Reflections

Gabby:

I can’t believe my experience in Cambodia is over. I have been thinking about, planning, and preparing for the experience for about a year, so it’s hard to accept that this part of my life is over. It’s not completely over though, thankfully, because I am still in contact with Mr. Chanthan and CSSD and will be talking about the organization to the Rutgers GlobeMed team all of next semester. However, the largest portion of my work with GlobeMed, the GROW internship of 2013, is over. What?!

I haven’t been in New Jersey since the experience; I ran away from home for the whole summer and will only be returning at the end of August. So I don’t know if I had time to truly reflect on my experience. I do know that my leadership, team work, and communication skills have improved. I am more confident in myself. I learned some things about myself and how I function that I did not know before. I grew to love so many people and places. I saw so much beauty. I learned about nonprofit management and capacity building. I asked the phrase “who am I?” a good number of times.

I know it will take much more time for me to wrap my mind around what actually happened and in what subtle and explicit ways the experience has affected me. I am excited to see how the experience will manifest itself when I am back in New Jersey and at school, caught up in academics, work, interning, friends, family, and all of the other things instead of a relaxed and exotic backdrop.

The most important part, I think, for all of us, will be to keep Cambodia with us as we go through our hectic and distracting lives as students. How can we take GROW back home? Cooking (as Jackie has done,) talking to our friends and loved ones (though how much do others really want to hear?) and sharing what we learned with the Rutgers GlobeMed chapter. And we will have each other. Jackie and Megan are the Directors of Campaigns this coming year. Nabgha will be in Boston doing research, as she has graduated. My main GlobeMed responsibility will be to teach our chapter about CSSD and Cambodia. I know that we will be with each other, no matter where we are physically. CSSD and Cambodia will always be with us.

I owe so much thanks to so many people, Megan, Nabgha, and Jackie, you ladies have made the experience for me. I love you all so much and I can’t believe how incredible our team was. Mr. Chanthan and CSSD, thank you for treating us like family and allowing us to develop professionally. GlobeMed, thank you for the support, as without your existence and your resources my life would be vastly different. My parents, for your continued love and support, but also for your willingness to let me go and explore. To all of my friends, for being constant lights in my life and reminding me of it even though I am so far away.

Ah khun!!!

With much GlobeMed and GROW love,

Gabby

—-

Nabgha:

I finally unpacked my backpack today. I had emptied my suitcase, washed my clothes, and done all the immediate mechanical tasks that were necessary for readjustment after returning from Cambodia. But I hadn’t touched my backpack because there were too many precious things inside.

I surrounded myself with all the little trinkets that emerged: notes I had taken during staff meetings, receipts from our favorite stores, business cards from restaurants, boarding passes for the flights, and cards written to us by various staff members just before we left. Memories were scattered on my bedroom floor. Reflecting on the internship is strange. In a way, it feels like years have already passed and I have already become used to the memory of it. But in reality, I have been home for just three weeks and have only talked to a handful of people about my experiences before they were treated like a “tired” story.

So this is my chance to ruminate and distill meaning from the six weeks that made Phnom Penh my home.

I have to begin by thanking Mr. Chanthan and the rest of the CSSD staff for their hospitality, love, mentorship, and willingness to teach us about everything that piqued our curiosity. Their presence defined our trip, from the sights we saw to the things we accomplished. And of course, I owe a heartfelt thank you to Gabby, Jackie, and Megan. You were the most fun, loving, and motivating G.R.O.W. team I could have asked for. It’s humbling to think how great and unassuming you all are.

The shocking thing about the internship was how quickly it gave rise to new perspectives and character changes. My research pursuits and intellectual interests always favored specialized care. I’ve often thought about careers in neuroradiology and neurosurgery, and despite the fact that I appreciate the importance of primary care and family medicine, I never pictured myself as an active member of those fields. Exposure to the CSSD mission and vision, however, helped define my developing interests in them. CSSD is successful because it addresses the need for comprehensive and personalized attention to its target populations, considering the context of a family and community network. The same principles are applicable to a meaningful physician practice – I look forward to incorporating them in my future work.

