My Cambodian Visit by Elayne Ogbeta

I can never forget how I felt early May 2016 when Becci Bell,from Helping Hand Ministry, asked me if I wanted to visit Cambodia to see Sokunkim, the child I had been sponsoring since November 2015. I felt quite uneasy, thinking about all the things that could happen to me whilst in the slum. All sorts of diseases I could catch, the insects I might see (I hated anything that crawled), the hot weather. Will Sokunkim like me? Would I like him? What would it be like in a homestay? Who would I meet there? On and on all kinds of questions started running through my mind. So I couldn’t make any decision right there and then.  So I pushed the questions and my thoughts under the bed. And left it like that for a while.img_2014

About a month later Duncan contacted me. Again enquiring of my interest in joining him to  Cambodia to see Sukunkim sometime in October.  Well, I had been praying about it and although I still had some hesitancy, I thought it would be a good idea to go, seeing that the date Duncan was planning fell right between my half-term at the college.  I was also hoping that my daughter, Naomi could also join me provided she was on holiday from university at the same time. So I emailed Duncan back and said that I would love to go to Cambodia and whether it was okay if Naomi, my daughter, could also came.  Perfect I thought. At least I wouldn’t be on my own and maybe Naomi would help fight off some nasty insects for me. Because I dreaded the thought of travelling alone to a country I’d never been to and spending time with people I didn’t know.

However, it turned out that Naomi wouldn’t be able to travel with me because she would she broke up from University a week after me. To be honest, I secretly wanted to change my mind after that news. Well I hadn’t yet booked so I thought okay. I’ll cancel.  Maybe God didn’t really wanted me to go. Little did I know that God was planning something.

I received another email in July asking if it would be alright if I travelled with someone called Jean. Who had been yearning to go to Cambodia for a while to see the work her friend Christine (the lady who own the homestay) was doing but lacked confidence to travel alone.I knew at that moment that God definitely wanted me to go to Cambodia because I really did not want to travel on my own either.

It wasn’t long before Jean contacted me saying that she had a friend of called Jan who also wanted to travel to Cambodia so we planned there and then to book individually for a flight from Manchester to Cambodia.

The day came when we were to leave for Cambodia. Jan and Jean were planning to travel down from Lytham St Anns a day before and we were hoping to meet up at Manchester airport. The only description I had of them was Jean was tall and Jan was short.

As soon as my husband dropped me off at the airport I was wondering how I would find them. As you can imagine there would be several ladies of the description.  But just I literally stepped into the airport, I saw two women who were in the queue directly before me. I said to myself, this can’t be them – that would have been too quick! One of them just looked at me and said, are you  Elayne? I said yes. It was them indeed! We laughed and hugged. Then we found out that we were going to be seated near each other. I was 62 C. They were 63 H and 63 I so they were slightly to my left one seat back. So we could see each other! I thought God only you could have planned this.

I didn’t even consider the other flight we had to make when we got to Hong Kong. Only to find out again we were literally seated together. I was 23C and they were 23 D/E. God you are amazing. I could not have planned it better!

We eventually arrived in Cambodia at about 10.30 in the morning the next. It was raining a little. Christine, the lady from the homestay, came to meet us on a tuk tuk (a small open taxi). Loads of people were riding mopeds, bikes and motor bikes as the main mode of transport. The roads were fairly busy and bustling. My first impressions were everywhere looked rough and under developed, but people seemed very warm and friendly.  And the temperature was barely to my relief.

The next day, Duncan arranged for all of us including Christine to go to the slums to see Sokunkim and his family. The slums were about 20 minutes from where we are staying. There were about 6 of us together, included the driver.

It wasn’t long before we stopped. I hadn’t t realised we had arrived at Sokunkim’s home. The whole family was there to meet and greet us. They were so polite and welcoming. Sokunkim’s mum was so happy to see me and gave me a nice bear hug. I also hugged Sokunkin’s two sisters. Sokunkim was a little shy at first when he first saw me but later warmed to me.img_2013

 

The mum brought out a photo which I had sent earlier of myself and my family. She pointed at me in the picture I nodded my head and said yes, yes, it’s me. And she hugged me again.It was a bit awkward at first because we didn’t know how to start a conversation. I asked Sokunkim to introduce his sisters. He told me their names and ages.

