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, November 23, 2009

Pol Pot dam

Because we often travel down highway 71 on our way to the villages (which are north-east of 71, bottom right of map), we often visit the dam and the lake behind it. This time because we had occasion to visit Sreynich, we spent a bit more time there.

Very peaceful and rustic. The waters were high because of the rains. Fishermen patiently took theirs turns to cast their nets.

The serenity of the place of course hides the horrors that had gone into the construction of the dam. During the Khmer Rouge era, Pol Pot constructed this dam diverting parts of the Stung Chinit and Stung Tang Krasang tributaries of the Tonle Sap, using an estimated 40,000-100,000 slaves. Many thousands died during the construction of the dam.

The lake behind the dam. On a previous trip 2008.

Today, the dam (sometimes called the January 1 Dam), supposedly provides water to 20,000 hectares of land in Baray and Santuk districts during the rainy season, and to 2,000 hectares during the dry.

Meas San, 58, was one of the thousands who labored under excruciating conditions to build the January 1 Dam. She said six of the 10 people in her work group disappeared within three months. "They were sick. Their bodies were swollen. All of a sudden they disappeared," she recalled. Lon Keam, 60, also worked on the dam, while pregnant. She had so little food, she could not feed her baby, and watching him suffer was unbearable. "My breast milk was not enough," she said. "I wished that my baby would die." Trucks came by night to take people away. "We were just like pigs," she said. "They could kill us at any time." Today, the dam enables Meas San to eke two rice harvests a year out of less than 1 hectare of land. Lon Keam uses the water for her rice, too.
But it is a bitter harvest. "Sometimes I look into the water and I feel hatred of the Khmer Rouge," Meas San said. "They killed my husband, they separated my daughter from me. I was so hungry." Cambodia Daily

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Trouble in Santuk #2

Excerpted from The Mirror (19/11/2009):

“According to a news source, at least three disabled veterans, poor citizens, were arrested between 14 to 16 November 2009, when they resisted armed forces and police of the Kompong Thom authorities, coming to enforce a notification to confiscate land, where the authorities claimed that those citizens live there illegally, in Banteay Rou Ngieng village, Kraya commune, Santuk district, Kompong Thom.

“The source of this information claimed that there is an association with more than 1,700 families of disabled veterans, living there since 2004, and that the association lives on more than 10,000 hectares of land, where each family was provided with 3 hectares by the head of that community, for housing and for growing different crops, since 2005. But on 14 and 16 November 2009, about 50 armed forces and other authorities came with machinery to remove their houses, and they arrested three people.

“The disabled veterans said that the authorities burnt their houses, shot at them, and even arrested some people and hit them with riffle handles, in order to evict them to seize the land for the Tan Bieng company [a Vietnamese company].

For full report, see here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Trouble in Santuk

Taken from The Phonm Penh Post (19/11/2009):

AMPONG Thom provincial court has prepared 20 arrest warrants for villagers involved in a clash with soldiers and military police officers that led to nine injuries and two hospitalisations on Monday, officials said.

Provincial Governor Chhun Chhorn said he and two other officials had filed a complaint to hold the villagers accountable for burning four vehicles owned by a Vietnamese rubber company that was awarded an 8,000-hectare economic land concession in Santuk district in 2007. Hundreds of families have condemned the move as unfair, saying they have lived on the disputed property since 2004.

“Now these people are under investigation according to the court warrant because it’s a penal case,” Chhun Chhorn said, adding that the villagers had also burned a Military Police car and destroyed 11 motorbikes.

For full report, see here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Eight year old Sreynich is lucky to be alive.

She was the victim of a hit and run accident that we had witnessed on the PhnomPenh -Siem Reap highway whicle on the way back from the villages to Baray. We had just turned off at Kampong Thmor when a black SUV in front of us hit little Sreynich. It wasn't really the driver's fault because she had suddenly run across the road and onto the path of the SUV. The poor driver, afraid of being beaten up by the villagers, paused for a while then quickly sped off. Even our driver quickly stepped on his pedal, afraid that he would be mistakened for the guilty vehicle. After he had calmed down, we were able to persuade him to return to the scene, where we eventually helped the little girl get to the district hospital, and then put her on a taxi to Siem Reap.