Of course, hands-on experience with our project also taught me not only the value of, but also the challenges associate with, community health projects and NGO development. It was interesting to pose what I thought of as “straightforward solutions” for the problems we faced and to, in response, learn the complexities which prevented my solutions from being useful at all. I learned to appreciate the challenges associated with creating social change as well as the careful, nuanced solutions that are needed to address them. And in this way, I also gained a richer understanding of the problem that our project attempts to solve.

Working on my medical school application while abroad was certainly not a cakewalk. But I think the two processes – interning and writing my application – fed one another in a really positive way. I incorporated developing perspectives and changing character into my medical school application. Conversely, the long-sightedness required for the application (thinking about my future, my ultimate goals in life, etc.) made me appreciate the internship in a richer way.

On a personal level, the trip also built my independence, sense of self, and confidence – it was my first experience travelling abroad without family and without a host to live with in the destination! Navigating a new country with just the G.R.O.W. interns by my side made me realize how beautiful it can be to explore a place just for the sake of appreciating its wonder and not with an agenda. I learned to build connections and care about people without thinking too hard (every person that I encountered throughout Cambodia was humble, welcoming, and extremely gracious). And I learned the value of travelling – opening my mind to the beauty of a life completely outside my norm.

I have nothing but gratitude and love for the experience. I cannot fully communicate how much it meant to me, how much I “grew” from it, and how thankful I am to have been a G.R.O.W. intern this summer. CSSD, the other interns, and the sights, sounds, and tastes of Phnom Penh will always have a special place in my heart.

—-

Jackie:

It has been over a month since the GROW team arrived back in the US and I still feel like Cambodia was just yesterday. The memories, knowledge and relationships I have made and built during our trip has changed who I am forever. Upon coming back home to that states, it took me a few weeks to realize that I was in the New Jersey and away from the people and places I called ‘home’ for the past month and a half. Everyday I would reflect back on the trip and try to relive as much as I could remember – every day, every second. Yet it was impossible.

Before I left for Cambodia, I have to admit, I did not expect to return home with a different attitude or outlook on life, but I was wrong. Im a whole new person after the GROW trip to Cambodia. The 6 week long trip has taught me a lot about our partner CSSD, the people and culture of Cambodia, 3 strong young women who shared my experiences, and most importantly – it has taught me a lot about myself. I am more grateful for what I have, the opportunities available to me and the people that surround me everyday.

After getting to know the loving, warm, motivated and passionate staff at CSSD, I can now say that my efforts to help the grassroots organization is justified and renewed. Spending majority of our days with them, learning about their lives and where they come from, has birthed a reality of the people we are working with and the lives we are striving to improve. GROW has given me a sincere, undying passion to dedicate my time and energy to this organization.

Lastly, I would not be who I am now without my team. Gambi, Naga Queen and Mega (also known as Gabby, Nabgha and Megan) have made GROW what it is to me. I cannot begin to explain how different we all are in our personalities, beliefs, goals and aspirations but somehow we made for a perfect team. Regardless of the situation, whether it be stressful and confusing, urgent and life-threatening (yes, there were many moments), blissful and exciting – we all held it together and made the most of the moment we shared. They might not even be aware of it, but I am eternally thankful for having learned so much from the three of them and what they have taught me – about myself and life in general. Living with a small group of girls for 6 weeks and spending every second of the day with them, in an environment completely foreign to us was extremely exciting and startling all at once. It was fabulous and I would not have had it any other way. Thank you to the best GROW team I could have ever imagined – you girls are fearless! Always remember, GROW will never end.

I want to conclude my last post in the blog with a quote from an admirable travel righter of today, Pico Iyer.

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”

Warm appreciation to everyone that kept up with us during our travels abroad.

Cheers to a successful and memorable GROW trip!