Sokunkim’s mum then showed me their kitchen. They basically had just one main room with two wooden-like beds where all of them slept. The floor was made of concrete. The roof corrugated iron. The place bits of things all over but apparently, that was their tidy up version.

They had one cat and three skinny kittens in the house. There were also chickens around outside making noise. It actually reminded me of dad’s place back in Jamaica so I felt quite at home. Everyone left me alone with Sokunkim, his family and Buntheouon.

At first the conversation was flowing gradually but I was slowly running out of questions to ask Sokunhim. Then I asked him if he reads English books. He said he did and went to fetch his books that he used for his course work. I opened it and looked at his work. His hand-writing was amazing. It was so neat and presentable.  I then starting asking him to read some more, which he did. Before we knew it we were going through the book page by page and answering or correcting sentences. I had to laugh because it reminded me of my ESOL teaching and it kind of all came together for my teaching ESOL in the first place. For such a time as this. That really broke the ice and he was able to relax around me and me him.His little sister was so cute. She kept touching my arm. About 40 mins later, it was time to go.

We all said goodbye and gave each other hugs. . I put some money in Sokunkim’s hand and he was so appreciative. His mum gave me another bear hug and a squeeze. Although she spoke no English, I understood what she meant.

Later in the evening I visited the Russian market. It had loads of interesting things. The people begging you to buy something from them. I bought a few nice handmade soft toy animals to sell at my shop.

The following day we visited Toul Sleng (S21). I didn’t quite know what to expect as we entered in. But I did hear one or two people say it was very disturbing.  I don’t do disturbing very well. I can’t bear to watch any gory films.We paid $5 to go in. They gave us earphones to attach onto a remote control devise so as you walk around you could hear accounts of people’s stories of what happened to them in Tuol Sleng.

Just a brief history: In 1975 Tuol Svay High school was taken over by Pol Pot’s security forces and turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21). This soon became the largest centre of detention and torture in the country. Between the years 1975 and 1978 more than 17,000 people held at S-21 were taken to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek.

Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge (the ruling party in Cambodia, led by Pol Pot) was meticulous in keeping records of its barbarism. Each prisoner who passed through S-21 was photographed, sometimes before and after torture.

The museum displays include room after room of harrowing black and white photos; virtually all the men, women and children pictured were later killed.When the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh in early 1979, there were only seven prisoner alive at S-21.

We could see through many open doors on the ground floor where there was a single rusty bed and some kind of torture instrument near by. We went into a few of the gloomy rooms and witnessed horrible pictures of death on the walls. We then went upstairs where there were more rooms of terrible pictures and information. As we carried on from room to room I could feel the pit of my stomach getting tight and heavy. That was it. I couldn’t do anymore so I decided to go downstairs and stay on the bench while the others carried on walking around.

So as I waited on the bench in the ‘pleasant’ grass area, I listened to some gospel reggae to calm me down and pick me up. You couldn’t really get away from it. I could still see terrible instruments of torture around (it was like a gallows with hook on) don’t ask me what they did with the prisoners there I wasn’t going to find out and Jean said don’t read the information about those, you’ll have nightmares. I could also see through the open doors hundreds of black and white photos of prisoners.

About 30 mins later or so Jean and Jan returned. They too had seen enough! They said it got worse as they walked around. I was so glad I didn’t venture any further.After the museum, we wondered around some of the tourists shops. We found one that sold interesting products. It gave me ideas of things to buy for my gift shop.

I was really surprised at how the gift shop and cafe were laid out. It was quite fresh and modern looking with chunky wooden shelves and cupboards. The bags and scarves were displayed fashionably. The quality of the products were second to none and the prices very reasonable. These products are handmade in Cambodia by local people. I was really impressed by the high standards. I bought a few items. There were two ladies in the gift shop and I noticed that one of them had no hands! But she carried on packing all my items and put them in a lovely brown carrier bag. I was just smiling at her and thinking no hands, yet she worked and carried herself like nothing was wrong with her! Amazing.

