Margret Mead Would Be Proud
Aug 24, 2006
|Hi Everybody -
If you have ever questioned whether one person can make a difference, let me tell you, they can. I've just returned from a very remote area of Cambodia called Mondolkiri Province. Mondolkiri is home to an indiginous people call the P'Nong people who, much like the Muslim Cham I described in an earlier journal entry, have historically been marginalized by Cambodian society. As such, Mondolkiri is home to one of our Individual Student Programs and I traveled to this region to visit with as many students as I possibly could in the 36 hours I had there.
Why such a short trip? Well, even though Mondolkiri is only 200 miles to the east of Phnom Penh, it took us 10 hours in a supped-up Toyota Landcruiser to make the drive. Past Kandal Province, past Kampong Cham Province, even past Kratie Province, the road turns to mud and the last 5 to 6 hours of the journey must be made in 4 wheel drive going very slowly to avoid breaking an axle or falling off the side of a cliff. This trip was done during the rainy season, which made the driving even more hazardous than normal. At one point, we got stuck in the mud and I had to get out of the car and help push it up the mountain. Yes, I am just that strong.
Mondolkiri, when translated into English, means "center of the mountains" and it is a really beautiful and unique area of Cambodia. Lush fields that grow avacado, potato, papaya and a host of other fruits I only know in Cambodian cover the area. There are many rivers, several waterfalls and even pine trees in Mondolkiri. Most amazing: the weather is cool there - so cool, in fact, that I had to wear and sweater and pants to stay warm. If anyone ever travels to Cambodia, I highly recommend a trip to this region. It is really quite stunning.
I drove to this distant province with Sodary (Dary) Chap and her sister, Sodany. Dary is 25 years old and CASF Program Director. She joined CASF in 2003 as Director and runs the foundation out of her home. Dary is in charge of all 6 Individual Student Programs and the 1 Inclusive School Program in Kampong Chhnang Province. When she needs to travel to see our students, she either takes a bus or borrows her aunt's car. She uses the internet cafe next door to her house to send and receive emails, make photocopies and place telephone calls to us in the United States.
For the 9 days I have been in Cambodia, I have traveled with Dary to visit most of our students. From 6am in the morning until 7pm or 8pm at night, we have been working/discussing CASF. In this time, I have come to think of Dary as the person who Margaret Mead had in mind when she wrote, "Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Actually, I think Dary does the quote one better as she is a single individual working patiently, tirelessly, constantly to end extreme poverty in her country one child at a time.
To meet students with Dary is a real treat. Usually I stay behind until the students have stopped hugging her so I can introduce myself. Upon seeing Dary, they start laughing with joy and run towards her and literally bury their entire bodies into hers. Sometimes she actually disappears. The children call her sister Dary, though she is really more like a mother to them. She knows their siblings, parents (if they have parents), relatives, friends and neighbors. She also knows their favorite subjects in school, class rank and whether or not they are having trouble in a subject. She can be stern, loving; can set boundaries or just be there for comfort. I have yet to ask her a question about one of our students that she cannot answer; she knows them that well.
Driving around with Dary between visits, students call her on her mobile phone to say hello, share some good news, report a problem. To say that Dary's work with CASF is full-time is an understatement. To say that it is just work undermines these relationships. You can tell she truly cares for these girls and it shows in the way they care for her. They rely on her. They trust her.
This was made evident to me yesterday on our trip home from Mondolkiri. In addition to Dary and Dany, we had two students in the car who were traveling to Phnom Penh to see a doctor for different medical conditions. These students will live at Dary's house until they return home to Mondolkiri next week. During the ride home, one of the girls became violently ill - motion sickness they said. Driving on a road that more often resembled the Appalachian Trail than a highway would make anyone sick - but something with this student was different. She was really ill.
We stopped for a while so the girl could recover, but she didn't. She continued to get sicker, so Dary and Dany coined her in hopes that this would help relieve some of the pain. Coining is a traditional Cambodian practice whereby someone is rubbed repeatedly with a hot coin (or other piece of metal) until the skin becomes red and inflammed. Depending on the severity of the illness, someone can be coined in one place or in many different places all over the body. This student was coined in many different places all over her body. During the episode, she only wanted to hold Dary's hand, only wanted to be held by Dary. You could tell she believed Dary would make her better, that Dary would take care of her. Afterwards, she did seem to feel better, until we started driving again.
Her condition, again, quickly worsened. Unfortunately, though, we still had a 90 minute drive on the rough road. In the middle of the wilderness, we had no place to go but forward. Passing out between intense vomiting episodes, the student crumpled into Dary's arms to rest. Dary took care of her like her mother. She was in really bad shape.
As soon as we reached the smooth road, we entered a small remote "outpost" of a village called Snoule and found a medical center. Without missing a beat, Dary pushed this girl to the front of the line and got her seen by the doctor immediately. She was quickly hooked up to an IV to replenish her fluids and given a series of medicines to help her relax and to control her vomiting. A little more than two hours later, she was feeling better and was allowed to leave. Driving on the smooth road, now, she was able to sleep most of the 4 remaining hours to Phnom Penh. Today I hear she is doing much better.
To see Dary, our Program Director, show such concern and care for a student was so touching. While I stood by and helplessly watched the entire episode, she only thought of the needs of our student. I know this happens often (Dary is often meeting with families, taking students to the doctor, discussing students and their progress with our Educational Counselors), I just happened to witness this specific incident. I will never forget it.
When I talk to others about CASF, I always stress the value we place on personal relationships and how we believe that in order for children to not only go back to school but to stay in school, we must provide care of the whole child - not just the student in the classroom. This is why we do not just provide financial scholarships, but also emotional, medical and educational support to our students. Even though we are based in the US, the decisions that most critically affect our students are made in Cambodia. We are so truly lucky to have Sodary Chap as our Program Director and I am so honored to be able to call her my friend.