We were afraid for her life. Eeven though there were no obvious broken bones, she was drifting in and out of coma.

After we left Camobodia, the pastors continued to follow up with her family. We were delighted to receive the news that she survived. Thank God.

On this last trip, we made a stop at her home by the Pol Pot dam, just to say hello and leave her a small gift.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tropeang Russei

Just north of Baray District is the district of Santuk. We have been told of a community there called Tropeang Russei (Bamboo Pond) consisting of about 700+ families. It is very poor and suffers from governmental neglect. Geographically the region is forested, and families are often displaced because of timber concessions.

Pastor Kea has been entering the region on his own initiative and resources, often in response to requests for help. He has specifically asked for our assistance in this very neglected and remote rural community.

I intend to go in with Kea sometime about the second week of January to evaluate the needs and to see what can be done. It is only about 40 kms from Baray but it takes about 4 hours to get there, so you can imagine the state of the roads.

Please pray for us.... and for the needs of Tropeang Russei.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A floating school? Is it possible? I need help!

There is no doubt the 'Fishing Village' needs a school. The question is how can we construct the school? As the land does not belong to the villages, it is not possible to construct a permanent stilted structure.

Located at the edge of shifting waters of the Ton Le Sap flood plains, the 'Fishing Village' moves with the availability of dry land. Any school will need to be able to move with them. The idea is to have it as floating classrooms so that it can be towed to the nearest location that is close to the community. The problem is that the depth of the waters in the flood plain is unpredictable. My guesstimate is that the deepest channel may not be more than 1-2 meters deep. Hence any floating structure cannot require too much of a depth clearance.

This concept of a floating school is quite different from others, in Siem Reap for example, where the waters are much deeper.

One model I have in mind is perhaps a floating pontoon of empty oil drums. This can be the base upon which a wooden 2 classroom structure can be built upon. Properly constructed, I think the oil drum pontoon should be able to bear the combined weight of the wooden classrooms, furniture, plus about 100 children.

Here is a diagram of such a platform. There are only 4 oil drums here, but theoretically we can construct a base of 500 oil drums beneath a 10 x 30 m platform. Since each empty oil drum has been estimated to be able to support a weight of about 175 kgs, theoretically the platform built upon 500 oil drums should be able to support 87.5 metric tons.

Is this enough? I really don't know. A hundred children each weighing an average of 30 kgs will contribute 3000 kgs, or only 3 metric tons. I don't know the weight estimate for 2 wooden classrooms.

Help!!! Is there an engineer who can help me figure this out?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Looking back

We first entered Cambodia in April 1999. This was the year after the Khmer Rouge surrendered, and after the coup, so some semblance of peace had settled in.

Eight of us - William Chooi, Teo Chee Khiang, Chua Boon Chye, Chua Sock Hoon, Alice Khoong, Lim Kim Thia (from Galilee BP Church), Chua Phek Hoon and myself)- led by William Chooi wandered into Phnom Penh, blur like sotongs, looking for some way to make a difference to the war ravaged land. Our first contacts there were Baptist missionaries Jim and Shirlie Moore. I must confess we understood little about Cambodia at that time, other than it was devastatingly poor. I remember feeling like my guts had been wrenched out as we walked through the Tuol Sleng holocaust museum, and then fighting through the masses of child beggars and destitute children.

Hearts broken, we resolved to do something for those kids. Calling ourselves the Overseas Outreach for Street Kids (OOSK), we talked about setting up an orphanage. About 6 months later, we made a follow-up recce mission to study the existing orphanage. Harvest International Services (Worldwide Evangelization for Christ) had one running, and so had Malaysian missionaries Col Tan Hock Chye and his wife Mabel of Full Gospel Assembly who were just starting off in Kampong Speu. Incidentally, this was also when we first met Esther Ding who eventually became our main collaborator in Cambodia.

Esther Ding in her earlier village handicraft project, SongKhem
But it turned out too big a task for us at that time. We looked for a missionary couple who could be stationed there and who could provide full time oversight of the orphanage, but none was available. Plus it was also clear that Carmel wasn't really ready for such a heavy commitment.

