Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?"
The King will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me." .......Matthew 25

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Watch Night that isn't....

So we have survived the Christmas cheer, and now find ourselves on the threshold of yet another new year.....another anachronistic milestone. :) Seems strange since our lives have long since ceased to be organized around the idea of January 1st being the start of a new year. Neither our working nor personal life is truly organized around the Gregorian calendar, and practically, our calendar year neither begins on 1st January nor ends on 31st December. The only cycle of activity that seems still to operate according to the conventional January 1st - December 31st cycle would probably be the school system.

Many churches organize a watch night service, which is kind of a misnomer as it is merely an evening service on New Year's eve and not a true watching-of-the-night service.

If you google 'watch night service', you'll get a variety of resources that will point the origins of the watch night service to John Wesley's covenant service 0f 1755. Somehow, I am not so convinced, since the original Wesley Covenant Service was not held on New Year's eve but on 11th August. Neither was it a watching-of-the-night vigil service. A commentary by Rev. Diedra Kriewald ties it to a later event 33 years later involving converted British miners:

"Watch-night prayers became a regular service in the Methodist centers of Bristol, London and Newcastle. They were generally held between 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. on the Friday nearest the full moon "so that participants walked safely home through moonlit streets," as stated in Wesley's journal, Dec. 31, 1777. Wesley linked the watch-night vigil liturgically with a covenant of grace (an invitation to accept renewed obedience to Christ) in a service on Aug. 11, 1775 -- 33 years after the first watch night."

By the 19th century, this had somehow morphed into a New Year's eve service. And for pragmatic reasons, many 'watch night' services have since ceased to be vigil services, but merely evening services held to remember God's Grace and blessings over the past year.

It seems to me that the meaning of the event has been somewhat lost. We still unthinkingly refer to it as a 'watch night service' when it is clearly not a watching-the-night vigil service. The original covenantal spirit as envisioned by Wesley has also been somewhat lost over the years. And as a remembrance of God's Grace, which should be celebratory, my impressions of past watch-night services has been that they have tended to be overly introspective, sombre and morose. Where is the joy and celebration in recognizing God's Grace and blessings in our lives?

Perhaps we should return to fundamentals and revisit the idea of a covenant renewal service on the first day of the new year, or a truly celebratory service on the last day of the old year, and drop this anachronistic idea of a watch night service.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Once a school...

In the middle of the city of Phnom Penh, approximately 2 kms southwest of the Royal palace, there is an iconic building known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This used to be a high school (Chao Ponhea Yat High School) but was used during the Khmer Rouge rule as an interrogation centre (S-21, Security Prison-21). During those 5 years (1975-9), an estimated 17,000 ordinary Cambodians were interred, tortured and murdered by the officers and staff of S-21. This represents only a small part of the atrocities perpetrated through Cambodia during this time, but a visit to the museum is a must for all who go to Cambodia, as it provides a very vivid impression of the horrors and acts of inhumanity committed against the Khmer people by their very own leaders then.

I must have visited the museum at least 10 times, because each time I visit, there are always newbies that I accompany to the museum. No matter how many times I go, each visit is a very disturbing experience because I am reminded of the darkness and evilness that can reside deep within the souls of men. Yet on recent occasions, I have begun to find the atmosphere at Tuol Sleng mush less oppressive than when I first visited. Was this because the 'ghosts of Tuol Sleng' were beginning to find their rest? Or simply because I have become increasingly inured to the evil that was once there?

During the early years when we were there, everyone had a story to tell. And they told of their experiences as if they desperately needed to be told. Now when they are asked, they shrug their shoulders, recounting them matter of factly, and in measured tones....Have they found healing somehow? Or has it all been driven deep because the world has no time to listen anymore? How does one find healing after something so horrendous has torn your life apart? Can healing ever be found? I don't really know. But I do know that if true healing is to be found, it can only come through the saving Grace that Jesus offers. Justice sought through courts and tribunals may provide a means for some kind of emotional closure, but the true balm comes only through Grace.

