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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Touch Sala Bai

Meet Socheat (it's a real name, not cheating!), her father left her to marry her mother's cousin when she was a baby. The new wife, though family, forbids her father from keeping in touch with his child nor former wife. So near yet so far,the father and his new family remains residing in the same village. Her mum,the sole bread winner,soon fell ill with heart problems.

Socheat was destitute.

Meet Sok, her dad also left her when she was a baby. Her mother later remarried a man younger than her and also abandoned her.
Sok on the extreme right.
Sok was destitute.
I asked him to pose like Ong Bak because of the missing Buddha head behind.
Meet South Chanta, he was given away by his parents to his Uncle to be a slave. At 5, he served the Uncle's family by cooking,cleaning and working on the fields. In return,he gets food, shelter and clothes. He had a yearning to study, only to meet strong objections from his Uncle. His Uncle said harshly to Chanta," if you want to study, u need to leave my family for good." Later, Chanta did leave but was labelled as an ingrate.

We do not get to choose to be born poor or rich,but we do have a choice to choose how we live.

These 3 Cambodians heard about Sala Bai and chose not to give up. To make their way to get an application form, some travel 7 days and 6 nights.
Meet Sam, my friend who followed that actual journey of a recent graduate of Sala Bai by running, cycling and swimming. He did so to raise awareness of the Cambodian's plight (50% live on less than USD 50 per month). Knowledge hungry, determined, ambitious but limited because of poverty. Worse, they are highly vulnerable to sex and labour trafficking.

Singapore's citizens might have alot of gripe about our senior minister mentor LKY,but if there's anything to be grateful for is that he provided education & made it compulsory in Singapore.

For anyone who have met the students of Sala Bai, look into their earnest eyes, hear their passion about wanting to improve themselves, one would feel ashamed how we hated homework & the start of school after the holidays (which happens to be this week).

I spent my weekend discovering Sala Bai and Siem Reap.

Siem Reap wasn't made famous until Angelina Jolie (for adopting a child) and Tomb Raider (which Angelia Jolie starred in too).
The Angkor Wat

I was in awe the moment i stepped into the temple grounds. Little did i know that Cambodia, home to the largest religious structure was forced not too long ago to give up their religion during the largest genocide in history.
Everything was so majestic, full of details and textures.  While you may roam the temples on your own, it's better to get a guide because he can tell you the stories and point out things you wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

Like this carving, where a Stegosauraus was found! If the 12th century civilization had carved this into stone, does this mean that dinosaurs existed?
 No modern architecture can beat the Ang Kor Wat. These incredulous trees add to the mysteriousness and enchantment of the temple grounds.

Only in the 1999 then was there clam after the Khmer Rouge regime. But by then, 2 million have already died, from starvation, disease and slaughter. That's 21% of Cambodians and almost anyone with an education. Urban dwellers were evacuated from their homes and moved to rural areas.

Moving from the city to the country side was already bad enough, but imagine if you had to live in the Meachrey river.

And Singaporeans complain about flash floods?

Tourists may take a river boat ride down this stream, peep into the poor homes, intruding and invasive. Taking photos of everything, we may find the entire experience touristy.
Like a curious tourist, i really did peep into the poor homes. Most are empty, the owners gone fishing or work. There is no need to 'lock up' because there is literally nothing to steal. Most homes are SO SPARSE, they merely provide a roof.

A chicken coop on water.
It's hard to imagine an urban dweller like us to move to live in such conditions, but these people make do. It is after all, a way of life.
A pig sty on water.
I teared twice on the hour long river cruise. It brought back the thought where we don't get to choose to be born rich or poor, in Singapore or in Cambodia. I am guilty of wishing i can be born a celebrity's daughter, wishing i can have bigger breasts or wishing i have a better life.

I obviously already do.

Sala Bai is a non-profit organization whose mission is to fight poverty and human trafficking in Cambodia by providing education and employment in the hospitality. By having a model solution for a program that provides practical education and then guaranteeing employment will support the economic growth of Cambodia and also eliminate the risk of trafficking for individuals.

Sala Bai hand-picks only 100 students a year to provide full board, meals and studies for free. The social workers at Sala Bai conducts home visits to ensure that the 100 students they give come from absolutely impoverished homes (if you have a rice field, pig or scooter, you will not be accepted into Sala Bai). There is also a stringent selection process so only the most determined students with a good attitude will be selected.
Getting English lessons.
I strongly encourage you to travel with a cause, follow my footsteps in a weekend to discover Sala Bai. It's not realistic to make a donation without fully understanding Sala Bai. I urge that you consider staying at the training hotel to experience the students' hunger to learn.
Outside Sala Bai
There are only 4 rooms available starting from USD 20 a night. It's awesome value-for-money. Almost centrally located, the mosquito net and warm bedside lamp gives the room a romantic feel. Toilets are equipped with towels.
Sala Bai students get trained for roles in housekeeping, receptionist, waiters and chefs. Book Sala Bai for accommodation if you plan to visit Siem Reap!
 However, if you prefer a fancy hotel, try boutique hotel Heritage Suites.
They are strong supporters of Sala Bai by offering internships and employing graduates.
Graduates from Sala Bai may now earn as much as USD 400 a month.
The board members of Sala Bai fund the organization's operating expenses, 100% of the donations goes towards the school and students (medical insurance, USD 20 allowance a month, lessons and lodging).

If you're still not certain about making a donation, or prefer to stay in a luxury hotel, at least pay Sala Bai a visit for a meal! Training restaurant and bar is closed on Sundays and school holidays.

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of food served. I was expecting to go easy on taste expectations because it's cooked by students.

Cambodian food is very similar to Thai, but without the chilli padi and spice. I love the breakfast sets that starts at USD 2. Try the traditional Cambodian porridge for breakfast.
Mango salad with shrimp
Mince pork with eggplant rice
Singapore ranked 90th out of 151 countries in a 2012 study on Happiness. We are not happy and i wonder why. Not enough iPhones, iPads perhaps? Not enough fine wine and dine?

The highest ranked Asian country is Vietnam (2nd) and Hong Kong in position 102 is the only Asian nation ranked lower than Singapore.

How then can young Cambodians smile so genuinely considering the extraordinary challenges they face?
Rowing to school.

Perhaps they've long known what we're still trying to find, happiness.


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