A certain Danny Spitler got a hold of my blog a few weeks ago and contacted me to come photograph the school that he started a foundation for in a village near Angkor Wat. This morning, one of the developers of the school, Dorn, picked me up on his motorbike to go pay a visit. In the middle of this tiny village, down thin dirt roads, past small dilapidated shacks and trash landfills lay the Spitler School Foundation, composed of three nicely built school rooms and a Cambodian flag in the center. The school is a true blessing to the children of this village and without Danny Spitler and his wife, Pam, most of these children would not have had the opportunity to receive a good education. The school hosts 8 teachers or so who teach about 350 children. The classrooms are very clean and comfortable and the children all wear uniforms along with great big smiles. Dorn took me around the school to take photos and to meet the children. It was another wonderful experience, these kids are so incredibly joyful and beautiful, yet most of them come from very rough or poor family environments.
In one classroom, a boy was singing a Khmer song to the class, which I luckily caught on video. In another, I became the honorary audience to a classroom of ten year olds singing a little song in English, which I didn't quite understand or recognize until I heard the lyrics "I get by with a little help from my friends," sung in a dry, monotonous tone, proving they had never actually heard the song and were just repeating the words off a script. It was quite a genius moment I must say, and that too was caught on video!
We took a school photo, which was much easier to orchestrate than any other class photo I've ever seen taken, although undeniably chaotic. The children here are all completely obsessed with peace signs. I have no idea how or why, but every time you ask someone to smile for a photo they make a peace sign. I'm not even sure they know that it means peace or what it means to them for that matter, but it's definitely a widely used photo op expression, one that has gotten me many cute shots, but can also sometimes be redundant. I've been trying to get them to do other expressions in the short amount of time that I have to shoot these kids, like make silly faces and such, but they are extremely shy.
On the ride back, I asked Dorn how much money is needed to start a small school here like that and he seems to think that with $10,000, a nice little school could be built over a three month period and could sustain itself for 6 months-1 year. This is quite inspiring and I'm hoping to start a fund upon return. If $10,000 could educate 300-400 kids and keep them off the streets, it would be amazing. Just think, the price of a few Chanel bags could save 300-400 children!!! If anyone is interested in donating or helping me start the fund, please let me know!!
In the afternoon, Stine, Anette and I went to tour the other Globalteer projects: Grace House and the Green Gecko.
Grace House had more of a resemblance to Anjali, the ambiance was similar. When we got there, extremely loud wedding music was playing next door to the school, so some of the volunteers were just goofing around with the kids instead of teaching, because there was no way they could focus. In Cambodia, the loud Khmer music is a tradition during weddings or funerals. It usually starts at the crack of dawn until sundown and is... intrusively loud.
Then we visited the Green Gecko Project, which seemed like Orlando compared to the other projects. It was beautifully set up on a large piece of land with a nice jungle gym, a big soccer/sports court, seven lunch/rest huts for each group of children (which were divided by a given animal name and colored t-shirts), bedrooms and lots of trees and greenery that made the place seem like a resort. It was amazingly organized and the children seem incredibly happy. The director gave us all of the background information on the project, a truly inspiring story. Started by an Australian woman a few years ago, the Green Gecko project transformed from a little place where children could go to learn some English and get off the streets for a few hours during the day, as well as to get washed and fed, into a full blown live-in school, where the kids not only get a good education, food, a place to live and play, but they are also given food to bring back to their families over the weekend. Beyond helping the kids, the Green Gecko has put together a project that aids their families by educating them (on topics such as healthcare, nutrition, parenting, etc.) and giving them micro-loans and ways to help them start their own small businesses to bump self-esteem and create jobs. The director explained that most of the kids come from families of land-mind victims, addicts to drugs or gambling, illness or disease and such. The children were all taken off the streets, where they were mainly begging at night to sustain their families or themselves. Visiting this project was a true eye-opener and vivid inspiration to help save these kids lives. If you would like to donate to any of the projects, please visit The Green Gecko Project or Grace House Cambodia or The Spitler School Foundation or Anjali House.
In the evening, it was quiz night, which is usually fun, but the quiz was WAY too hard this time. Thankfully, we forced an old man, Bernard a.k.a. Bernie Mac, whom we met last week to sit at our table so that we could get more history questions right. He ended up contributing to the strong majority of answers...
Tomorrow is my last day at Anjali House and then Saturday evening I'm off to Vietnam!! (And by myself... my friend had to cancel her flight last minute...)