Early days

It is so sad when a country evokes images, not of the glories of its civilization, but of the horrors of war, brutality and self mutiliation. Cambodia is not without its memories of a glorious past. Go to Siem Reap, walk around the magnificent temples of Angkor and you marvel at what the people and culture had been capable of. Yet today, the very mention of Cambodia triggers associations with poverty and pain, consequences of the self destructive lunacy of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. A brief moment of history was all it took. (I had just graduated from med school and relatively naive and unaware at that time.) A fraction of a second compared to the glory of the Angkorian period. Yet an estimated 1.7 million people were systematically tortured and murdered. A relative small number compared to the Jewish holocaust no doubt, but this was an estimated 25-30% of the population of Cambodia. Worse, those who were destroyed were mostly the educated, professionals, technicians, bespectacled, literate......

When I first entered Cambodia, it was soon after the final surrender of the remaining Khmer Rouge forces in 1998. I remember vividly the devastation, the poverty....and the sheer helplessness of a people so humiliated and ravaged by events so much out of their control.

We went in because we had heard about the street kids in the streets of Phnom Penh and we wanted to do something to help. But the enormity of the problem was overwhelming. Every stone we imagined we could turn uncovered 10 others that needed turning. But in the short period of time we were there, we met people who inspired with their strength and courage; missionaries who were so totally dedicated and sacrificial in their service and in their obedience to His leading.

I have to confess I was pretty humbled and broken by the experience. I had gone to Cambodia naive, in relative affluence and as an established academic and professional. I was sure I could help. Yet what I saw revealed to me my ignorance and utter helplessness. What I saw was God working through the lives of simple people who were prepared to be obedient. I think it was in those early days that I began gradually, to really understand those abstract ideas about the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


gold tipping spires
paint luminous shadows

as the sun melts


over a tortured land

tormented by ghosts
of a demented past

the ebb and flow

of wandering lives

hurting unhealed
until Love


then shadows of death

will bring no fear

only Peace


Monday, December 24, 2007

So why on earth do we celebrate Christmas???

Well, here I am, at 5am in the morning Christmas eve wondering why we celebrate Christmas. Someow as I get older, I seem to get increasingly scroogey about Christmas. Bah and humbug...and all that! After all the bible never tells us to celebrate Christmas. We don't even know when Jesus was actually born. Almost certainly, it wasn't on the 25th of December. And isn't it just some carryover of a pagan past? A celebration of the winter solstice? Even the icons of Christmas are all related to this pagan appreciation of the solstice. Christmas trees, snow, yulelogs, evergreens.... I must admit to being somewhat put off by this seemingly unthinking applications of these symbols to the celebration of 'Christmas'. I mean, what do these have to do with the celebration of Christ's birth? Even on a purely secular level, these symbols have nothing whatsoever to do with local culture...Shades of our colonial past! ...*sigh*

The winter solstice, something that we in the tropics have absolutely no appreciation of, is a big deal in northern hemisphere countries that are exposed to harsh winter conditions. All the way from Europe through to China. It represents for these countries, the day in the calender with the longest night and the deepest of winter. After this day, hours of sunlight get increasingly longer, and the land gradually recovers from winter sleep and moves towards spring. It was in these countries clearly a day for celebration. Things just gets better from that day on.

In China the solstice is called dongzhi 冬至. My wife tells me that in cantonese, they use the term 'guodong'. This festival is celebrated by the eating of a special desert call tangyuan 湯圓, which we enjoy in Singapore as well (the ahborling is a variation of this which I particularly like!). In Judaism, it is celebrated as the tekufah tevet. Cambodia doesn't have a winter solstice so there is no equivalent festival. The day that marks the reversal of the Tonle Sap is more important (Water Festival, Bonn Om Touk) as it signifies the beginning of the fishing season.

So what has all this to do with Christianity and my faith? Probably nothing.

On the other hand, there are only 2 definitive milestones for the Christian faith - Jesus' death and resurrection, during which the veil in the temple was torn and the barrier between God and man was dismantled forever, and Jesus' birth, when God became man. Jesus' birth was no random event in history, no quirk of nature. It was a fulfillment of prophecy. A most holy and critical moment in God's plan for His creation. 'In the fullness of time', the Bible says. In a sense, Jesus' birth was the winter solstice for all of creation. As the world got darker, and the nights grew longer and longer, God provided a solstice. When He sent His incarnate Son into the world, history changed forever. Winter will become Spring. Where there was certain death and destruction, there would be hope and life. And our days will one day become eternal Light and Life.

