Thanks to our friends Juanjo, David and Inés, and the village of Villacorta, the first Solidarity Festival for the benefit of Children Are the Future took place in this beautiful village in Segovia (Spain).
We enjoyed the great music and positive energy of three bands (Dudas Strummer, Luback and Almagama), the wonderful trics of Isma the magician, the Asian Solidarity market with handicraft brought directly from India and Cambodia by our volunteers, an exhibition of the photos of Alienor de Sas, delicious home-made pastry, and a lot of fun activities for children. And the warm welcome of the people of Villacorta!
See you next year for the second edition!
Gracias a nuestros amigos Juanjo, David e Inés, y al pueblo de Villacorta, se celebró el primer Festival Solidario a beneficio de Children Are the Future en este precioso pueblo de Segovia.
Disfrutamos de la gran música y energía positiva de tres grupos (Dudas Strummer, Luback y Almagama), de los geniales trucos de magia del mago Isma, del mercado asiático solidario con artesanía traída directamente de la India y de Camboya por nuestros voluntarios, de la exposición de fotos de Alienor de Sas, de una deliciosa repostería casera, y de muchas actividades divertidas para los pequeños. Y, sobre todo, de la cálida acogida de las gentes de Villacorta!
Cita el año que viene en Villacorta!
We all know, the only constant in life is change. Nothing is immutable and all persons, objects and places – even sentiments – evolve over time, sometimes imperceptibly sometimes with big leaps.
We can love change, even admire it, but most of the times we are afraid of it. I think because it puts us in front of the evidence of our mortality. And we hate thinking that nothing remains unchanged before we depart this world: a person we love, a place that captures our imagination, a feeling that made us feel alive. We would like to keep all this alive and unchanged, while life has the tendency of putting things through a sort of whirlpool.
It is with these feelings that I came for the second time to India together with my friends from Children are the Future (CAF). Would the children we met last year remember us? Would their smile, joy and vitality have changed? Would there be sorrow in their eyes? Would they do well at school? Would our local partners continue to perceive our support with friendship and not as a sort of interference? [NdT: CAF channels the funds it manages to collect in Europe through reliable local partners, who work in direct contact with the kids whose education, directly or indirectly, CAF supports]
I forgot all these questions in a glimpse at every step of my trip.
When I landed in Chennai and I could see the bustling of life in the streets of the town: people continued to live, work, love and die in this city of almost 8 million inhabitants. The building of the new subway line connecting the airport to the town was of course still unfinished, as the several road infrastructures aimed at easing the horrific traffic that is tipical of big cities as Chennai. No, the city had not changed, but certainly this was the case for the life of each of its inhabitants.
When I met the child I am sponsoring: he grew at least 10 cm and, even though he kept the innocent smile of his childhood, he is now an adolescent 16 year old. Ganesh [Ndt: his real name has been changed for privacy reasons] smiled at us immediately when he saw us, and gave a perfect handshake and started to articulate some words in English, showing that he had kept the promise he made when we left last year: to study harder and also improve his English. My joy was immediate, not because he could communicate in English but because he had not changed. He grew, he was entering the maze of life, but Ganesh was still Ganesh, a bit dreamy and confused, but still himself.
Ganesh is one of the many children of India having lost both his parents because of AIDS and bearing himself the terrible burden of this virus: not only the medical aspects of it (he has to go to the hospital every month for check-ups and get the medicines that fortunately the India medical system provide for free – as long as you are registered), but also the social stigma that comes with it, and that obliges him and his family to hide his situation and lie when a sudden opportunistic illness appear when he attends classes.
At the death of first his father and then his mother, Ganesh had the chance (that many children in India do not have) to be taken care of by his grandmother, who lives together with her old husband and a granddaughter in a slum in the centre of Chennai. CAF monthly sponsorhip to support Ganesh’ studies and livelihood alleviate the burden of this grandmother, who would otherwise be obliged to send Ganesh to work.
Ganesh struggles a bit in his studies: his marks reach just the passing point but on two subjects they are below the threshold. With a lot of naivety he states that he hates mathematics and sciences because these are too difficult. We try to explain to him the importance of these subjects for life, even if he will not continue studying after having reached the end of the compulsory standards (10th standard, after which India kids can go to a vocational or technical training, and 12th standard to go to college). He waives his thick black hair and adds that he likes playing cricket, every Sunday afternoon! But he does not leave me going without making another promise: to study harder and improve at least slightly his marks.
