truly understand from events like this may always feel incomplete.

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On a lighter note, Vorth and his cousin decided to take us to a mall for lunch after. It was nice being in an air-conditioned space, and it was also interesting seeing a mall in a different part of the world. Clothes, jewelry, and food were a bit more expensive; but that was expected. We ate in the food court where we had to convert our dollars to these paper “coupons” that represented a value of riel before entering. Most of us had similar lunch that contained rice, egg, and a soup. I had a really good mango smoothie along with my meal as well. After relaxing for a bit we set off to the riverside for a visit to the National Museum.

The National Museum is only a few streets away from the royal palace. It is a  beautiful red building with tall columns and intricate roof details. The structure wraps around and connects in a shape of a square and contains a courtyard in the center. All throughout the National Museum’s halls contained many artifacts- sculptures, statues, steles, and jewelry relating to Cambodia’s culture and religions throughout history. It was relaxing to walk around the exhibits, and I was in awe of the works of art.

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Afterwards, we hung out right next to the river. We passed time by playing word games and watching the people walk by. We saw many people exercising, playing sports, and even an outdoor jazzercise class. Also after much preparation, Jackie and Gabby both tried some fried crickets! Seeing them work up the courage and the reactions of the people around us was hilarious and entertaining. But that didn’t quite quench our hunger, and so we decided to eat at a restaurant called El Mundo. It had a very diverse menu. Gabby, Jackie, and I had baguette sandwiches with fries, Nabgha had sweet n’ sour chicken, and Vorth & his cousin had salads. It seems like we end most our adventures with a great dinner, and Sunday was no different. The GROW team then split up with Vorth and his cousin, retreating to our hotel to prepare for the next day of our internship.

Until next time,
-Megan

Birthday!

On Saturday, June 8th, I turned 21 years old.

This was our second GROW family birthday. Jackie’s, which we spent at Angkor Wat, was the first and was amazing, so I was wondering what to do for mine! Mr. Chanthan had invited us to his house for a rooftop party that day, so our afternoon was set!

However, on Friday, it was also Rottanak’s birthday (he turned 27!) so we had a little celebration in the office.

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Towards the end of the work day, the GROW team was working on individual stuff at our spot, when Rottanak came over and said, “Okay, Gabby, let’s go.” We were to pick up some supplies for the party! I hopped on the back of his bike and we were off. We weaved in and out of traffic for quite a while, I was sure we had crossed town, until we finally arrived at an ABC Bakery, where we picked out a cake (purple and with “Happy Birthday Gabby and Rottonak,” plus some candles!)

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With me holding onto the cake, we were off again, back towards the office, to the Russian Market. We were looking for fish (I don’t eat meat) for dinner. We stopped at one stand, but Rottanak wasn’t into it (I think the price was too high?) so we drive a meter down the street to another fish stand. They were whole Tilapias, coated in salt and cooked over a smoldering fire. We didn’t even get off the bike and took two fish and bag of lettuce, other greens, and sauce. Now with both the cake and fish in my hands, we drove back to CSSD, where some speakers and tables were being set up. We all helped set the tables in the open air space in front of the office.

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After slicing the cake and a few unknown to me birthday rituals (I had to feed the cake to both Rottanak and Mr. Chanthan. Rottanak fed it to everyone, but I didn’t want to do that) and lots of photos, we dug into the fish (literally) with our forks and chopsticks. The Talapia with lettuce and sauce was actually one of my favorite meals in Cambodia and I think ever. It was so simple and so good! The beer started flowing immediately, too. You couldn’t have an empty cup, or one of the staff members would urgently fill it again! Through the night, CSSD staff members would challenge others to drinking contests and a loud “CHEERS” would echo randomly and often as we all clinked cups. Good thing the beer is not so strong!

After our meal, it got a little crazy. Suddenly, icing was flying! Everyone was mashing it into each other’s faces, running around the courtyard. It got into my eyes and nose and mouth and everyone had it everywhere. The night was filled with delighted yet terrified screams and lots of laughter.

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After everyone took a moment to wipe all the icing off of their faces and hands, the music turned louder and it was time to dance. With Mr. Chanthan  videoing us (where are those files, so I can destroy them?) we ignored everything and just had fun. We all showed off our Western (booty shaking) and Khmer (hand twirling) dance skills.

Then it was time to clean up and go home, as we were all exhausted and soaked with sweat after a long day of work and celebration!

On Saturday, we woke up late (8:30am) so we could start my official 21ST BIRTHDAY! We had brunch off river, at an NGO called Daughters, which helps women who were sexually trafficked and which we definitely want to visit again. Then we shopped for a bit and finally got an hour oil massage each, at Seeing Hands, an NGO that trains people who are blind to be masseuses so they can earn a living. Relaxed, we went into one more thrift store and it was time to meet Mr. Chanthan. He picked us up at our hotel and drove us through Phnom Penh (crazy drivers!) to his home.