With eternal GROW love,

Jackie

IMG_1339 IMG_1371 IMG_1380

IMG_0975 IMG_1418 IMG_1435 IMG_1507

993917_10151727491215240_429422459_n IMG_1516

983538_472541336154211_1738227553_n

986556_472540859487592_1656403744_n

973660_472541136154231_636822635_n IMG_1621

983541_472540882820923_2062467987_n IMG_1647 IMG_1655

979510_472541479487530_270921564_n

IMG_2007 IMG_2041
IMG_2146 IMG_2196 IMG_2222IMG_2077

Advertisements

The CSSD website

The GROW team and CSSD would like to announce the launch of the new CSSD website!

cssdcambodia.wix.com/english

The process of creating the website started many months ago, with Mr. Chanthan’s son originally making it. The GROW team took his layout and design and added content and edited. Now there is information online about what CSSD does and who they are. We hope that this online presence will help create more awareness about the issues CSSD works with and benefit the organization and their target groups overall!

To make the website useful and sustainable, we are training the Program Assistant to maintain and update the site.

As our time with CSSD is wrapping up, we are very excited to announce this new completed project!

 

With much GlobeMed love,

Gabby

Last weekend in Cambodia!

Our last weekend in Cambodia has passed. We have spent the last few days reflecting on our experiences while gaining new ones, preparing ourselves mentally for the departure. After the staff party on Friday evening, we were excited to spend part of our last few days in the country with our executive director and his family.

The GROW team, LIzzie, Mr. Chanthan, and his wife and daughter piled into his five person car for an hour and a half ride to Takeo province, where Mr. Chanthan’s sister lives. First, however, we went to a mountain that was only a few kilometers from her house. The name of the mountain translated to “Elephant Falls,” but unfortunately, there are no elephants there anymore. We arrived to the country side and I felt at home. I have really GROWn (see what I did there?) to love Phnom Penh, but fresh air and trees and water really help revive me. When we arrived at the foot of the mountain, we were greeted by a large golden Buddha and several smaller replicas. Then it was time to climb.

IMG_2097

Saturday was hot. It was a dry, still heat, with no wind to help cool us off. We loaded up with snacks and drinks and climbed up concrete steps. I didn’t count how many there were, but I daresay there were hundreds. We took a few breaks on the way up. I was sweating so much, it looked like I had gone swimming. Not so cute. But we managed to finish the steps in good time and we arrived at a small temple, made of some sticks and a tin roof. We weren’t yet at our desired location, but now we had to climb without concrete steps.

IMG_2106

Thankfully, once we finished the concrete steps, we were more than halfway up. The climb up the dirt path was littered with rocks, but not so bad. At last, we arrived at our desired summit. There was a larger pagoda there, open-air but with a tile floor and a large golden, well-kept Buddha. This is one thing I personally love about Cambodia. We were hiking through forests where we didn’t see many people, but there were a number of small pagodas.

IMG_2107

We settled on a level patch of grass and snacked. The Meas family thought of us Westerners and bought bread! We had bread with jam and cheese and meat, ate watermelon, and drank water and winter melon juice. The GROW team, Lizzie, and Mr. Chanthan were joined by Mr. Chanthan’s nephew, Sovann, and his friend and our co-worker, Rut! We were so happy to be able to spend more time with them.

After our snack, most of us climbed up the mountain a bit further. We were so fortunate to be able to see the view, which was difficult in most places because of the amount of trees and greenery. We were able to see all the fields, other mountains in the distance, the lake, and even the house we would be visiting soon! We couldn’t climb too high, because the the path started to get extremely narrow, the smell changed, and we started seeing more evidence of wild boars. We didn’t want to get caught by a wild animal, so we turned around and headed back to camp.

IMG_2119

After some more snacks, we decided it was time to go down the ten thousand (or so) steps and go on to Mr. Chanthan’s sister’s home. It was a good idea, because about half-way down the steps, it started raining! The change in weather was a welcome relief from the heat and we managed to get to the car before it started pouring.

It was only a short ride to the house. We climbed out and sat down for a few minutes, relaxing from our mountain treck. The girls soon fell asleep on a bed after laying for a bit, but I didn’t want to, so I just sat next to them, watch the rain pour down. I had seen Rut and Sovann running around the house and I wondered what they were up to. Soon, Rut came into the doorway and asked if I wanted to go swimming. There was a lake right across the street from the house, but it was raining! Surely he was joking, my mind said. But after confirmation that Rut and Sovann were indeed going to the lake to fish and swim, I took off my flowing and baggy Cambodian pants and ran out into the rain with them in yoga pants, tank top, and sports bra.