But above all, all my feelings connected with life changes vanished instantanely when I met the multitude of joyous smiles of the kids in the orphanage 250 km south of Chennai partly supported through CAF sponsorhips – they all remembered our names and run towards us. They all grew, were taller and smarter than ever – some speaking a better English, some showing his or her drawings, others having entered adolescence with the doubts and troubles coming with it, and some others simply dancing around us. They represented the joy of life, and the troubles that comes with it and with which they have to learn to cope with.
Yes, nothing is immutable in life. Things change and we grow older. But the most important aspect is to get the tools to master these changes so that we can understand them and possibly steer them towards a harmonious development. As CAF member, I hope that through our direct interaction with these kids and through the funds we collect via the sponsorhips in order to support the education of so many children in India in vulnerable situations, we can at least help these kids to take bit by bit their life in their hands. What you get in exchange, through their joy and smile, is certainly incommensurable compared to what you give.
Saturday 13 February 2016- Arrival to Khmer land
After over 24 hours of flying, we arrive at our final destination, Siem Reap, gate to the magnificent temples of Angkor and starting point of CAF field trip 2016! The travelling crew here in Cambodia is composed of 7 members, including CAF volunteers, sponsors and, this year also a professional photographer and video-maker, Alienor De Sas.
Sunday 14 February 2016- Siem Reap
We spend Sunday recovering from the jet-lag and organizing the logistics, as well as visiting some temples.
Monday 15 February 2016- Meeting CABDICO
On Monday we leave at 8am, ready to get to the field! The main focus of our trip in Siem Reap is working with our local partner CABDICO on launching the CAF Family Micro-Business programme (FMB) in Cambodia.We start with a workshop at CABDICO premises in the morning to review overall project methodology and initial applications, and brainstorming around possible programme improvements.
Monday is also a great introduction to our partners’ own programmes and an occasion to see them in action. In the afternoon, our partners from CABDICO invite us to accompany their work on home rehabilitation of handicapped children. We visit two children, both in a wheel chair and with speech and mobility problems. Thanks to the training by CABDICO’s staff- regularly tutoring them at home, they have been able to make great progress in controlling the movements of their hands and even with the writing.
One of the children, aged 14, can even attend the normal school thanks to the support of CABDICO’s staff and his own strong determination.
Finally, we also have the chance to see the access for disabled children that CABDICO has built in a nearby school.
Tuesday 16 February- Family Micro-business in Cambodia becoming concrete…
Early morning start… time for a detailed review of the initial 3 micro-business projects presented by CABDICO: loads of questions and debate. Our CAF member Istvan enjoys creating a chart of potential revenues and costs for each project to clearly illustrate the viability of the proposed businesses: TV repair activity, pig and cow rearing… CABDICO seems excited about Family Micro Business, it is a great exchange for all of us!
In the afternoon, all our planning becomes very concrete… off to meet Mr. Sim Son Art and his family. He has thought his business through. We are convinced: this will become the first FMB project with our Cambodian partner, CABDICO!
Our first 2016 Family Micro-business project with CABDICO
Wednesday 17 February 2016-M
On our Day 3 of work in Siem Reap, we met Mr. Rithy at the CABDICO office. He is the chair of a local Self Help Group (SHG) – Siem Reap Transport Service for People with disabilities. CABDICO helps creating SHGs like this to allow disabled people around Siem Reap to cooperate and help each other. Mr. Rithy is a very resourceful man and does a great job in presenting the cases of three SHG members, looking at initiating a “TUK-TUK”activity, tapping in to the busy Siem Reap tourism industry in order to better support their families and ensure the continuous education of their children.
In the afternoon we met the 3 future TUK-TUK drivers at the house of Mr. Cheaung Chin, one of the applicants. The three men have all lost their right leg during the Cambodian civil war, stepping on a land-mine, and are currently complementing their incomes as moto-taxi drivers, with occasional construction work, very dangerous with their handicap, and clearly underpaid. They explained to us how becoming a TUK-TUK driver would allow them to significantly improve their monthly income and ensure their children’s education. Their motivation is high, their business model solid … CAF decides to try and raise the funds that could make their business plans come true!
We also visit again Mr Sim Son Art and family to bring the good news that we will be able to support his training in repairing TVs and other electronic appliances.
Thursday 18 February 2016… On the road again
It is time to leave Siem Reap. Two members of the group return to Phnom Penh, while the rest of the team heads to Battambang, the second largest city of Cambodia and surrounded by a beautiful countryside.
