We arrived at Phnom Penh airport at about 10am. No issues going through passport and visa control and collecting our bags. We met our bus driver and were on the way to the hotel at about 11.
We checked in and unloaded, changing out of our travel clothes and into more appropriate attire given the +90 degree weather.
We left the hotel at noon and headed out to the first cultural stop of the day : Toul Sleng (also known as the Genocide Museum). This is a former high school that was converted into an interrogation center by the Khmer Rouge in 1975. As a first stop upon arrival to Cambodia, it can be a shock for most to see the brutality that occurred here not so long ago. We spent about an hour walking though the center. We then walked across the street to have lunch in a little local restaurant.
Toul Sleng Genocide Museum
After lunch we headed out to the Killing Fields. This is where nearly every person who was taken to Toul Sleng ended up. Discovered in 1979 when the Khmer Rouge lost control of the country, there were tens of thousands of Cambodians executed at this location.
Seeing these two historic sites on our first day in this beautiful country sets the context for the rest of our time here. The country continues to recover from the genocide and the complete destruction of critical infrastructure. They have made great progress but they have a long way to go.
We got back to the hotel by 5, took showers and had a great dinner on the rooftop of the hotel. By 8 everyone was ready for bed! We will be off by 9am for the 7 hour drive up to Battambang.
Bus Ride Day
We were all up early today as our body clocks get adjusted. Breakfast on the rooftop was awesome, with good food and great views.
We were all checked out and on the bus by 9:15 for the 7 hour journey to Battambang, Cambodia's 3rd largest city in the NorthWest section of the country. We will be here for 6 days with the kids we came to serve!
We stopped about about noon for a restroom break at a roadside market. They had a coffee/smoothie counter that was calling our name….and it was awesome! Some on the team remarked that this was the best smoothie they have ever had!
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant the driver knew about…it featured a pit full of crocodiles! Ryan continued his attempt to catch a lizard and was successful twice. We did encourage him to wash his hands before eating.
We got to the hotel at 4:45, checked in and unloaded all our luggage. We were back on the road, in 4 Tuk-Tuk's to the orphanage at 5:15.
Arriving for the first time is always special. The kids are all waiting for us as we roll into the orphanage compound. We stayed about an hour and a half, playing soccer, dancing, and meeting our new friends for the first timers and catching up with our old friends for the returners.
We headed back to town and had dinner at a western restaurant called The Kitchen. Service for a group our size was slow, so it took almost 2 hours to get through dinner. We were back at the hotel at about 9, dragging after a very long day.
We have a number of great projects planned for this week and next. Looking forward to getting started tomorrow!
Concrete work begins!
The kids love playing in our concrete materials
We got up and headed out to the orphanage at 8:30. All the material was waiting for us to get started on the concrete work we had sketched out. A couple of years ago we put in a concrete bike park area that had been dirt. When it rained the kids would walk through mud to get their bikes. This year the project request was to extend the roof over the area and re-pour the concrete slab. This would allow the kids to sleep outside when it gets so hot. The bikes would be moved to another area that would also get a new concrete slab.
Lauren assigned teams and we attacked the projects. We did not have a mixer, so we pulled together a small group to mix by hand. This is hard work! And its made more difficult in the heat and humidity.
Another team worked on laying down a brick barrier that will have concrete poured against it.
In the boys and girls dorms the beds and mattresses were donated many years ago. Today, some of the beds have no mattress at all (the kids literally sleep on the wood bed frame) and the other beds have mattresses that are worn through. We decided to buy new mattresses for the kids with the large donations received this year. What a HUGE different this makes for the comfort of the kids!
By noon we were done with what we could get to and stopped for lunch.
After lunch we spent a few hours playing and doing arts & crafts.
We left at 4:30 and returned to the hotel to get cleaned up and have dinner on the rooftop.
We decided to rent an mechanical mixer to finish the concrete work, and have that waiting for us when we get back to the orphanage tomorrow.
We were back out to New Hope at about 9am and got going again on the concrete work. The big difference is that we now have the mechanical mixer! It’s a relic of the last century but it gets the job done. Each load gets 10 gallons of water, a 1bag of cement (110 lbs), 7 buckets of sand, and 5 buckets of gravel. Spin for about 5 minutes, dump out, and spread.
