Hearts and Hands 2006-2007 Newsletter

Chris Wagner coordinated a dental team from Healing the Children North East in Connecticut to travel to Cambodia in November 2006 to do a mobile medical mission to Battambang and Siem Reap.  The team coordinated with Dr. Monika Suorn a Khmer pediatric dentist.  They were able to see all 100 of the Sobbhana Day Care children.  We would like to thank the team for donating their time and dental expertise.  In total they were able to see to the dental needs of 800 children.

We would like to thank the dental team from Healing the Children, www.htcne.org

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On December 31, 2006 there were 7 students and 2 professors from Western Connecticut State University who traveled with me to Cambodia The two professors were  Darla Shaw, Professor of Education and Jeannie Hatcherson Adjunct Professor of Anthropology.  The students were Jeffrey, Jason, Eric, Laura, Ariel, Katerina, and Jessica.

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Darla is an expert in the field of literacy.  She did teacher training for the “child minders” specifically geared to preschool education.  A few of the things she did were to set up learning centers like those typically found in Montessori schools, explained the importance of attaching words to pictures and how to put this in practice, demonstrated learning games and songs, and wrote the script of the Khmer version of “Cinderella” for the children to perform.  There are approximately 100 children in the Day Care ages 2-6.  On the last day we invited the parents and villagers including the Chief to see the children perform.  The child minders adapted the script and practiced for only a few days with a core group of children.  They did a wonderful job even building a stage.  The child actors wore some of the costumes that I brought in November.  The rest of the children sang songs- their favorite is “Where is Thumbkin” which I taught them last year.  All the children wore new outfits that we purchased for them.  They looked so wonderful that the school decided to make the clothes their uniforms.  All children in Asia wear uniforms to school and it helps to keep them all on the same level.  Some of the children literally do not have more than one outfit and no shoes.  We also purchased shoes, towels, and the students brought school and hygiene supplies to distribute. Our main project was to paint the two main buildings and do a mural on the inside walls.  It was rather unrealistic to think that we could accomplish such a large task in 5 days.  We did however finish painting the main building and started on the mural.  The mural was sketched on paper by Jeannie Hatcherson, who was the instructor for this interim class.  The artist-painter, Chanti is a former resident of SFODA an orphanage in Phnom Penh that I have had an association with for 7 years.  SFODA was the first orphanage I visited in Cambodia.  The students helped with the daily tasks at the Day Care Center.  They played games with the children, helped with bathing, lunch, taught them some English, and helped Darla with the educational instruction.  I also put them to work painting.  If you read my blog on painting you can get an idea of how difficult a process it was.  For many of the students this was their first experience in a developing country.  Jeannie assigned each of them to interview one of the children for our sponsorship program.  They were also able to go into the village and interview the parents.  I think it really hit home when they saw the abject poverty these children live in.  The Day Care takes children from 5 villages surrounding it so some of the children have a long way to walk, especially without shoes.  The students also bonded with the children.  Jeffrey volunteered to come with me to the Emergency when one of the boys fell while trying to jump on his back, hit his head and needed stitches.  He wanted to be with him and he was great at keeping him calm especially since his parents weren’t there.  Katerina decided to sponsor Kot, the boy she interviewed.

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The children melt your heart.  The students were definitely overpowered by their beautiful smiles, energy, and joy at having discovered new friends. They found themselves covered with children.  Many attachments were formed
and they had no choice but to hug and play with them.  Everywhere they went they had a least two children by their side or attached to them- on their shoulders in their arms or holding hands. It was a very typical sight for
me.  Children are the same everywhere.  They want love and attention and they need positive feedback.  The Cambodian children especially are hungry for this.  The Day Care is a tremendous opportunity for us to change the
lives of not only these children but of the villages where they live. I think this is what impacted the students the most.  They did make a difference by brightening the lives of these children even if only for a few days.  The impact is felt because their future is a little brighter and they know that someone outside their world cares about them and that gives hope. Several parents expressed their thanks after the performance.  They came dressed in their best clothes and were so proud of their children.  It has a ripple effect.  My hope is to eventually take the Day Care and expand into other village groups.  Studies have shown the importance of early education- look at the U.S. Headstart programs.  We need to take these young minds and give them love, care, and knowledge so that they can become Cambodia’s future. Just looking into the children’s faces as they sit at storytime or learn a new song you can see how they soak up new knowledge. This is the main reason I keep coming back to Cambodia and continue to work hard to fundraise.

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I have noticed changes at the Day Care.  The Child Minders have implemented many of the suggestions I gave them for teaching. Songs, fingerplays, and story time are now part of the day. They have a medicine chest and a basic
understanding of first aid.  They are learning English.  Sophal speaks very well and is now teaching the others. The playground equipment we donated is used continuously.

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The Director, Sophal is a wonderful woman.  She gets little compensation and worked for the first two years for free.  She does it because she cares about the community, and also feels strongly as I do that education is very
important to Cambodia’s future.  She is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and was able to tell the students what life was like for her during that time. She has alot of plans for the center and I am trying to help raise the funds through child sponsorship.

It was another memorable trip.  We hope to partner in the future and make this trip an annual one for the WCSU students. 2007newspic6

*Thank you to WCSU for their donation of time and materials for the Day Care project.www.heartsandhandsforcambodia.org) has started a sponsorship program.  It is $100 per year to sponsor a child in the center, $175 to sponsor a primary school student, and $225 to sponsor a secondary student – these are students that have graduated from the Day Care.  It is very important to keep these children in school.  They must pay for uniforms, school supplies, and after school tutorials.  We also need donors who would like to sponsor projects.  Some of our future projects include, expanding an existing building into a dining room, extending the roof to give shade and cover from the rains during rainy season, cementing part of the play and bath areas, biogas for cooking, well for water- presently they buy it and use rain water, expanding educational resources and supplies for a library.

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