We went to the lakeside and Sovann showed us how to cast the net properly. He caught a small fish on his first try! I just stood on the bank for a little bit, but eventually went into the water as we moved around the lake, searching for a better place to catch fish. Unfortunately, the water was low and there was not much to catch.

That afternoon will be one of my most cherished memories of Cambodia. I cannot do the view justice by trying to explain, but I will say that I was in a warm lake, learning to fish with two Khmer 20-something year olds. In front of us there were fields grass an incredible shade of green, with cows and water buffolos grazing. Behind the fields were mountains, one of which I had just climbed. I was on the last week of an experience that taught me so much and was continuing to teach me so many useful things about practical NGO work and about the world and people around me. I tried to soak the experience in.

We swam and walked around the fields, and soon, Mr. Chanthan joined us. He didn’t have much luck either, which was confirmation that it wasn’t just us young fishermen that were the reason for a lack of catch. We took out the neighbor’s boat, which looked like an asian soup spoon, and took that around a bit too. We ate boiled corn from a seller that was passing by. We laughed, a lot. I learned a few Khmer words, practiced casting the net, and wiggled my toes in the very squishy lake bottom. Vorth even joined us, having gotten better from his fever the night before!

After a little bit, we decided to wake the sleeping girls up, so that they could get in on the fun. It hadn’t rained for long, so it wasn’t as intimidating to walk out. We took more rides on the boat, then walked back to clean up before dinner. We each took a rain barrel shower, pouring the rain water that was stored in large clay pots over our soaped up limbs. We were all outside together, so it wasn’t a modern shower, but it got the job done well enough. What a funny experience, to get a pitcher of cool rain water dumped on your head by your executive director!

After showering, changing, getting introduced to our room and the one bed the five of us would be sharing, and snacking on more bread, we grabbed a watermelon and knife and the GROW team, Lizzie, Mr. Chanthan, and his daughter Srey Put went for a walk. We walked down the road to the dam and sat, staring at the beautiful view, eating watermelon, and wondering how in the heck we are lucky enough to experience such a place, with so many great people, at such a time.

IMG_2139

After our meditation on the dam, we decided to keep walking. We walked to the market and around the town, able to witness the sunset, s mix of pinks and golds and purples and blues that overwhelmed me, walking down a dirt path through some fields. I felt the evening that night. I was part of it, not just a spectator. It was a remarkable feeling.

IMG_2170

After our walk, we headed back home. After some more corn and hanging out, we had another delicious dinner and were soon off to bed. It was my first night ever sleeping under a mosquito net. It was a long, hot night. In the morning, we ogled at a new perspective of the mountains and the lake, had noodles and soup for breakfast, and drove home to Phnom Penh.

On Sunday, after showering, the GROW team had lunch at the riverside and later met up with the CSSD staff for one last night out before our departure. It was wonderful to spend so much time with the staff! I am so grateful for their friendship. We went to dinner with them and talk turned to us leaving. It was sad, and I didn’t want to talk about it. On our way to Sophea’s sister’s retaurant, we encountered large crowds of people shouting “CHANGE” in Khmer, rallying for their political party for the election at the end of the month. A motorbike hit the motorbike Jackie was on, but it fortunately was a low-speed crash and Jackie was able to quickly jump off. No one was hurt, just the basket on the other bike was dented, but it was a good wake-up call for all of us. It is also interesting to see the political drama unfold. People drive on large pick up trucks, waving flags and shouting, or gather in the park, rallying for support for their party. I am interested to see what happens as the election gets closer.

It was a long weekend, but one filled with celebration, exploration, fun, and love. I am so, so grateful for my experience in Cambodia, and will be incredibly sad to go.

IMG_2148

With much GlobeMed love,

Gabby

Cards, Cake, and Gratitude

The end-of-internship apprehension is beginning to set in as our last full work week at CSSD ends.