Friday 19 February 2016- a day of beautiful encounters…
Theresa and Miriam visit our local partner in Phnom Penh, “Le Restaurant des Enfants” (LRDE) for the first time. This is also the first time they meet the children they sponsor, Siha and Sreynoch.
The rest of the group makes some wonderful encounters while travelling in tuc-tuc in the area around Battambang.
We stop at a muslim fishermen’s village. A grandfather invite us to come to his house to meet her daughter and grand-daughter. And soon after the little house is filled with children…
Later on, on our way to a temple, we meet Piseth. He was carrying some wood back home on his bycicle. He speaks English, and we find out that he had to stop attending his evening English courses 3 months ago. Two CAF volunteers decide to take Piseth and his mother to register the child for two years of English courses.
Saturday 20th February 2016… Back to Phom Penh
While Theresa and Miriam take their flight back to Brussels, the rest of the group makes the trip from Battambang to Phnom Penh, stopping at the Vietnamese floating villange of Kompong Luong.
Sunday 21st and Monday 22nd February 2016… Chillling out and preparing our work in Phnom Penh
We spend Sunday and Monday (a Budhist holiday in Cambodia) relaxing in Phnom Penh and preparing for our meetings with Le Restaurant des Enfants and CABDICO. We also take the opportunity to do some shopping in the market in anticipation of a sale to be organised in Brussels for the benefit of CAF’s projects.
Tuesday 23rd February 2016- Meeting our partners in Phnom Penh
We visit Le Restaurant des Enfants (LRDE) in the morning. The purpose of the visit is to discuss with our partners and, more importantly, to meet the children that are being sponsored through CAF and monitor their development over the last six months. We meet two girls, Votey and Reaksmey. Reaksmey received from CAF volunteers a letter from her sponsor in Switzerland, Claudia. We also meet Sorita and Sokkhim, two girls that are following a cooking course with the support of CAF and doing a great job in helping out in the Restaurant.
We also meet CABDICO in the afternoon to finalise our discussion on the projects under the Family Micro-Business programme of CAF.
Finally, another unforgettable experience. Sorita and Sokkhim have met 3 months ago some children that work in the street collecting bottles, cartons and food and who live in the open with their families within the walls of a pagoda (Wat). They take us to meet those children and families.
Wednesday 24th February- Le Restaurant des Enfants
We come back to the Restaurant (LRDE) to discuss with LRDE staff about their plans for the children of the families living in the pagoda and to do the monitoring of the other children sponsored through CAF. We meet some of the children we met in the street the evening before in the Restaurant. They are painting and playing and wearing clean clothes. They seem to be really enjoying to be there.
Srey Pech, a member of the staff monitoring CAF sponsorships, explains to us that they are trying to attract the children living in the pagoda to the Restaurant. They do so by giving them every day some food for their families (e.g. 1 kg of rice). These children are also receiving 1 hour lessons with the hope that they can catch up and gain more confidence and in one year join the public school. CAF volunteers agree to seek sponsors for 10 of those children.
We also meet Chan and Theary, a boy and a girl sponsored through CAF, when they return from school. It is very difficult to see Theary smile. She has a difficult family situation. We asked other children in the Restaurant to take care of her and make her “smile”. We hope for the better for her.
It is the last day of our trip to Cambodia for most of the members of our team. Only I stay for another day. The rest of the group is on its way to India to visit our projects there!!!
Thursday 24th February- Goodbye Cambodia… See you next year!
It is not easy to leave this country of everlasting smiles. But the time has come for me to come back.
I had the occasion to visit once more Le Restaurant des Enfants. I still had to meet Sina, the child sponsored by a good frien of mine, Leonie. Srey Pech read the letter that Leonie had written for him and show him her picture.
I also had the opportunity to discuss with the President, Mr. Chhiv and Sreymom about their plans for the children of the families living in the pagoda. We gave them the good news: a donation of CAF of 350€ to cover the cost of taking care of these children while CAF finds the 10 sponsors still required.
I see some of the children of the pagoda, now clean after a good shower and receiving clean clothes. It is such a contrast of environment: seeing them begging and collecting bottles in the street, taking the left-overs of other people’s food and sleeping on cartons last Tuesday, and now meeting them in a place where they have a shower, play, have a hot meal, and take courses. Sreymom tells me that two girls were asking how much would it take for the daily 1-hour basic course to start. This is certainly a good sign!
I hope to be able to see these children joining school when we return next year.
Choum reap Lear Kampuchea!