After hanging out for a bit, seeing his monkey, and seeing how his wife made  spring rolls, we walked up some steep stairs to reach the roof of his home. It was flat and he surrounded his space with beautiful plants (“paper” flowers and all kinds of herbs, among others.) We had an absolutely amazing dinner of spring rolls and curry (with bread! BREAD!) that filled us up! Paired with winter melon tea (tastes like cookies) and Angkor beer (a standard at parties!) it was a great relaxing and filling experience. Mr. Chanthan’s son and nephew were with us the whole time and later, his daughter came home later to join us. We played a number of games and ended the party with a lot of group karaoke (Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Vanessa Carlton, and Enrique Iglesias) which we screamed (sang?) into the night.

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We were driven home by Mr. Chanthan, dropped some stuff off, and went to the riverside so I could purchase my first legal (US-standard) drink. We hung out a nice riverside restaurant, then went down the road for some good, cheap, grub. We got home late, but it was worth it.

I know I am very lucky and honored to know the people I do. I am so glad to have spent my birthday with the CSSD family, including Jackie, Megan, Nabgha, and Lizzie. I know we’re not even at the half way point, but I am learning a lot from these ladies already.

My friends back home and wherever you guys are currently in this world, I also want to thank you for your constant love and support. My life is so much more beautiful because of you!

So it was a great 21st birthday! I look forward to another (excellent) year of life!

With much GROW and GlobeMed love,

Gabby

Building Momentum

Another work week at CSSD has come to a close and it’s almost frightening to think that we only have three full weeks left. I did not prepare myself for the time to slip by so quickly.

Early on Monday morning, we held our first English lesson of the internship. We began with the alphabet, describing both phonetics as well as proper ways of writing the letters. The staff was eager to learn and I was happy to see that even those who were well-versed in the alphabet benefitted from the phonetics lesson. On Tuesday, we completed the alphabet review and went over both the long and short sounds of the English vowels. For the rest of the day, I could hear the staff shouting “Ah!” “Uh!” “Ih!” as they practiced on their own and laughed. It never occurred to me before that the short vowel sounds really are quite amusing when screamed out loud – another lesson that only the animated and cheerful CSSD staff could have taught me. The English lesson on Wednesday was more focused on building vocabulary as we discussed feelings and acted them out. It’s funny to see how those who understand a word right away describe it to their peers: the explanation for “scared” became “Jackie with bugs!”

In parallel with the English lessons, Chenda and Rottanak also began giving us impromptu Khmer lessons after lunch breaks. We learned key phrases to navigate Phnom Penh (like “Tlai ponman?” for “How much does it cost?” or “Bot chueng” for “turn right” among others. Now we seem quite impressive to our tuk-tuk drivers!). We also began learning the alphabet, the numbers, and common items around the kitchen. The Khmer alphabet strikes me as much more complex than the English alphabet, with dependent vowels and subtle differences between consonants that I can really only pretend to hear.

On Thursday, Chenda and Samphee approached us about writing a form for proper reporting of what goes on when the Peer Facilitators or IPC staff go to community. After much debate, we titled the form “Community Visit: Activity Reporting Form” and made fields for the CSSD staff to report such things as the date and location of the visit, the number of participants, the discussion tools used, the topics discussed, the level of engagement of the participants, memorable occurrences, and suggestions for future discussions. Chenda has always said that although CSSD staff are very strong in their outreach work, they are weak in properly reporting it and have little to show at the end of the year in comparison to all that they have actually accomplished. We hope that proper implementation of this form will improve accurate reporting and perhaps strengthen both the qualitative and quantitative facets of the argument that CSSD does meaningful work.

After the discussion about reporting, the power went out in the office. Mr. Chanthan explained that the demand for electricity in Phnom Penh exceeds the available energy, so power is periodically cut off to balance supply with demand. The government claims that this problem will be completely resolved by next month.

After sweltering in the heat for some time, Mr. Chanthan suggested that we return to our hotel early for the day. We seized the two extra hours of daylight that we had from our early release to explore Phnom Penh by bike! We weaved our way through small dirt roads, traffic jams, busy intersections, and chaotic roundabouts. We swerved, snaked, raced, and abruptly braked. We pushed boundaries and challenged ourselves as the trip continued into the rainy night.

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When we were sufficiently lost, exhausted, and soaking wet from rain and sweat, we took tuk-tuks to the riverfront and treated ourselves to dinner. I am both proud of myself for continuing the ride and amazed at myself for thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

RiverfrontThe survey was fully translated to Khmer by the end of the week and on Friday, Mr. Chanthan led a discussion to review the questions with the entire staff. Together, the staff made changes to improve the clarity of the questions and ease of use. Corrections were made according to these suggestions and the Khmer version of the survey is now complete! Over the next few weeks, it will be implemented in discussion groups. The current momentum of this project is really exciting to experience –  I hope that it will continue into the latter weeks of our internship as well.

– Nabgha