On Monday, Mr. Chanthan attended a training session with USAID to discuss requirements and procedures in order to secure funding from them. Even while he was gone, the staff members worked diligently so that the office seemed a little more quiet than usual. But during lunch, they allowed themselves a few liberties and took us on a trip to Boeung Keng Kang Market, which is known for its wide selection of clothes for great prices. Rottanak, Sophea, and Sraiyon seemed to love showing us around and asking us to try on different outfits or accessories. It was a fun way to learn about their styles and personalities while exploring a new part of the city that we had yet to visit. We shopped around for less than an hour, returned back to the office within the time allotted for our lunch break, and continued to work. Our aim over the next few days was to complete the website so that we could present it to the staff, get feedback, and make changes before the internship is over.

Mr. Chanthan’s training session continued into Tuesday, leading to a second day of calm and productivity. We made progress on the internship application, using Google Forms to create the questionnaire and linking a spreadsheet to record the responses. Once the website is published and the internship is properly publicized, we hope to populate the spreadsheet with lots of applicants! That afternoon, the staff stayed after work to relax with us, aware of the fact that we would have few other opportunities to do so. We sat around Sophea’s desk, ate mango and peanuts, and talked and laughed together for some time before going home.

Wednesday marked Mr. Chanthan’s return from training and the staff resumed their bustling work mode, full of activity and noise. Our team continued to develop the website, writing a majority of the page contents and bringing us closer to finishing within our self-imposed deadline. After the work day was over, we went to a park in front of the Independence Monument. I sat on a bench with my laptop and hacked away at my personal statement for medical school, while the rest of the team exercised. It was exciting for me personally to write in such a stimulating environment and the rest of the team seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed their run as well. The following day was full of similar activities during the work day, as we rounded out the website content and began adding photos and adjusting page layouts. Jackie and I also began interviewing some staff members with basic questions (like what is your name, what is your position at CSSD, etc) to not only sharpen their English skills, but also to compile footage for a short summary video describing the staff. This is just one of the many ways we hope to bring GROW back to the staff once the trip has come to a close.

Friday was our going away party. Many of the staff members will be attending training with PSI next week, so this was one of our last opportunities to gather after work in the office to celebrate the end of the internship. I was hoping to ease into the festivities by beginning with a normal work day to wrap up some changes on the website and then transitioning into the party. But Mr. Chanthan urged us to start the festivities earlier in the day, so that the work day was completely over by 10:30 in the morning. The staff brought food from the market (including green mangoes, peanuts, and steamed fish), which they arranged on two tables outside. We filled the afternoon with photos, memories, stories, karaoke, and dancing.

After cutting the cake, each team member read a personal message to the CSSD staff, which we had written in a card that we presented to Mr. Chanthan during the party. It was nearly impossible to stand in front of all of them and speak about how much they mean to us. The past six weeks were defined entirely by their hospitality, generosity, and genuine good nature, a fact that we wanted them to understand but could not properly express. As we read through our messages, Mr. Chanthan translated our thoughts so that everyone could understand them, a process which made the whole experience even more touching. Jackie spoke last and found herself tearing up as she read her words aloud, a surprise that caught me, the rest of the team, and the CSSD staff very much off guard. It snapped the reality of our leaving into sharp focus. Immediately afterward, Sopany read a message to us about how much she will miss us and our smiles and how appreciative she was of our help. It was hard for me to process the fact that they could be the ones expressing gratitude towards us, when we had learned so much from them.

GroupWe passed the rest of the evening in festivities and celebration, putting aside sadness to instead cherish the few days that we have left together.

– Nabgha

Local Escapades

On Saturday morning, the GROW team woke up at 7 am to get ready for the staff trip to Kien Svay Province. The staff met us outside Bonitar hotel at 8 am, each with their own motorbike. Once everyone arrived at the hotel, the GROW team hopped on a motorbike and we all convoyed through Phnom Penh to find a good place to grab breakfast.