The journey back to the house was quite pleasant. Driving in the tuk tuk is quite relaxing. You can let the world drift by and think of nothing. The roads are okay too. Children still waved at us and shouted hello. We could see people sitting outside playing cards, or chess.img_2025

The evening meals were prepared by one of the girls who lived and worked for Christine. Every night rice and either fish or beef and steamed vegetables were prepared for about 12 people. When everyone is seated on the floor we all hold hands and say grace. It was lovely.

There are quite a few families and friends who lived at the house. Some from England and some from Cambodia. Rice seem to be the main thing Cambodians eat. They have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner because rice is quite filling and that is why its eaten so much throughout the day.img_2069

Duncan had a meeting the following day with a friend who owned her own business. He wanted me to meet her so we both I went to meet  Channy who lives in the north of Phnom Penh. Channy initially only started making bags and now she has developed her business employing at least 10 girls (one or two former sex workers) and making clothes, hair accessories, hats and a range of different types of bags.

We met up with Channy and she took us back to her house which she converted into a factory. She told me she only had two sewing machines when she started, now she had about a dozen. We finally arrived at Channy’s large house. She telephoned someone and a young boy of about six came and opened the huge brown wooden doors. We followed her up some steep narrow steps and when we got to the top we were greeted by several workers on the sewing machine.

 

There were about eight ladies and only one boy. Two of the ladies had children and they brought them along to their work. I don’t think childcare is an option.There was a nice atmosphere going on. Some were hand sewing, some cutting and some were machine sewing. Bags of cut materials were on the floor and bags of uncut materials and different colour bobbins were in one corner.

I learnt that the workers worked from 8.00am until 4.00pm with 1.30 hour break. One of the girls was only 15 years old and she was previously into the sex trade. Channy also told me that the boy was drinking heavily and had started taken drugs so his mother got in touched with Channy and asked if she could give him a job and she did. The boy said he didn’t mind being the only boy.

I was really impressed because Channy was a former worker of an organisation called Daugthers of Camdodia and she was able to use her skills she learnt to build her own ministry/business and she was only 25 years old.

Later Channy took us to her exhibition where she had hired a stall to sell her products. As we arrived there were a good number of customers lining up to buy her goods. Her sister was selling at the time. The fair was quite big with loads of stall holders selling their stuff. Some had similar products. Apparently there is a new craze for the local material that are sewn to make bags, clothes and various types of things, even booties. The quality of the material is excellent and the price very reasonable. This visit to Cambodia has given me plenty of ideas for my own business. I have managed to make contacts with several business ladies whom I’m planning to do business with on my return.

On Saturday, I had another interesting day. Jan, Jean, Julie (Christine’s daughter) myself and about 5 other people all went to another slum to spend time with the children there.We travelled over bumpy roads and lots of water. The rain stopped at one point so when the tuk tuk could no longer pull itself over the pot holes. We had to get out and walk a little. I was amazed how the place had flooded so much and was very grateful for my Wellingtons Duncan had lent me.

When the children had all washed up, Julie brought them in and made them sit on the floor. There were about 40 of them different ages and sizes all chatting and laughing at the same time. Julie was able to calm them down while she opened in prayer.After the prayer there was a bit of singing, some games and a bible story about the five loaves and fishes, with prizes given out for the right answer. I was in charge of giving out the prizes from a bag full of rubber bracelets, McDonald’s soft toys, a variety of stationery and toiletry all donated.

Lastly the children were organised into families in order for us to give to give an apple and a bag of rice. If Jesus could feed 5000 with loaves and fishes then we should be able to feed about 70 children (more children had come by then) with rice and apples. It was really a blessing see no one left empty handed.

Early Sunday morning, which was my last day in Cambodia, Duncan along with Chanthy,(Duncan’s Cambodian assistant) had organised for us, the children and their families from the slums a visit to the zoo. It was an amazing day out. We had two coaches full of happy children. At the zoo we saw elephants, monkeys, tigers, crocodiles, deer, bears, snakes and more amazing animals. The children were all well behaved and enjoyed themselves immensely. When we had finished visiting all the animals we all found a lovely spot and sat down to eat rice and pork with a bottle water each. I was responsible for looking after my Cambodian family, which was so lovely. On the coach, Sokunkim sat next to me.  I was able to find out more about him and he felt comfortably taking to me.p1110065_moment

img_2168

It wasn’t long before we were all in the coach, heading back home. We had hired tuk tuks to take us back to the homestay. Sokunkim’s family wanted to follow me to the airport to see me off. I was so touched.