It is now 6.30am, and as I thought about all this, it seemed like such a holy moment in the history of creation needs to be commemorated. Doesn't matter if the bible does not mandate it. Common sense dictates that we should, as believers, commemorate such an important milestone in our history. And if we had to choose one day to commemorate this holy and critical moment in eternity when God became man, surely it should be the winter solstice. I can think of no better day. So even if it is not prescribed by the Bible, we should not feel inhibited in celebrating this wonderful moment. So let us eat, drink and be merry, setting aside all references to those icons drawn from past pagan celebrations, as well as all all that crass commercialization centred upon the over-romanticised nativity scene. Let us give our gifts, remembering how He first gave us this most wonderful gift of His only Son, that we might live and have life eternal.

And most importantly, let us not forget those who have not yet received.

God's richest blessings for Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Preah Ong

Preah Ong
do you know me?
people come and
say you know me
know my name
how can it be
hen i don't even
know my own name

Preah Ong
do you know me
out here where the roads don't come?
where the rains cry
unwanted tears
and the sun closes my eyes
in pain

Preah Ong, father
do you really know me?
when i don't even know my father
and my mother's arms
are too tired to hold me

Preah Ong
if you know me
please call my name
that i may come to you
and put my face in your heart

Preah Ong
take me to where my stomach
does not hurt
from hunger
hold me
till the sound of your breath
takes away my fear
and brings me rest

Preah Ong
i need you to know me


Wednesday, December 19, 2007


that see the world
yet not comprehending

that soothe not the hurt
of deprivation
and hunger

that watch in silence
have not been taught

because no one cared.


Monday, December 17, 2007

The Build-a School Project : The Appeal



We need your help in realizing this dream for the villages. If you are moved to give, kindly make your donations in the form of a check payable to Mt Carmel BP Church Ltd (write on back: “for school building project”)

For more information, for example, on where to send your donations to, please contact me at:

Money collected will not be spent on any administrative/management costs but only on the following:

  • School building
  • Classroom furniture
  • Toilets for school
  • Bore well for school/village
  • Miscellaneous support materials as the need arises, e.g. books, uniforms, teaching aids,school bags

The Build-a School Project : The School

The typical 2 class-room school is a brick building as shown above. The colour and design is identical to the usual government school. The design is very basic and there is just the 2 rooms with a corridoor outside. There are vented wooden windows on both side walls of the classrooms. The tentage you see in the picture above is atemporary structure installed for the commissioning ceremony.

The facade of the building has a signage (sometimes quaintly misspelt) of the donors name.

Fronting the school is a flagpole with the national flag. The students are taught to participate in a flag raising ceremony every morning. They enacted one such ceremony for our benefit, and we were suitably impressed with their discipline and good behaviour during the ceremony.

The inside of the classrooms are not as brightly lit as the pictures suggest (wonders of flash photography!) Becasue there is no power in the village, the classrooms are dependent only on ambient light through the windows. Often the students make do in semi darkness. The classroom desks and benches are roughly made wooden structures. The blackboard is a painted cement structure, and chalk is used. The picture here shows a more modern blackboard, but this is not the standard issue. Each classroom can accomodate a maximum of about 50 students.

The school is only the first difficult step to make. After that the students still study under considerable handicap. They have no money for school uniforms, and they have no books or any kind of educational materials. There is often only one set of teaching materials that the teachers use and the students have no text books or reading materials of their own.
We donated some school cheap school bags during the previous visit to this school, so here the kids are showing off what they have. They also have no materials for educational play etc. We will be rying to raise money to support the student through each year.

Set a little behind the school is a cluster of 2-3 toilets. And a bore-well is situated conveniently in front of the school.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

O Ta Saeng

We have visited O Ta Saeng twice. The first time was in March 2007 after the commissioning of the Ta Peuv village school. The second time, during the most recent trip in November.

O Ta Saeng is a sizeable village of about 175 families with 177 children. It lay significantly south of Ta Prot and Chhom Trach, but within the Kpg Cham province. Once again we were faced with long stretches of pot-holed muddy tracks, this time with a narrow, rickety wooden bridge.

The village had made a request for a 3 class-room school as the parents had been very concerned about their young children traveling the 2kms to the nearest school. Those who do make the long commute are often too tired to really attend school. The track to the school is often flooded and treacherous and they have lost a few children already. The proposed school is also intended to
support an adjacent village Neang Leung with about 80 families.

It is anticipated the proposed school will cost approximate USD15-18K to construct and outfit in addition to the introduction of a bore-hole well. The villagers had already set aside a piece of land measuring approximately 20 x 80m.