The staff directed us to a side-street eatery which serves classic Khmer breakfast – noodles and rice. We reserved 2 tables and all sat down together. Sophea ordered soup with Khmer noodles for me along with an iced coffee. No longer scared of contracting a dangerous illness from the mysterious ice in the coffee, I bravely drank from the the glass without hesitation. If this had happened at the start of the trip I most likely would not have drank the iced coffee from fear of getting sick, however that fear has simmered down after weeks of getting acquainted with the lifestyle in Cambodia.  After finishing breakfast, we all set off on the hour-long journey to Kien Svay Province. Kien Svay is located east of the Monivong Bridge on the route to Ho Chi Minh City. Near the town there is a relaxing area made up of small shacks on stilts above a river. This is a popular weekend getaway for Phnom Penh residents.

Once we arrived in Kien Svay Province, we walked around the market to check out the market vendors who were selling local fish, meats, fruits, vegetables.  It was very spacious with a wide variety of foods – all Khmer delicacies. The staff took it upon themselves to  choose what to buy for lunch as Megan, Gabby, Nabgha and I walked around and explored the area with Gio and Seab. All of the staff enjoy joking around and letting lose when we go on trips – a characteristic that we have all grown to love and something I will really miss when we leave.

After wandering the town for 30 minutes, we joined the staff on the river, where they rented a small hut that stood on stilts above the water. The huts were lined with straw mats that were designated for customers to dine and relax on. Before settling down to eat lunch, we all decided to take a boat ride along the Mekong River. 1044218_10152021525269698_954248342_nIt was a small banana-shaped boat barely big enough to fit 10 bodies. Somehow, we were able to configure our bodies so that we could all sit in the boat together. The roof of the boat was low and barely touched the tops of our heads, but it made for a comfy dwelling area for all of us. As we sat in the boat and made our way down the river (we hired a boat man to maneuver the boat down the river with a bamboo stick), we sang Khmer songs and American songs while eating a variety of local fruits that I have never tried before. Sometimes we would all sing and clap to the beat together so loudly that the visitors on the mainland nearby would hear us and wave to acknowledge our singing. Chenda and I would jokingly attempt to tip the boat over as I leaned in one direction and she leaned in the other in tandem. We would only stop the intense rocking when Rutina would scream at the top of his lungs to signal us to stop the rocking in fear that the boat would flip over. At one point amidst the singing, laughter, clapping, screaming – one of the staff members (Sam) reached into the water and pulled out a long lilly pad flower, in which he ripped the stem apart to make a necklace for me. The flower hung at the bottom of the necklace and made for a beautiful piece of natural jewelry. Another staff member (Chenda) reached for another flower in the water and made a crown out of the thick vine of the lilly flower.photo-63Despite the wet, slimy algae and dirt that came along with the vines taken from the river water, we all we so delighted to accept the gracious gifts they had made for us. At that moment of bliss and laughter, we named Nabgha (as she wore the crown of lilly flower) “Naga Queen” (Naga in Khmer is a snake which is highly honored in Cambodia). We made sure to snag a few photos to capture the priceless moment on the boat.

999015_10152021511139698_1168213221_n

After an hour of spending time on the boat with the staff, we made our way to the hut to eat lunch. The staff spread out an array of fish, spiced mangos, pork and rice. We all sat indian-style on the mat and ate the food with chop sticks while chatting and laughing away in Khmer/English conversations. Whenever the staff see that our plates are empty or close to empty, the reach for more food to put on our plate without us having to do it ourselves. They really take it upon themselves to care for us and make sure we are comfortable and happy at all times.

1044774_10152021511039698_41410939_nAfter eating, some of us relaxed in the hammocks, some played cards together, some of us sat and talked and some went on walks around the area. The hut was placed on the water in a perfect location so that wherever you were sitting under the hut, you had a fantastic view of the water and the scenery of the landscape. I learned that card games can get very loud, rowdy and even violent among the players – besides the actual game, playing cards can even include hitting and slapping arms and heads as well as jumping and screaming obnoxious sounds. It was a lot of fun to play and especially to watch! We continued relaxing, playing cards and bonding with the staff for the next 4 hours until it was time to pack up and head back to Phnom Penh.