The time arrived when I was ready to leave for the airport. It was difficult saying goodbye to my new friends, Jean and Jan. We had developed such a good relationship. We eventually hugged our good byes and promised to see each other when we were in England. I wasn’t able to say goodbye to Christine properly because she had retired early to bed.p1110148

At the airport, I hugged Sokunkim, his mum, little sister and Duncan and then left quickly through the automatic doors, I didn’t want to cry.p1110154

I suddenly realised I was alone. But this time I was ready to face the journey. God had shown me enough times throughout the trip that not only was He with me every single step. He had already gone before me. All I had to do was trust Him and relax.

All in all my experience in Cambodia was amazing. I met some amazing people and saw some amazing things. I was so happy for the chance to meet Sokunkim and his family. I’m hoping to return in 3 years time to see Sokunkim graduate from college.  And after all that, I did not have any reason to fear because I didn’t see any insects!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Cambodian Reflections

So I am now back home after spending nearly 1 month in Cambodia for Helping Hand and there is a lot to reflect on. To be able to help sponsor these children to go to Beltei School is such enjoyable work and it was great to see some of the children open their gifts which I had taken to them from their sponsors

As well as giving out the gifts I was also on the receiving end when I was given this by the daughter of one of the ladies who we were able to provide a rubbish cart for…

 

It was so nice to meet up with Jan, Jean and Elayne who had also travelled from England to see what life was like in Cambodia and especially spend time in the slums. Elayne travelled out so that she could meet her sponsored child. Sokunkim wanted to go to the airport to say goodbye to Elayne when she flew back to England.This was also a treat for him as he had never seen a plane before…

It was also a pleasure to visit the workers at Victor Laszlo again. It is here that they make the bags for the business and most of those employed have unfortunate backgrounds and this work is an opportunity for them to move on in life and earn a descent wage.p1100940

Probably the best day of my time in Cambodia was the day that we took the sponsored children and their friends/family to Tamao Zoo for the day. The idea was that each sponsored child (16 at the time) could take 3 others with them. There were 10 adults to help supervise and translate and lunch was also provided. The children were so well behaved and a good time was had by all.p1110143

Beltei School is one of the top schools in Cambodia and has 16 schools in Phnom Penh with 2 more under construction. Last year the school that the sponsored children go to produced Cambodia’s top performing student. The children that now attend through Helping Hand have the opportunity to fulfil their dreams and for them now the sky’s the limit. I was so impressed by their attitude and the neatness and tidiness of their school work. What these children now have is their future in their own hands….just as it should be.

It was so good to see Jan donate 50 bags of rice to 50 different families in the village. As I have said often before this might not seem a big deal to most of us in the West but these people live with absolutely nothing most of the time so they need their basic needs addressed first….food and shelter.

 

Money was also donated so that Sothea could have a new pair of glasses. His eyesight is very poor and he will one day need an operation to correct his sight. In the meantime his new glasses(he was bought his first pair a year ago), when tried on for the first time,prompted him to say….”wow, everything is so clear!”

Finally, I saw this on the wall of the home of the latest child to be sponsored….may there be many more to be given the opportunity to take their own future into heir own hands.p1110385

What a good way to finish….!!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Best Way to Say Goodbye

So, as I am writing this I will be leaving Cambodia in 7 hours time after being here for nearly 4 weeks. It has been a blessed time and I have been able to see first hand the work of Helping Hand, the purpose of which is to enable people to sponsor a child from the slums of south Phnom Penh to go to one of the top schools in Cambodia.

This morning our latest child was enrolled, the 18th. Pissey is 12 years old and passed the entrance exam with flying colours. She was given her uniform and will start her first lesson this afternoon. She would one day like to be a missionary……This really is the best way for me to say goodbye to Cambodia.p1110662

Thank you to all who have made me welcome here again, it was good to see so many old friends. So, until I am told otherwise I will keep on livingthedream……

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Busy Times for Helping Hand

One of the purposes of Helping Hand is to help sponsors to get to know their sponsored children as much as possible. So when one of the sponsors actually said that they wanted to come to Cambodia and visit their sponsored child it was with much enthusiasm and excitement that things were arranged. Elayne was the first to sponsor through Helping Hand (that in itself is another story for another day as to how God works) and she flew over 6,000 miles to meet Sokunkim and his family who live in a slum in the south of Phnom Penh. I know that all involved were blessed by Elayne’s visit and she is planning on coming back to visit again.