I have to confess to have been more than a bit reluctant to commit. Not because O Ta Saeng was undeserving of the support, but because I (being of little faith) wasn't confident about raising the required sum. We had already raised approximately USD20K for the last 2 schools and I was worried about donor fatigue. I could see a target of about USD5-10K being reached, but USD18K was a little bit off the scale. I had a discussion with Esther about this and proposed that if we can find another church to co-sponsor the school, that would make the target more realizable. She agreed. We departed Cambodia on that understanding, and left it in God's hands.

What an absolutely joy it was to receive her typically cryptic email on 12/12 about a member of the Alor Star Methodist church who pledged USD10K for the school. Plus the news that the village headman had accepted Christ!

So God has made His position quite clear. And the ball, without doubt, has been place firmly back in my court.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Build-a School project #2

A number of other things shaped the concept. One was the question of teachers. While we can plant the brick and mortar shell of the school. How were the students going to be taught? Fortunately the Cambodia Department of Education had a plan in place. If we built the school, they said, they would supply the teachers. Problem solved. Though it must be clear that these were not teachers that we think about in Singapore. These were more like teaching assistants...likely just the most educated young man or young lady within the district who could be paid to do the 'teaching'. Still that was so much better than nothing. One has to bear in mind the inaccessibility of these villagers. And it was difficult to persuade good teachers to make those difficult and treacherous commutes just to teach a bunch of half naked kids in a poor village.

Secondly while the villagers need to take ownership of the school, there needs to be some mentoring of this process to ensure that the developments are healthy and reasonably productive. To my mind the most appropriate people to do this for the villagers were the local pastors, who already had good contacts with the outside world, reasonably exposed, aware and educated.

Thus, quickly a number of very clear expectations began to crystallize:

  • there must be evidence of commitment and willing ownership by the village
  • teachers were the responsibility of the local government, and must be available
  • there must be a local pastor who was prepared to enter the village and work with the community
  • there must clear understanding that there is an ultimate mission to nurture the spiritual health of the community, that the school is not just a means for education, but must serve the vital mission to spread the knowledge of God's love, and eventually establish the church withing the community.
All these were made possible because there was already a very mature and committed mission established in Baray through Esther Ding (CMS).

One last thing I need to emphasize. It was probably the most important consideration for the project to work. It was very clear to me that because this project was going to involve gifts and giving, people and processes must be fully accountable to both God and man. The challenge was really how to establish this. I was fortunate because we have worked with Esther for 9 years, I can vouch for her commitment and conviction. She is a single Malaysian lady who has been in Cambodia as part of the CMS mission. She had entered Baray 15 years ago at great risks to her own safety and has remained to serve the people in Baray, bringing health missions, flood relief and even setting up handicraft livelihood projects (originally SongKhem, then later KhmerLife). She's trained a band of very responsible committed local pastors who have been very active in ministering to the community. I could more than trust her and her pastors to oversee the project locally.

And me? Well,you will have to judge for yourself...:). For this reason I have put my contacts on the blog. This wasn't done for self-glorification, but for you to know there is a real person behind this project. Someone you can contact for clarification, and more importantly to hold accountable should there be problems.

Monies received are managed and disbursed to CMS through my church account which is fully auditable annually.

The Build-a School project

I was delighted and buoyed by the success of the school we were able to build in Chhom Trach. The dramatic change that occured in the village as a result of the new school and well was more more than evident. Somehow, the villagers and the children seemed so much more cheerful, healthy and positive each time we re-visited them.

That was when the idea of building schools in other villages began to take shape. If it could be done in Chhom Trach, couldn't we do this in other places? It wasn't difficult to do, yet the outcome was just so positive and encouraging. Surely education was the way to break these villages out of their helplessness and seemingly hopeless poverty cycle.

It was clear to me that the school should not be a direct handout. Neither should it be a solution foisted upon the villagers by an visitor and a foreigner. It should be a part of a solution that the villagers themselves wanted. And they must take ownership of the process. Thus it became a mandatory part of the equation that neither I nor the church I represent must own the school, or try to manage the school. So this will have to be a gift to a recipient who desires the gift.

Just writing this gave me goosebumps because I suddenly realized how much of an analogy that is to the gift of grace and salvation that God presents to us. While it is available to all, it really only makes sense to those who seek it and desire it.

Ta Peuv

Just past the Kpg Thmor junction, heading southwards, there is a turn off onto a track heading east, gloriously called the Hun Sen Trail. The trail is heavily pot-holed and gets very muddy when it rains. Nevertheless the trail leads through some very scenic views of rural Cambodia. After a very bumpy 15kms, the trail turns right through a small market village called Krava. Ta Peuv lie at the end of another slow 4-5kms of dirt track.

This is a relatively small village
consisting of approximately 200 families with about 500 children.We had visited Ta Peuv in 2005, discussing the school needs of the village with the headman, his elders and the district school principal.

There was only one school in the vicinity that served a cluster of 5 villages and which provided limited classroom facilities for grades 1-6. Young children from Ta Peuv have to walk about 2 km along difficult dirt tracks to attend this school. Parents have expressed great concern for the safety of their young children traveling so far by themselves to get to school and have made a plea for a school to be built within the village grounds. In anticipation, they had as a community, collected enough money and had bought a large (~80m x 120m) plot of land specifically for the village school.

At that time, there were 2 Christian families in Ta Peuv village. Savan, a local pastor with CMS, had lived in the village before and was familiar with the village leadership. His co-worker Vesna, had been making fortnightly trips to the village. It was hoped that the construction of the school would facilitate the access of local missionaries and pastors into the village so that a cell group and eventually a church could be established.

These needs was brought back to Mt Carmel and by God's grace, we very quickly were able to raise the US$9-10K that was required to build a 2-classroom school, complete with toilets and furniture, plus a bore well for the village. I was particularly touched by the donation of a princely sum of money by a young brother in our congregation who had felt moved to provide the money towards this school in Ta Peuv.

In March 2007 we were able to re-visit Ta Peuv for the commissioning of the school. We were particularly impressed by the community spirit of the village, whose leadership had galvanized the entire village to donate 3 fence poles per family towards the construction of the school fence.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Chhom Trach

About 5 mins north of Phum Baray village, the highway meets a T-junction at Kpg Thmor. Cotinuing northward will lead towards Siem Reap, while heading south will end in Kpg Cham. The villages of Ta Prot and Chhom Trach lie a little west of the road heading south.

We had done a medical-dental mission in Ta Prot some years back. Setting up under a spreading tree and working from the back of small lorry, we were even able to sneak in some evangelism during the health education talks. Later we were told of a really isolated and poor village called Chhom Trach.

The access to Chhom Trach was via a poorly maintained dirt track. The final approach to the village was interrupted by a ditch we had to wade across, and we completed the journey on foot. We set up to offer a simple medical-dental clinic under a tree, but had a relatively poor response because the villagers were apprehensive of the clinical procedures. But we were there long enough to appreciate how destitute the villagers were. The village was at that time badly affected by the drought. Poor crops had been made worse, and the villagers despaired. The only access to water was the river which ran about a kilometer away. Isolated not only by poor road access, the villagers were also shunned because of their past association with Khmer Rouge and bandits. Now desperately trying to to survive and rehabilitate themselves back to normality, they were increasingly devastated by the drought. Seeing how desperate the situation was, on a second visit in October 2004, we committed to raise money to put a small school as well as a bore-well in the village. Despite the isolation of the village Ps Pumot had already made prior contacts with the village and a small house church was meeting regularly. The village had approximately 90 families and over 200 children, all of whom were illiterate.By God's grace we were able to raise the USD10K needed for the school and well, plus a toilet and school desks. In 2005, the new village school was commissioned. Subsequent follow up visits to the village was extremely heartening as it was clear how much the village has been transformed by this school and well. Children were clean and healthy because of the well. Where there was just despair, hope was written all over the faces of the villagers. Most importantly, the children had begun to attend and enjoy their school.

Baray - environs

I have to confess we were somewhat naive when we first began to engage the work in Baray. Ping was the first to enter....squashed into the back of a rabid taxi with Esther. We knew nothing of Baray, its past or its present. Seemed like Esther's reassurance was adequate. The 2000 flood that hit Cambodia was probably a major factor that plunged us deep into this work in Baray. The urgency of the needs at that time didn't really give us much pause for thought about what the environs and historical backdrop of Baray were really like. Flood relief work, rice distribution and well rehabilitation were followed by medical dental missions in quick succession. Truth be told, we had an inkling that Baray used to be not particularly safe but that didn't seem to be the situation then.

In reality, Baray had a notoriously sinister past. Kampong Thom was very much an enclave of the Khmer Rouge whose troops criss-crossed the broad swampy region in their battles with the government forces. And when the KR faded into the darkness, their presence was replaced by bandits who roamed freely through the province.

When Esther Ding first entered Baray 15 years ago, Baray was far from hospitable. By the time we first entered Baray, most of the danger had been mitigated but still there were bands of roving bandits that were opportunistically preying upon unsuspecting travellers. A number of the villages we ministered to were populated by ex-Khmer Rouge or bandits seeking anonymity or rehabilitation. I didn't fully realize how significant this was. The isolation of the villages were the reason why these men were there. But the presence of these elements in the villages also appeared to be the very reason why the villages remained isolated.

Some of our movements into the remote areas needed an armed escort. Naively, we thought it quaint and exciting. Then on one such mission to a nomadic 'fishing village', we had a narrowly missed encounter with a band of bandits. Even more recently, when we entered Chhom Trach, an armed escort followed us. An escort was also visibly present when we commissioned the school in 2005. At that time an official from the Department of Education was present.

By God's grace, we were safe through those years. It was probably just as well we didn't think too much about it then. Otherwise we might not have gone in. Today, things are so much better in Baray. The expressway passes through and one can travel up to Siem Reap on the road without fear of bandits. And we can move freely into the villages without the necessity of the armed guard.


Here's moi in my windowless, hole-in-the-wall of an office. (I do hold a regular job, in between running around the Cambodian countryside!). If you really cannot get on with your life without finding out a bit more about what I really do when I am not on can find out here and here. But otherwise, ....don't bother. :)

I started getting involved with the work in Cambodia about 9 years ago firstly because I have always wanted to do something like that. I guess those early readings on Albert Schweitzer left some indelible imprints on the subconscious. Secondly, at the time in my life I got round to feeling that despite whatever life had thrown at me, I still considered myself very blessed, and certainly He has blessed me more richly than I deserved, given the mess I have generally made going my own way. So I reckoned I really should start putting action to feelings and ideas that were bouncing around in my head. So with a group of restless souls from Mt Carmel BP Church, we muddled our way into Cambodia just to explore possibilities of getting engaged. We called it the Overseas Outreach for Street Kids (OOSK). Truth be told, I never saw these as mission trips although the church insisted on flagging them as such. :)

Nevertheless, that proved to be some kind of turning point in my life, because despite the horrendous mess Cambodia was in at that time (it was just after the civil war and barely 2 decades after the Khmer Rouge), it was really not very difficult to fall in love with the country and its people. So trip followed trip, mission after mission. Each was a story of its own to tell. And before I knew it, I have been in and out of Cambodia 12 times over 9 years (just counted on my passport). In the early years, our work was largely in Phnom Penh some with Pak Soon, some with Sharon (HIS) in Takmau....and in various places. But gradually I began to feel that the needs were not in Phnom Penh where numerous NGOs and churches were already making their presence felt, but in the rural areas where most organized groups were reluctant to go because of either logistic difficulties or institutional strategic reasons. So together with Esther Ding of the Cambodia Methodist Services, we began to explore reaching into the deep rural regions in Baray where villages remained isolated and unsupported.

I have stopped doing medical/dental missions for the time being. Not that they are unimportant, but that I have come to see that they are not a very cost effective way of doing things and the solutions they provide are relatively short term. For better or for worse, I have opted to deal with the problems of making education accessible to the young children in the remote villages.

These villages have few schools to send their children to. And the parents not very motivated because of their poverty. Because the villages are scattered over a large area and serviced by few good roads and schools, young children have to travel long distances through long stretches of dirt tracks which are often treacherous especially when it gets dark. So parents generally don't bother. On the other hand while these villages are currently isolated, it is obvious they cannot remain isolated for long. Cambodia is awakening very rapidly, and the city will soon reach Baray....and then the villages will be next. Without education, the village children will be exposed and vulnerable.

These schools will at least give them some semblance of a chance when the outside world reaches them.