On our way back into the city, Sam suggests getting dinner at V2O (Sophea’s sisters restaurant) and spending the rest of the day on the Diamond Island – we were all excited that we could spend more time with them! V2O is a modern, outdoor eatery setting with white chairs and tables under large white tents and is on one of the main roads in Phnom Penh. The restaurant is right near the Independent Monument and it is a welcoming place for Cambodians and foreigners. We all sat down for dinner and ate traditional Khmer food with local beer called ‘Angkor’ beer. Afterwards, instead of taking the motorbikes to Diamond Island, we all decided to walk a few blocks and cross the bridge to the island by foot. The walk was very enjoyable as we all joked around and laughed together, while also dodging traffic to get to our destination. Once on the island, the staff took us to a carnival area (wear we played carnival games such as balloon darts and each won little stuffed animals) and showed us around the parks there. Diamond Island is popular for the young crowd and those who want to take romantic walks around the beautiful gardens and stone architecture there. There is one area of the island that looks reminiscent of a Grecian square as it is lined in a circle with huge columns. During our walk it began to drizzle but the rain did not phase us at all – we actually quite enjoyed it because the rain in Cambodia is warm and refreshing, not cold like it is in the U.S. At the end of the night, we all made our way back over the bridge and back to the motorbikes so that the staff could take us to our hotel. After a long day, we all were able to get a great nights sleep!

995813_10152021512334698_813440388_n

 

On Sunday morning, we scheduled to meet with Vorth (Whut, Mr. Chanthan’s son) to construct the new CSSD website. Vorth met us in the hotel cafe downstairs at 8:30 AM and we all sat in one booth to eat breakfast and discuss the details of the website. After about 2 hours of working, we managed to develop the layout and content ideas for the site. The next few days we planned to fully fill-in the text and photos that would eventually be on the page. Vorth was very easy to work with because he is almost fully fluent in English (even English slang!) and he know a lot about constructing webpages. We all worked very well together being that there was no language barrier.

After concluding our meeting with Vorth, we all headed back up to the room to get ready and decide the rest of our plans for the day. The four of us all agreed to take a small day trip to a small island nearby called Koh Dach – which lays across the Mekong river from Phnom Penh. Lonely Planet recommends this destination for small day trips and if travelers want to see the ‘real’ Cambodia. Koh Dach is home of many weavers who weave traditional and modern designs for scarves, table clothes, fabric, etc. The weavers are very welcoming and also invite you inside their home to see how the fabric is made. Very interested to see this side of Cambodia, we set out to get a tuk tuk to bring us to the shipping dock. Once at the dock, we were reluctant to see that the passengers on the large ship were local Cambodians with their motorbike (and no foreigners) looking to traveling to the other side of the water for some other purpose besides touring. The other passengers were very friendly and would extend a wave or small smile when we looked in their direction. It only took 10 minutes to reach the other side of the river where we exited the ship onto an inclined dirt path which led to the main dirt road on the island. The four of us walked along the main dirt road and were greeted with smiles and “HELLO!!!” from the children and island residents who were surprised to see foreigners walking by. We were greeted by one woman who happily invited us into her small house (small hut-looking house with metal roofing and three sides bordered with wood with the forth side open to see the street view. After showing us her weaving loom and how to weave a pattern on a long pierce of red fabric, she offered to allow us to try the loom. We all took turns trying to weave the fabric and it took us some time until we got the hang of the repetitive motion. Afterwards, we purchased some of the scarves that her family made as souvenirs from the experience.

969877_10152036283794698_1570478652_n

We continued our journey down the dirt road and spent some time at a pagoda (holy grounds that houses temples and shrines for visitors to pray and worship Buddha). We also ran into small children that were so excited to see us and say hello. Three little girls on one large bike followed us as we explored the pagoda. 1001776_10152036284559698_24167652_nThey were simple so happy and intrigued to be around us. After our walk through the pagoda, we came across a long path that led to a small dock that looked out onto the river and the scenery across the water. Deciding to relax our feet a bit, we made our way to the dock and sat down on the large stone, letting our feet hang off the edge of the cliff. the GROW team bonded a bit and reflected on all of our experiences and adventures in Cambodia. In no time, we were joined by 5 young teenage girls who were eager to spend time with us. They sat along side us on the dock as we got to know more about them. One of the girls knew some English so she was able to translate much of what were were saying for her friends. They were all so giggly and happy; their smiles were so contagious. We learned their names, their ages, where they live, what they like to do everyday and more about the island we were on. We were also joined by a few young boys who were a little older than the girls and who also knew some English. They were also very friendly and willing to answer any of our questions we had about the area. We asked them were we could find some food to eat for lunch but they said that the market and center of town which had restaurants was about 10 kilometers away from where we were. We all sat together and talked for almost an hour until we decided ti was time to head back to grab some snacks. As we departed from our newly-made friends, we thanked them for their time and bid them farewell. One of the boys got on his bike and escorted us back from where we came. We reached the dock and boarded the boat again to make our way across the river.