Meanwhile we started doing medical-dental missions just to remain engaged in Cambodia. We worked with Sharon Lim (now at WEC) at HIS, Lau Pak Soon and Cambodia Methodist Services (CMS) up in Baray.

These were important formative years. We got to know the people there, got to understand the culture, and most importantly I believe, got to develop an insight into the myriad problems besetting the country.

Gradually I grew increasingly skeptical of the medical dental missions and eventually gave them up. Too expensive to run and too logistically heavy to put up each year. Plus because they tend to operate near urban centres they didn't readily get to the people who really needed the help. I began to see the building of schools as a far more important mission with more substantive longer term outcomes. During the medical missions we had already adopted a strategy of moving away from large urban centres, and pushing deeper and deeper into unsupported rural Cambodia, especially in the Baray district, where the local pastors under CMS were also game to go. These were the regions where few church short term mission groups were ready to enter. Here we had a ready partner in Esther Ding and her band of local pastors. OOSK had been disbanded as it gradually defaulted to the organized activities of the Church Missions Committee, but our engagement in Cambodia could not stop. The burden was just far too compelling.

These latter missions have been surprising successful, and to date we have completed 5 schools with a total of 14 classrooms in remote villages in the Baray district (actually one village is in Kampong Chham). God has been faithful. Very faithful.

As this year draws to a close, I am so conscious of how God has led me over the last 10 years (yes, a full decade since we entered Cambodia). I just counted 16 Cambodian stamps in my passport over the last 10 years. At least one trip every year. It has been a truly amazing journey, and each time I feel the work is drawing to a close, He challenges with new possibilities.

What next? More about this later......

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The 'Fishing Village'

Back in 2001, after we had helped out with the 2000 flood relief work, we were told of a very poor and neglected fishing village. We responded then to what was to become a recurring refrain over the years:"Can you help?"

We soon led 2 trips into the village with supplies and a medical-dental team. In those days we naively thought it quite quaint that an armed police escort had to follow us around. Later we found out that the area was frequented by bandits, and in fact one bandit group had narrowly missed us, though they had specifically intended to intercept us. God's hand of protection had been over us!

The 'Fishing Village' is a village with no real name. The nearest recognizable village was one called Boeung Ria. The village was a semi-nomadic village that lived on the edge of the Ton Le Sap tidal flood plains. Two or three times a year, as the water levels rose and fell, and as the water edge moved, the village will dismantle and move according to the availability of dry land. Their huts are made of wood and palm leaves, but secured with string rather than nails. There are about 60-70 families in that cluster, but the cluster breaks up as they relocate to dry ground.

After our initial visits, the local pastor, particularly Pastor Kea, had continued to follow up with the villagers. Families began to be converted and gradually the character and mood of the village community also began to change.

Pastor Kea

Setting off by boat
We revisited the village this last trip because there was a request for a school. The village had become tired of being illiterate and did not want the next generation to be illiterate. They wanted their children to go to school. Currently the nearest school was in ChakTaLeuk, a long distance away by boat, and which was pretty much inaccessible to the children. Could they have a school close to their village, perhaps a floating one?

Unarmed escort
This last trip, we were also escorted by a police officer, but he was unarmed and largely superfluous as the bandits had long been disbanded. A ceremonial presence.

The village we visited was recognizable, but only in form. The poverty was still there. And so were the portable huts which reminded us of the booths the Hebrews had occupied when they moved through the desert after fleeing Egypt. But the people were not so despondent, so lost. There was a refreshing sense of hope and purposefulness.

Pastor Kea's brother-in-law, a young man named Kimsour, functioned as a pastoral assistant and had been regularly ministering to the villagers. Every Sunday afternoon, he held a small worship sevice in the home of one of the parishioners. He told me there were 8 Christian families there now. And though many had not formally accepted Christ, they were very open and often attended their meetings.
Kimsour in front of the home where they have their regular Sunday afternoon worship
Chern Chern doing her toothbrushing drill


Pastor Teara distributing fishing nets

We stayed long enough to attended a last minute call to the villagers to meet for a song and prayer session. There under the tentage, we fellowshipped with them as they sang a few songs of praise. We prayed with them. My wife was particularly taken by the little girl who could not only sing praise songs but also pray aloud.