14724627_10157611738105035_1420412349198806912_n

Elayne with Sokunkim and his family in his home

p1110155

Saying goodbye at the airport with Chanthy Chen

Another of the things that Helping Hand also does is to enable people to donate monies so that rice can be bought for families in the slums here in Phnom Penh. It may not see much to many but here it is the basic needs that need addressing first, namely food and shelter.p1110022

 

£15 a month can provide a good amount of rice for a family here in the slums of Phnom Penh. If you would like to consider donating or have any questions about the work that we do please feel free to contact us at helping.hand.cambodia@gmail.com

With monies donated Helping Hand was able to treat the children sponsored to a day out at the zoo. Tamao Zoo is about an hour and a half drive from Phnom Penh and each child was able to take 3 others with them, either friends or family so along with helpers and translators we had just under 70 in all.Lunch was provided along with water. The children were so well behaved and we all had such a great time. Taking these children on such a trip was such a blessing to those who went and a big thank you to those who contributed to this “Grand Day Out”.Taking all these children to the zoo involved a lot of organisation and a big thank you also goes to Chanthy Chen for coordinating this.p1110143

14826455_938333716271984_2044032649_n

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Cambodian Street Life….

Here are just some random photo’s of life in Phnom Penh….

p1100900p1100931p1100925

p1100955

p1100934

p1100914

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Meeting the Men in Charge

Today I had the privilege of meeting the school principle of Beltei School and the District Chief of the area in which Helping Hand works in the south of Phnom Penh. Both men have been very supportive of the work done, primarily getting children from the nearby slums sponsored to go to Beltei school. The school itself is having much building work done as they expand from 54 classrooms to 80. The principle told me that his school had the No 1 student in the whole of Cambodia last year! This student has now won a scholarship of $5000 to attend university in one of the countries that Beltei have connections with in South East Asia…..So this opportunity is available to all who attend Beltei, including the children from the slums who are sponsored by Helping Hand. As a small gift I gave him some cookies made on the Isle of Wight; he appreciated these as he had not had any breakfast and was getting hungry….

It was a pleasure to be able to visit some of Helping Hand’s children in their classes and spend time with them in their lessons. The classes have no more than 30 students and the teachers are treated with respect…

14681788_934046346700721_1164733934004433514_n

One of the children sponsored by Helping Hand; he is always so happy !

Having played football and cricket I have been in many “team photo’s” but this is one of my favourites; pictured with some of the sponsored children, the school principle and Chanthy who co-ordinates for Helping Hand in Cambodia.14705707_934045916700764_4897391041148294464_nIt was also a pleasure to meet the District Chief who gives authority for charities and organisations to work in his district. Not only does he give his authority but we also have his support and encouragement for what we do. He also appreciated his Isle of Wight cookies !

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In at the Deep End…

So some things never change. It was so nice to be back in the slums and see old friends but as always this time of year due to the rains many houses have been flooded. Living right next to a small lake doesn’t help but they have little choice as to where they can live or build their houses; they just have to move “upstairs” until the water has gone. With no drainage in the village the water soon becomes pretty dirty to say the least….

p1100681

The children were keen to show me their school books and as always, I know that I shouldn’t be, but I was surprised at the tidiness and neatness of their schoolwork. Some of them may be behind with regard to their age compared to children studying in England but they are certainly not lacking in enthusiasm.

Amongst all the mess and squalor in the slum it is so encouraging to see the opportunities given to these children being taken with so much enthusiasm. Education is the only way out of the slums for these children and although this is just the beginning for most of them, like learning basic English, the long term benefits are endless….

I was blessed to be given the loan of a bike for the next 3 weeks by a friend of a friend. Not only does it save me money on tuk tuk’s but also keeps me fit. I think it is made of iron…p1100656

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment