The holiday spirit was in the air as Cambodian Threads rolled into Prok Bongkong’s secondary school. Instead of reindeer pulling a sleigh, we had a moto-bike pulling an open aired tuk-tuk. Our gift was school material. We had the floor of our carriage stacked high with notebooks and pens waiting to be given to the students. As we carried the boxes over to the courtyard, we were greeted by a-couple-hundred smiling children who were standing with great anticipation, waiting for what this big Santa-hat-wearing American was going to say and do.
Earlier that morning, I planned the trip to donate $100 worth of learning tools to Prok Bongkong, the village in which the beautiful silk scarves are being crafted. This was the second round of donations. After donating to the young primary school students last round, we chose to target the older 10-14 year old secondary children this time around. I was working with twice the amount of money as last time; this is largely thanks to the scarves sold through Cambodian Threads and because of a generous donation by the Chachki Group (thanks family!). I was pumped to get down to the market and purchase the supplies.
After exchanging our own Christmas gifts, my beautiful Canadian girlfriend, Melissa Gee, and I went out into the hot morning air and bargained for a tuk-tuk. We chose Ceeha, a decent English speaking local driver who has provided reliable services before. Once he understood that we were going to donate school supplies to Khmer children, he offered us a good price (all day for $10) and we were off riding in style. We fought our way through the crowded Orrusey market, which was especially full on a weekday morning. Because of the age of the children we were donating to, we went with the thicker and more durable notebooks, which ended up being about $0.30 each, and the local favorite blue pens at about $0.05. Naychheng Heng, the energetic 20- year- old silk artist, came to meet us and help get the supplies. An hour later, Ceeha was there to load the 300 notebooks and 300 pens into the tuk-tuk and navigate out of the traffic ridden market scene.
We picked up Barrie, a Newton native who has joined our Cambodian Threads team, and drove out to get the ferry for the island. The Heng family was there working on their silk art when we approached their wooden stilted house. After a fresh coconut and a friendly chat, we headed for the secondary school which was only a short ride around the corner. The entrance road was bumpy, and our tuk-tuk sleigh snowed the air with dust, covering the moto-bikes trailing behind. As the dust settled, the figure of a distinguished Khmer man stood firm in the courtyard. He was the school principle, and with one shake of the hand and a warm smile he welcomed us to the Preah Takov secondary school.
The students started to pour out of their classrooms and enter the courtyard. They were all wearing their mandatory uniforms, and as they lined up in an organized fashion, one could see how much pride they took in maintaining a clean appearance. I walked up with a huge box filled with notebooks and placed it on a plastic chair. The students were respectfully quiet and the principle quickly addressed the hundreds of children before giving me the floor. I thanked him and went on to speak to the children about what I thought would be an important and interesting message to share (translated for me by Naysim Heng who was standing beside me). I spoke to the students about where I am from, the importance of Christmas giving, America, and then really tried to convey how important it is to study hard, gain a high level of knowledge, and do our part by making the world a better place one step at a time. I told them that the key to success is education. The smiling children then came to collect their Christmas gifts. That look in their eyes was truly priceless. They were so happy to receive their school supplies! I think they are at the age where they appreciate pens and notebooks and understand how these tools can be used. I then handed material to a few of the children who were just hanging around the schoolyard and the teachers who were also so happy and appreciative to get the supplies. We stayed and talked with some of the students who were trying to practice their English and the teachers who spoke about their school and how important the gifts we brought were. It was a big success!
We stopped at the Heng home once again to relax before taking the bumpy dirt road to the ferry dock. As the sun gently rolled behind the clouds, we took the boat across the Mekong en route to Phnom Penh where we had our friends preparing a big Christmas dinner. We were exhausted, but felt proud and alive!
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