1000389_10152039119464698_1320791221_n

When we arrived at the Riverside of Phnom Penh, we all decided to get a late lunch at a restaurant called ‘Friends’, which is a local NGO which employs young men and women living in poor areas of the city and gives them vocational skills so that they may have a sufficient and safe working environment as they grow older. The waiters and waitresses wore t-shirts as uniforms which had their title on the back (either ‘Teacher’ or ‘Student’) to indicate their level of experience so far.  The restaurant was colorfully decorated with large paintings and very clean. It is highly known in the area and among the NGO crowd for creating positive change in Phnom Penh. The food was also VERY delicious!!

After lunch we made our way to the large central park of Phnom Penh where many people go to exercise, play soccer, meditate and relax. We found our spot on the grass and sat down to watch a group of young men player soccer. In no time at all, they invited me to play soccer with them as I was so engrossed in watching them play and they could see I wanted to get in on the game too. They were so excited to have an American girl playing soccer with them (I guess it is not customary for girls to play ‘futbol’ in Cambodia) and they were surprised at my soccer skills! Sooner or later, we had a game of ‘Monkey’ going and they asked if I wanted to invite my friends to play so Megan came to join. Megan and I played soccer with the boys for about an hour until we had to say goodbye to them because it was getting dark and we had plans to catch a documentary screening at a nearby movie house. They wanted to take a picture with us so we gladly accepted. One of the guys also told us to play with them again whenever we came to the park and we laughed, accepting their flirtatious offer.

The nearby movie house is called ‘Meta House’ and it is popular among foreigners and Khmer people who are looking to watch a good documentary. It is a cool, indoor/outdoor venue on a roof with a large view overlooking the city street. The movie house is comprised of only 30 movie-style chairs with side tables and a bar in the back. They is also a small restaurant bar behind the seating area. The documentaries are projected on a white stone wall off and streamed off of a Macbook in the back. It is a trendy, low-key, hipster place that we love to go to when we have no other plans at night. That night, the documentary being screened was called “Cross Currents” directed by a Filipino filmmaker, Nick Deocampo, who was present in the venue that night, promoting his film and playing it for the first time in Phnom Penh. Nick Deocampo from the Philippines is the country’s leading documentary filmmaker, author, film teacher, film historian, and director. It was his first time visiting Cambodia and he was eager to get to know the people. He was visiting for only a few days and wanted to screen his newest film at the Meta House. His newest documentary titled “Cross Currents” takes its viewers across five Asian ecological sites and shows how local inhabitants, often without scientific help, have developed indigenous ways in taking care of their environments in the face of natural and man-made calamities. The director welcomed the viewers with a speech before the film started and spoke to us all after the movie as well. He talked of his experiences while making the film and his future plans as a director. He also opened the floor for any questions that the audience. It was a great experience to meet the director because it gave us a complete explanation of the documentary through the eyes of the filmmaker. In my opinion, it was a perfect ending to an very long day.

Until next time – Greetings from Phnom Penh!

 

With a ton of GROW love,

Jackie

 

 

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.

Image

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!

IMG_1957
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.

 IMG_1858

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.

 photo (13)

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.

photo (16)

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.

 photo (17)

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.

 photo (24)

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.

 IMG_1902

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.

photo (22)

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.

 IMG_1909

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.

IMG_1926

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!

 IMG_1903photo (14) IMG_1919

With much GlobeMed and GROW love,

Gabby