December – March volunteer Eleanor shares her experience of the CWF orientation trip to meet CRDT and the Koh Pdao community in Kratie Province.
Last week the new volunteer teachers from Conversations With Foreigners (CWF) travelled to Kratie and Koh Pdao with the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) Tours. We had a wonderful time watching dolphins, living with villagers and participating in community work.
CRDT is a local NGO based in Kratie. Set up in 2001, their vision is ‘a Cambodia free from poverty and environmental degradation’. The NGO stands out for its innovative approach to development. Not only does CRDT derive its funding from other constructive projects such as the CWF school in Phnom Penh and ecotourism in the form of CRDT Tours it also emphasises ‘living and working in the field’ and ‘learning by doing’. Project staff usually live in the villages for 22 days a month gaining the trust of the local people who apply the new technology themselves so that knowledge is successfully transferred. Our trip gave us the chance to see the kind of work that CRDT does and CWF funds.
On the first day we drove to Kratie, stopping off on the way so that brave members of the group could try eating spiders. On arriving in Kratie we took tuktuks around the village, visiting a pagoda, mushroom farm and women rights centre. The centre provides training and paid employment for local women. Our evening meal was one of delicious pancakes filled with meat and different vegetables.
The next day we got up early and drove to a beautiful area of the Mekong River where we took small boats out and saw the rare Irrawaddy dolphins that CRDT works to conserve. We then had time to potter around the impressive Thousand Pillars Pagoda before taking another boat out to the island of Koh Pdao. The scenery was stunning and there were lots of buffalo to watch bathing in the water close to the route of the boats. That afternoon we met our homestay hosts who guided us on bicycles or motos to their house. Meeting my hosts was one of my favourite parts of the trip. They were incredibly friendly and helpful and despite the language barrier we managed to exchange some information about our lives. That afternoon also included a cycling tour of the island and visiting the local school to donate stationery. In the evening the children of the school put on a show of traditional Khmer dance that many of our group had never seen before. It was expected that our group would provide some entertainment too and Troy and Beth stepped up!
We were up again early the next day to help with community work on the island. We carried sand from the shore, up the steps and across the ground of the community centre to make its entrance flatter as well as building a gate. Lots of the local children wanted to help and play and this made for a great end to our stay on the island.
As rural communities make up eighty percent of Cambodia’s population the trip provided a fantastic introduction to Cambodian life and many of us were struck by the difference between life in the capital and the provinces. The work that CRDT does was clearly vital to improving living standards in Kratie and Koh Pdao. Suitably inspired we’re looking forward to beginning a term of teaching this week!
Eleanor Paton is one of CWF’s December 2012 – March 2013 volunteers.