05 February 2013

Hope for Anlung Pi

For most of his young life Togh Main was a Buddhist monk living in Siem Reap. Then, in his twenties, Togh decided his path was to help his fellow countrymen towards a better life.

In 2005, he teamed up with another monk, Rathana Nn, to start a school for the most poverty-stricken children of Siem Reap, aiming to give them free education for a chance at a better life. Sadly, Rathana Nn was killed in a car accident in April 2007 but I’m sure he would be proud of what has been achieved by the Volunteer Development Poverty Children School (VDCA) that he co-founded. You can see the progress for yourself on their website.

In 2011, Togh decided he needed to do something for the people living in his home village of Anlung Pi, about 25 kilometres from Siem Reap. Another school was planned and, in August that year, the first concrete was poured. After much hard work by supporters, volunteers and staff, the school finally opened on 21 January 2012.

So, when I visited last Friday, the staff and students of the Anlung Pi Free School had only recently celebrated its first birthday. And what a wonderful place it is, with two classrooms, a library, a kitchen and dining area, and a large area for vegetable gardens. Happy, smiling children were singing ‘Baa, baa, black sheep” in the first classroom we came to so, of course, we joined in, and a selection of other songs followed, in that and the other classroom.

We had a tour of the gardens, where a small team of older boys were digging the holes for fence posts to enclose their large field and stop wandering cattle and other beasties from eating their crops. The gardens are a new creation and only a small area has so far been planted – it’s difficult breaking in this rock-hard ground by hand and they can’t afford machinery or even a cow to help. It’s fertile enough though – already shoots of Morning Glory were sprouting, just 3 days after being planted. And some older girls were making tiny plant pots from palm fronds and sowing them with tomato seeds, so I’m sure they’ll soon be enjoying a crop of luscious tomatoes as well!

From the school, it was a short walk to Siem Reap’s rubbish dump, where as many as 30 of the local families scavenge each day, in an attempt to earn a living (see my previous blog for more on their hellish existence).

We then walked on, zigzagging our way across the now-barren rice fields to another glimmer of hope for the people of Anlung Pi. Here, amongst a smattering of huts, lies the field that has recently been purchased for VDCA by Alison and Alan, retired teachers from England, who have dedicated their retirement to helping the people of Cambodia.

They’re an inspirational couple! When they’re not in Cambodia conducting free teacher training with local NGOs, they’re back home in England fundraising for Cambodia, by giving presentations about the poverty of the people here.

When Alan and Alison saw the plight of the families who live at the dump, they knew they had to help and decided they wanted to offer those families a better place to live. On their plot of land, they plan to build at least 6 houses and have a central area of vegetable gardens where the families can grow food for themselves. Incredibly, each house will cost just US$3000 – if only I had that amount spare, I would pay for one today! If you want to help, with even a few wooden boards for the floor, you can donate through the VDCA Virgin Money Giving page. Already, Marianne and Narong and their Water of Hope Association (see an earlier blog) have committed to providing two wells for this new development – fantastic!

Togh (right) with a family who will soon receive a new house

It was an emotional day – from the delight of hearing the smiling children singing their cute songs, to the harrowing sight of the dump and its resident families, to seeing the joy on the faces of one of the families who will hopefully soon be living in a new house. Meeting Togh was inspirational – one dedicated person really can make such a difference – and seeing the result of Alan and Alison’s efforts just made me resolve to do more for my fellow men and women and children.

So, who wants to help me raise the money to buy a house?

For any Americans reading this post, Togh and his VDCA project are supported by the great folks at Project Enlighten and you can make a donation through their 501(c)(3) US-registered charity by following this link.

PS. When I returned to New Zealand in July 2013, I downsized apartments and was able to use a little of the profit to pay for a house for one of the families from the dump at Anlung Pi. It is one of the best things I have ever done in my life!

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