We have teams set up for the heavy lifting and the finesse of troweling to concrete.
Meanwhile, Suzy and Corin were scouring the city of Battambang for more mattresses…looking for 6 more to complete the replacement of all beds. They found 5, but Suzy had plans to return in the afternoon to another store for the one remaining in the city.
The concrete was mixed and spread for the rest of the morning, getting finished by lunchtime. Once again we ate an amazing meal of fried chicken and sautéed vegetables…incredible what they are able to prepare and cook over open flame.
The afternoon was spent playing educational games with all the kids.
We left in the early afternoon to head back to the hotel and rest. A few of us ventured out to a nearby attraction called Sampov Mountain. It is well known for two things: a bat cave and "killing" cave. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge, victims were executed by being thrown down the mountain into caves. Today there is a large cave that is home to millions of bat who fly out each evening. A few of us climbed the mountain and then watched the bats nightly exit. Sara downloaded an independence day playlist so we had some 4th of July music to enjoy during the show.
Dinner was back on the hotel rooftop, a beautiful view and great food!
Today we worked at New life orphanage, an older home that has 27 kids. It is located about a mile from New Hope and has been in operation for about 15 years.
We have a number of projects lined out and the materials are ready for us when we arrive.
Back in 2009, a team from the US installed paver walkways throughout the orphanage. A few of the sections have settled and get flooded when it rains. We pulled up the sections of area to be repaired and filled it in with a mix of gravel and sand. The pavers were replaced and reset.
Another team repainted the exterior of the buildings, giving everything a much cleaner look!
We stopped for lunch at noon and enjoyed another amazing lunch. Pheroum (the orphanage director's wife) is well known for her fried chicken…and did not disappoint. This really is the best fried chicken on earth (you just have to come to Battambang Cambodia to get it).
We left the orphanage after lunch and came back to the hotel to rest and clean-up. Tonight is the big event at BBQ, a local buffet where we host all the kids from New Hope.
There is a little bit of a logistical operation in getting 30 kids from the orphanage to the restaurant. We take our 4 Tuk Tuk's to the BBQ and then send them on (with 3 lucky students) to the orphanage to gather everyone and return.
There were 55 of us, and a TON of food was consumed. So much fun and a special night that was sponsored by an Angkor4Kids donor in memory of their son. We all had a blast watching kids eat and eat and eat, and share a lot of laughs and pictures.
This is always a highlight of our trip, to share this experience with these kids who get to eat at a restaurant once a year (some for the very first time).
We were done by 7:30 and said good night to the kids, sending them back home in the tuk tuk's. We walked back to the hotel, stopping for coffee and dessert at the Green Mango.
We got up early today and left the hotel at 8am to head to the Bamboo Train, a local attraction that is hard to explain. A very long time ago the French built a rail system to move rice from the fields to collection points. One of the lines remains in Battambang and runs out into the rice fields about 10 miles. You sit on a bamboo platform (car) and are powered by a small motor. At the end of the line there are a couple of small shops selling souvenirs and trinkets. It is a fun experience and the kids had a blast taking photos and being together.
We then went to lunch and visited the local market before heading back to New Hop orphanage for the afternoon.
Its always fun to get back to the orphanage, and today was no different. But we could also sense a little sadness and both the Cambodian kids and American kids realized this is the last day. We played soccer and did a lot of arts and crafts. The Tuk Tuk's were back to pick us up at 5pm to get us to dinner at the Kitchen.
After dinner we headed back out to the orphanage one last time, for the ice cream and dance party! We bought a couple of large tubs of ice cream, chocolate and strawberry syrup, and whipped cream. This is another highlight for us and the kids…seeing their delight and then getting amped up to dance!
We spent 2 and half hours dancing, laughing, and then crying. We have made some very good friends, kids who have been through so much pain but find so much comfort in having all of us come stay with them. It is always an emotional exit. I shared with the kids that I have always found it easier to say "see you next year" rather than "good bye" , and pray that I have the opportunity to see these kids again.
We left the orphanage at 9 and headed back to the hotel. Everyone was tired from dancing and ready for bed. We have an early start to head out of Battambang and up to Siem Reap. We will be there for a day and a half and head back home.
Thank you to all our friends and families who support our effort over here. Your generous support has made a difference to so many, and we appreciate you very much!