Sunday, November 5, 2017

Opening Day at The Cambodia Academy

Practicing for Opening Day - I Think You're Wonderful
Back in Siem Reap at the Angkor Holiday Hotel, other board members and guests started arriving at the hotel for the kick off cocktail party at the Foreign Correspondents Club and dinner. (thanks for the drinks, Rich!) Many folks we only knew thru emails, Facebook and conference calls, but there was this incredible bond we felt for each other due to our involvement in the school. The excitement was palpable.
Cocktail Hour and Dinner at the Foreign Corespondents Club
Bright and early the next day, we crammed into 2 buses for the long trip to Monkgol Borie – one bus would come back to SR, the other would head off across the border at Poi Pet, to return to Bangkok.
As we rounded the drive up to the school, all 345 children were lined on either side of the road to greet us. On either side of the lane, at the beginning of the line, were 2 pairs of the older kids with baskets full of scarves. Each guest was given a scarf and greeted in English. I can’t begin to describe how full all of our hearts were- these kids were bursting at the seams with joy! All wanted to shake hands, high five or just pranam and say “HELLO!” The line seemed endless and I didn’t want to miss greeting each child. Rounding the corner and thru the gate, 3 large tents awaited us. Many parents attended and were standing to receive us also. This is quite an honor as taking a day off, for many of them, will cut into their meager incomes. Yet it is an honor for their child to attend the school.  Parents understand the whole family will benefit if only one child obtains their 9th grade education. All children are chosen from families with the most need. The poorest of the poor in a very poor country. A poverty which you can’t imagine.
Students waiting at the front gate

Prima say hello to some of the older students

Harvey with this scarf, on his way to the tents
Parents waiting under the tents for the festivities to begin

The ceremony started off with all the kids singing in English, “I Think You’re Wonderful.” Afterwards, 7 of the older girls, who had been studying Khmer Dance entertained us in beautiful, traditional costumes. Afterward, we all had to sit thru mostly boring speeches, including one from the Minister of Education which came specifically for opening day. Then Gunvar stepped up for her speech. Gunvar is on the board, from Sweden and spent 2 months at the school teaching. She gave her entire speech in Khmer! All the kids were besides themselves-the speeches were no longer boring! Gunvar made the girls promise that one of them would be the Premier of Cambodia one day. We were all blown away with Gunvar’s dedication to speak to the students in their own language. All the students get a half a day of English Education, but there is nothing like hearing your own language spoken.
Beautiful Dancer

Traditional Khmer Dance
Lunch was next. Everybody eats! At the Academy, all children get 2 meals a day -with protein. That’s 14,000 meals a month. Those in need can take what is left over home. But today, was special. They really went all out for us, their guests. A feast of mammoth proportion. Coco-Cola’s, French Fries, French Bread (that’s what everyone thinks the rest of the world eats – ha!) Noodle dishes, sweet and spicy chicken, stir-fried rice with meat chicken, soup with blood chunks and more chicken, sliced pineapple and ice on the table. The older students served us and everyone cleaned up afterward. On a typical school day, all students clean up after lunch.
Ratmays Mut and Me - Shelly's McMurry's Child

Most likely to become Leader of Cambodia one day

Teachers together for photos

The Board Members
Now it was time for pictures with our students and tours of the school facility for Donor’s who were there for the first time. The kids had been told to talk to all of us, to help with their English-speaking skills. There was much giggling and hugging. Of course, the girls were bolder. Everybody wanted a picture to be made.

Hank - official photographer- shows a student her picture

By the time we left, my face hurt from all the smiling. We joined the bus taking the 1.5-hour journey to Poi Pet, to cross the boarder into Thailand. At the border, we were let out of our bus with all our bags. The border between Thailand and Cambodia is a no-mans land that is filled with a large casino. One checks thru immigration and proceeds to walk a couple of hundred yards across the border to the Thai side, where you go thru immigration, yet again. Then, one has to catch another bus or taxi to take you to your destination. Luckily Primo and Prima make this journey often, and had a taxi waiting for us on the other side. 

3 hours later we were in Bangkok.

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