It was a wonderful time. And it made me reflect on how wonderful it was, that there in the middle of nowhere, in a village that had no name, we were able to pray and fellowship with families who shared our same God. Just reminded me of the wonder of being in God's family.

Jennifer's Fruit Cake sale - fund raising for Cambodia

It was very sweet and generous of my niece Jennifer to contribute to our fund raising efforts by selling home made fruit cakes. Here is an extract from her Jennifer's Mimosa-Corner blog site:

As a student, I do not have much to offer to the children of Cambodia who are impoverished, uneducated and vulnerable to all sorts of social problems. So I decided to put the skill that God gave me into good use and raise money through selling Christmas fruit cakes into the school building project for Cambodia's children. I will give the entire proceeds from selling these cakes to the school building fund.

If you like fruit cakes, how about helping me raise the money by ordering a few cakes?

Let me know how many you want, and when you want it by. I am selling each 500g cake for $15. Remember that every dollar goes into the fund, because I will bear the cost of making the cake myself. That is my contribution!

Widow and 8 kids

Widow, Chie Thaan
In the fading sunlight at O Ta Saeng, we met this lady Chie Thaan, with 8 kids. Just recently widowed, she suddenly finds herself completely unable to feed her family. The oldest son Saran, lives with Esther in her hostel in Baray. He is 18 years old, and in first year of High School. He wants so much to continue to continue schooling but now sees that as an impossibility as he has to go out to work.

We watched that agonizing session where Esther and the pastors counselled her to let 5 of her children go to the "orphanage" where they can be looked after. She finally relented after many tears. Even so it wasn't certain then the orphanage could take them.

As it turned out, The HIS orphanage (Kingdom Kids) in Takhmau, Kandal province, managed to take 5 of the children into their care. The children appear to be happy and comfortable there as they are together and have each other for company. The youngest is with the mother.

Saran continues to live with Esther at her SOLAR hostel. I have committed a love gift of US$20 for him every month to see him through his school. He earns some pocket money at SOLAR by helping to look after the plants.

The younger brother Saron, 16 years old, needs to be able to attend some vocational training. He is apparently very good with his hands, so Esther is trying to find support for him to go for electrician training. This is a 7 month training programme in Phnom Penh. The total cost of training, hostel board/lodging is approximately US$ 835. Praying someone can donate this.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

School @ Phum Leav

By God's grace we overcame all those problems digging the bore well at Phum Leav. But we finally did it. Here is the well .... precious living waters for the kids. The sign in front of the well says: "Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst" John 4:14.


And the school too. But because of the delay in starting, the school is not fully complete. The furniture is not in yet, and some touch up work is necessary.

Ps Sauvann
The sign to his right says:
"Let the children come to me, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to them."


Still it was a good opportunity to celebrate the opening, and to plant that symbolic Beng tree.

The District Officer helping to distribute the rice to 50 families

Mirinae kills two

PHNOM PENH, Nov 3, 2009 (AFP) - Tropical storm Mirinae killed a mother and daughter as it swept through eastern Cambodia, government and aid officials said Tuesday.

Mirinae, which battered the storm-weary Philippines as a typhoon at the weekend, was downgraded to a tropical depression before it hit Vietnam and then Cambodia on Monday.

Four other family members were injured when the storm struck northeastern Mondulkiri province Monday evening and toppled a tree on the family's thatched house, provincial vice-governor Svay Sam Ieng told AFP.

"The mother and one of the four daughters were killed while the father and other three daughters have been sent to hospital by the Red Cross," he said.

School @ Phum Ley

The village of Phum Ley had an interesting effect on many of us who visited it the first time earlier this year. The kids were bright, cheerful and enthusiastic, and there was this almost charming sense of positivity. It wasn't difficult for us to think of supporting a school there.

The school is now in place. The village had found a new piece of land for it - a good sized, open and airy plot.

We were greeted by quite a welcoming party as you can see.

The Principle escorting us in

From L to R : Esther, Commune leader, me, Jhon (at back), Rural Development Officer, District Officer

Headman Croch Leng

The cow story

"Let the children come to me, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to them."
Matthew 19:14

Tree planting ceremony - The endangered Beng tree

Rice distribution (+fish sauce and salt) to 50 families