Conception Giving Life a Name, December 2010

Conception of the Project
„Giving Life a Name“

In July 2010 I went to Cambodia to travel the country. All the stories about the Cambodian people, the red soil, that is supposed to give the streets the gleam of the setting sun, the dangers and wounds, that are left from the war, even today, had created the wish inside myself to discover this country.
After I had been in Siem Reap for a couple of days, a town in the northwest of the country, that is considered one of the pourest regions in Cambodia. Despite the increase of tourism through the Temples of Ankor there hasn’t been any improvement in the circumstances of life for most of Siem Reaps’ population. Walking through the streets of this busy town, there is a permanent alternation between absolute prosperity and absolute poverty. There is Tuk-Tuk-drivers who desperately try to get some customers, to bring them to their desired destination, while a Lexus drives by, hiding a person behind the darkened window glass, so you won’t be able to recognise him. The extremes of surviving and living are drawing the picture of this city.
Through a lot of different coincidences I ended up teaching English in a slum of Siem Reap at an „one-man-NGO“. We repaired the roof of the hut, that was built on a wall surrounding the 5-star-hotel next door. Rainy season was coming up.
The kids were sleeping together with Mak Sareth, who was the leader and the only member of this organisation, in the room that I was teaching in the next morning. The toilet was only seperated from the classroom through a manhigh wall, because there was no money to build a higher one. All the money that appeared was first used to fill their hungry stomachs.

Because I haven’t expected to be teaching English while travelling in Cambodia, I had to create a new conception for my classes, that has always been limited by my budget. There was material missing like pens and paper and morningfloods in the classroom were quite common, because there was no brick and stones to higher the wall to protect the hut from being flooded.
Together with Mak Sareth I openened a bankaccount, so his organisation could receive donations, I developed a plan for my englishteachings and I started getting in contact with different organisations in Siem Reap, that could inform him about functioning conceptions with similar aims to his ideas.

The kids were flourishing as soon as I brought some pieces of paper and pens and they were creating the most beautiful phantasies. I stayed for about one month.
But within this time it became more and more evident, that Mak Sareth himself needed a lot of help; He had to escape to Thailand when Phnom Penh was captured by the Khmer Roug. There he opened an organisation for refugees, that mostly took care of disabled people.
During the civil war he once came back to see his parents. But when he arrived he was told, that they had been executed publicly on stage by the Khmer Rouge, because they had been considered „intellectual people“.
He went back to Thailand and finally came back to Cambodia as an UNTAC-soldier, „to help my country to get back to peace“, as he described it.
It was obvious to me, that his dedication to his work was sourced in his experience within the civil war, in his deep fear inside himelf.
„Somebody has to take care of these children. When they start growing up and they’ll see who really is resposible for their circumstances of life, they will take a gun and start shooting. We need to protect ourselves from a new war“.

It became clear, that Mak Sareth had been so desperate, that he hadn’t told me about the real prices for several products, his familysituation as well as the origin of some children to get money for his own survival. He was in the exact same situation as the orphans that he took care of.
Cambodia is known for its corruption and the disparity of the rich and the poor as a result of it.
But corruption can either evolve from greed or it can be sourced in despair.

In Siem Reap I got to know a woman, that is now plannig on opening a school with her cambodian boyfriend, and to found a NGO. Within the time that I spent in Siem Reap struggeling in despair and the organisation of my work that I took over, ending up in helplessness, we became really good friends. When she told me about the school and the application for the NGO, I started having a clear idea of a project that had been in my head for quite a while; in this wonderful country, where life is dealing way too much with surviving than with living, the focus shouldn’t just be put on teaching English to increase the chances for the job market. New worlds should be opened up, worlds of art and philosophy, that are able to show the special side in each one of us.
Against the hard reality, that often is just the fight for survival, it is possible to create a world in our hearts and heads, that can be the source of new security.

I am planning on doing my project within July and October 2011.
The children are in school five days a week, so I could approximately work on the project around two hours a day or five hours at two days a week. It is important to recognise, that a lot of the Cambodian children are having a full timetable every day; in the morning they could come to the school of the NGO, in the afternoon they are going to the public schools, that are considered the only proof for education at the job market. To be allowed to go to a higher grade in school, each one needs to pass a test, that would cost around 50 Dollars (the avarage wage of the families i knew was around 30 Dollars per month). In addition to that each child needs to help its parents at home as well as with their work.
So in the end there is just a reduced number of hours left per day, where I could do the project. But the long time of three months makes it possible to still make this project happen.
My ideas are sourced in my past experience with the children and their love for creativity as well as in other projects around the world, that I have heard from within the last time:

– A photoproject in Cambodia working in exchange with an school in Belgium. Presenting questions asked about their home, their family, their favourite food in pictures they took in the school in Belgium as well as in the school in Cambodia. Afterwards the pictures were exchanged and compared and in the end they had a conference via „Skype“ with all the children taking part in the project. (Project by Hanne Lewyllie)

– An artproject in a school in Belgium, working with clay. Each child is shaping the most important thing in their life into clay. On the playground they have built something like a totem pole to brick the things that the children shaped into it. This „tree of importances“ was now created as a place that the children could always come to, where they could talk about their secrets and wishes, that they can’t tell to anybody else. To have something, that is there for them, when they are not doing well, when they are sad or they are feeling lonely.
From time to time you can see children during the break or after school sitting next to the totem talking to him.

My project is called „Giving Life a Name“. Within the first weeks I want to find out with the children, what is important in their own lifes. For explample their family, their friends, playing around, working, dreaming. It is not important what the answers are like, it is just important to discover their true thoughts.
Every answer will be collected and be presented to the children at the end of the week.
Then I will try to develop ideas together with the children how to create something together, that still has got a big importance for each one of them.
I will tell them about different artprojects around the world that children have made to maybe make them have new ideas about it.
In my head there is a lot of different ideas that embody different aims: the priority of this project is finding out about the importances of each child, to fulfill the task of teaching the children how to see themselves as an individual with their own wishes and imaginations. This is achievable through the production of something that they can always carry around with them, that reminds them of themselves.
On the other hand I want the children to create something as a group together, that they can look back to and that in the best case they could keep on developing when i am not there anymore.
I am thinking about something like a row of bench that we could design and paint on, or a treehouse that we have built together and that could be a place of security for them, or a big painting at the wall of the school that will always be modifiable.
In each one of these projects I want to create a connection to their country, because Cambodias’ national pride is always part of daily life in there. The red soil of Cambodia, that i was talking about at the beginning of this text, could be a tool for our work with this topic. Working with clay (which is possible with each one of these ideas) could work with this soil to make Cambodia a part of the importances we are working with.

I am convinced that the time frame as well as the praticability of this project is realistic. After having made my experience with working in Cambodia, especially in the region of Siem Reap, I am convinced that I can value whether it is possible to do such a project or not.
Through my friendship with the woman founding this NGO I am sure to have found a place that I can work in without the fear of corruption and exploitation. Having the connection to different people, that can both speak Khmer and English makes it possible to get in contact with the children, that will probably just speak little or no English.
In my opinion this project is of big importance in a country like Cambodia, a country where the extremes in society are threatening peoples’ lifes.
There is a big need to have a new place created to give wishes the freedom they need to flourish and to become manifested in the lifes of each one of us.
By giving our own life a name, we also give us a position in this world, that allows us to be ourselves and to be free.

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