(For the curious.....I currently worship at the Saturday Evening Service of Mt Carmel. It's a small cosy contemporary styled service. I like it. Its casual, friendly...and free of many of the problems that plague larger congregations. :))


Baray in Kampong Thom is about 2 hours by car head north out of Phnom Penh. Another 3 hours on the road and you'll be in Siem Reap. East of the Tonle Sap, it is arguably one of the most scenic spots outside of the city. When the climate is kind, the fields are lush with padi and palm trees. Esther Ding, a missionary with the Cambodia Methodist Services and our long time collaborator, runs a farmstay there. At other times, the place is alternately devastated by floods and drought.

In the late 70's and early 80's the entire region was dominated by the Khmer Rouge. This reputation has been difficult to shake off even to this date and many of the villages in this vicinity have remained pretty isolated.

Our involvement with Baray goes back 7-8 years when we first got involved with missions work in Cambodia. Initially our intent was to help out with the street kids in Phnom Penh, but eventually we were increasingly drawn to the work in Baray. Over the years we organized medical/dental teams, flood relief and rice distributions efforts.

It wasn't difficult to come to love these warm and gentle people.

Increasingly our involvement in Baray brought us deeper and deeper into rural Cambodia. Some of the villages we did medical work in were so isolated and poor, that we despaired for them. The depth and breadth of their social and spiritual needs were overwhelming. We recognized however, that if they were ever going to break out of the poverty cycle, the children needed to go to school and get educated. But the schools were few and far from many of the villages. While older children could make the daily commute to school and back, younger children found it difficult and unsafe. Often they just gave up on school. Then by the time they become old enough to be able to make it to the nearest school, they would have given up the idea of ever going to school.

Hence the idea of planting schools in some of these very isolated villages.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

November 2007

Since 2005, we have identified 2 remote villages in the Baray district that were badly in need of schools. These villages are characterized by being fairly isolated and accessible only through badly maintained dirt tracks. Young children do not attend school because they are too young to make the arduous journey by foot to the nearest school, often kilometers away. Because they do not start school appropriately, the children remain illiterate and innumerate. When they become old enough, they are already very far behind and find it difficult to cope with school. Often they will just default from schooling and remain uneducated.

The Cambodia Build-a-School project seeks to coordinate resources to allow such remote needy villages to build a school within the vicinity of the village. These schools will be relatively simple schools catering only to the lower primary classes. It is anticipated that when the children get to Primary 3, they should be able to move to the nearest larger school in the nearby villages. The village will take ownership and undertake to maintain the school. The teachers will be supplied by the Department of Education. In all these villages, our expectation is that the local pastor (Cambodia Methodist Services) must be prepared to minister to the village with the intent of establishing a church within the village.

The first of these villages was a small and very poor village, Chhom Trach. By the grace of God we were able to raise enough money to enable the building of a 2 classroom school, as well as to provide the village with a bore well in the compound of the school. We have since returned to Chhom Trach twice after commissioning the school. On the recent trip in November, we were able to witness the school in session. There are 2 teachers catering to approximately 122 students of Primary 1 and 2 levels. Three classes are in operation with 38, 40, and 44 students respectively. By next year it is anticipated that the school will be maximally utilized with 4 classes (2 classes x 2 sessions) in operation.

The second village we were able to minister to, is Ta Peuv, consisting of approximately 200 families with about 500 children. Once again, by God's grace, in 2006/7, we managed to raise more than US$10K to build a 2 classroom brick school complete with toilets and furniture, plus a bore well in the school compound for the village. As a gesture of their commitment to the school every family from the village contributed 3 fence poles to be planted for the school fence. We reciprocated this gesture by contributing to the purchase of barbed wire for the fence. During the November trip, we observed the students in class and were able to meet with the village committee. Currently 2 classes are in session (1 class x 2 sessions), as the school only started in October 2007. It is anticipated that in 2008, when the present class is promoted to Primary 2, another 2 classes will come into session.

We have also evaluated the needs of a third village, O Ta Saeng, just across the border in Kampong Cham. This is a village with 175 families and 177 children (92 girls). The village leadership has committed a plot of land (~20x80m) for a proposed 3 classroom school. The anticipated need is relatively large as the school is expected to also support a neighbouring village, Neang Leung, with ~80 families. The estimated cost for building this school is approximately USD15-18K.

We praise God, as the latest news is that the village headman has just accepted Christ. Furthermore, recent visitors from Alor Star Wesley church, who were celebrating their 47th wedding anniversary have pledged a sum of USD10K to co-sponsor the building of the church. God is great!