Wednesday, 14 November 2012

# 15: “ Every great dream begins with a dreamer. We all have within us the passion to reach for the stars and change the world. ” - Harriet Tubman

Well, the wet season is officially over, now maybe the humidity will finally start dropping - 87% at the moment and forecast for 91% overnight....

Sambaht and my 'Company Car'
 I can usually get by with only 2 cold showers a day now that I have my 'company tuk-tuk' to chauffeur me around instead of cycling everywhere - still riding around town after work, just for the exercise.
Off to work again...
 Never thought I'd actually welcome cold showers! We had a hot shower installed in the 'volunteers house' last week, which I dived into immediately, then decided that, in this climate, cold is definitely the way to go. It's certainly easier to rinse the conditioner out of your hair with hot water, but that's all it's got going for it here. You don't actually get dry after a hot shower. By the time you've toweled down you're immediately coated in a sheen of sweat again..

The ethics & philosophy classes are going amazingly well - we now have a philosophy club on Saturday evenings for all these enthusiastic thinkers who need more than one lesson a week...

I am finding myself in a bit of an ethical quandary though. Last week I asked the kids what they like to do in their free time.
 From a group of  'street kids', who do have families but are so poor they're often out begging late in the evening and/or early in the morning and often fall asleep in their classes, I got:
 "help my mother with the housework", "help with the cooking", "look after my nephew/ brother/ sister" and "give my grandmother massages"- and that was a group of adolescent boys!
 From the CCT kids in Residential Care: "play football", "read books", "watch TV" and "play computer games"...

When you're homeless, a sheet of plastic on the footpath becomes home &
that really doesn't cut it during monsoon season... 
I'm not sure what this is telling me, except to say that the kids who are living in the more comfortable and stable environment no longer seem to see the need to contribute to their 'foster' families..They've had such a hard start to life that I suspect their House Parents are over-compensating and being a little too indulgent. I've included a topic on the importance of discipline, responsibility, consequences and community in some of my classes, especially for the staff & House Parents. I hope they'll take it on board.

Yesterday I was giving my most enthusiastic class - 5th & 6th graders, including dear "S", a lesson on 'Ethical Dilemmas'. I first asked them if it was ever acceptable to kill another person. Of course they all immediately said NO. Then I gave them the following scenario:
"We're all sitting here one day looking at how guns work, so there's a loaded gun right here in the middle of the floor. Suddenly, a man bursts into the room, carrying his own gun, and says he's going to kill me then go find Tara & Daisy & Erin & Nat and kill them too because he hates ALL white women. What are you going to do?"
Now, when I put this question to the adults, they all said: "Well in that case, I would have to kill him." Except my dear friend and avid philosophy student Jedtha, who was a Buddhist monk for 17 years and still holds his Buddhist beliefs unquestioningly - he said : "It would be very sad to lose you and the other ladies but killing is ALWAYS wrong. I'd try to talk him out of it but the decision is his - it's on his Karma. If I kill him, that would be bad Karma for me." Harsh but fair enough - and primarily about 'what's good for ME'...
 So, back to the 'street kids'. They all suggested a 3rd alternative that would disarm, but not kill him...and the response from "S"?
"I would have to stop him from hurting you, but I must also try to stop him from hurting himself. I would grab our gun, shoot him in the arm so he drops his gun, then pick up both guns and tell him he can't do this terrible thing. He's going down a bad path and I would not want him to go to gaol." 
With these kids, the answers are always in terms of responsibility to family and community. What's best for Srok Khmae is ultimately what's best for all of us.....

As is so often the case here, I find myself thinking what a bright future the Khmae could have if only we can succeed in giving it's children a decent education. They are so ready to reach for the stars...

And I'm so ready to give them a lift up....


  1. It would be interesting to think about the concept of "free time" in relation to the two different groups. It is not necessarily a bad thing that the children who have a more stable home life are able to full their free time with just being kids, as long as they are also reminded of their responsibilities to contribute something to their community and to the people who are providing them with that stability.
    From what you have said previously, they are still very tuned in to the fact that the privileges they have been afforded (education, food, clothing and a stable roof over their heads) also come with a responsibility to give back to their community.
    The street kids may actually benefit from being given a true understanding of what "free time" means. To me, it refers to those moments when you are free of responsibility and can just enjoy something you like to do. I assume they have few opportunities to enjoy such times given their circumstances but true free time is possible for them if they take full advantage of the opportunities offered to them by CCT.
    I understand that you are concerned with the possibility that the things you are teaching may change the core of these children and their culture, but actually knowing how to just be kids is not necessarily indicative of negative change. After all, isn't part of what you are striving for exactly that, kids being able to go to school, learn properly, play, laugh, enjoy life, and eventually contribute to their country and community in a meaningful way?
    Just my 2 cents......I love you. xxx


  2. Once again dear girl, you've given me invaluable advice.. You're right of course - children do need time to just be children and play is an essential mechanism for learning. For what it's worth, my question was actually "what are your favourite hobbies?", but there's no direct Khmae translation for 'hobby', it's a totally foreign concept, if you have time on your hands, there's always more work that needs to be done. So Chantha explained to them that this meant 'free-time', time that you can do whatever YOU like to do and these were their answers to that.
    Reading back over my blog, I realise I didn't express my concerns very well. The YC kids answers(ie 'street kids'@ the Youth Centre) are ALWAYS about what's good for others, for the family, for friends, for the community.
    Like Sayon's most recent gem. His concern was for me AND the gunman.He needed to save us both.
    The RC kids (the ones in Residential Care)have become a lot more interested in what's good for 'ME'.
    That's not to say that they're as selfish as kids in western cultures - far from it! They still look out for each other,they still share whatever treats they have, they're still enthusiastic about learning & they're all incredibly loving and affectionate. In fact, thinking as I'm writing, it occurs to me that the main difference between the two groups lies in their expectations. The RC kids have learned to expect more without necessarily doing anything to earn it, whereas the YC kids are truly grateful for any benefit, any opportunity that comes their way and are genuinely happy to help anyone who needs help.
    As usual, thanx for your 2 cents worth...I'd give you a whole dollar if you came over here to advise me in person...
    I Love You xxxxxx