Cambodia is 80% rural and 40% of the population live on less than $1.25 per day. The country has had a harsh past with the reign of Pol Pot and one of the worst genocides in recent history, which ended less than 35 years ago. Traveling through the country however, you can barely see the remnants of such a harsh time, people have gotten on with their lives, living day to day, slowly catching up to the developments of their neighboring countries. These developments have come with dedication and hard work and, in some cases, a little extra help from their western friends.
NGO's are rife throughout the country and while I was in Kampot I had the chance to visit one that had been assisting to provide the rural areas of the province with education, clean water and dental care. And it just so happened that the organisation supporting these initiatives was based right in my hometown of Sydney Australia, The Buddhist Library & Meditation Centre.
The centre was founded in Australia in 1991 and runs various projects in Cambodia, including a library project and a dental project. I got the chance to visit both the projects during my stay in Kampot and was amazed by what the organisation has been able to achieve since commencing Project Cambodia in 2006.
I first visited the administration centre located in town. I met with Kin, the assistant manager of operations here in Cambodia. He showed me one of the mobile library units, which they take to rural areas so that the children can have access to books, both in Khmer and English. The mobile library is able to reach 500 children monthly and provide them with access to reading materials that they would, in other circumstances, lack access to.
There were boards throughout the office outlining the organisation’s achievements over the years. These include providing computer and sewing classes to students to increase their chances in the workforce, as well as installation of water tanks throughout schools and villages in the area. Today the organisation has installed over 7000 water tanks for over 280,000 children in nearby villages, so that the children have access to clean water every day. In the past many of the children would have to walk miles for clean water and often would bring dirty water to school that they would collect from a local river or stream.
There was also a board in the office outlining the successes of the Cambodian Dental Project, which would be our next stop for the morning. We drove along the dirt road into a small village with a beautiful Buddhist temple and school. Located to the side of the classrooms was another room used especially for dental checks for the community. As we entered I saw the children sitting waiting patiently for their turn to have their teeth checked.
The centre was established in 2009 after a visit from an Australian dentist named Dr Cecilia, who travelled to the community and saw the need for oral health care. With monetary donations, as well as donations of instruments and equipment for the surgery they were able to put together a fully functional dental practice, which employed local dentists and trainees from the area. To this day over 300 children are being treated monthly and a community that at one point in time never owned toothbrushes, now have access to dental education and oral hygiene kits.
After spending some time at the dental clinic and witnessing the work that they do I was able to give the children a small demonstration on how to brush their teeth. The opportunity came as a surprise to me but I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to educate the next generation of Cambodians on the importance of dental hygiene. The teacher handed all the children a Colgate toothbrush, including myself. She then placed a small amount of toothpaste on their brushes, gave them each a glass of water and prompted them to imitate the way I brush my teeth. I spent the next few minutes teaching children how to brush their teeth.
It is definitely an experience I won’t forget, but for me it is just a small gesture towards such a large impact that the organisation has made to the community over the years. They have now set up a clinic in Kompong Speu, a province outside Phnom Penh, as well as a mobile clinic to reach more remote areas, providing dental care to more than 51,000 children since it began.
In the afternoon I spent some time at the school where the Buddhist Library is funding after-school English and computer classes for the students. The project funds a number of English teachers so that the students can continue practicing their English and increase their opportunity for a successful future. I got to spend an hour in the classroom with the teacher and the children practiced their English by asking me a range of questions from “Where are you from?” to “What’s your favourite colour?” We then moved on to the curriculum and I watched them learning the names for different countries and helped with pronunciation of the words as they repeated after me.
The work that the Buddhist Library and other founders have done here is truly admirable. Paget Sayers, a trustee of the Buddhist Library, is a retired successful businessman who used his funds to assist with the set up the of the project and help the people of Cambodia. He, like many of the people you see here, are contributing to a Cambodia where less people live below the poverty line and more people have easy access to basic facilities and education.
You can help them continue their work by either making a donation, volunteering with one of the projects, or staying in the Bodhi Villa while you are visiting Kampot. They accept volunteers from all over the world who can lend their time to assist with teaching or who would like to use their dental skills for social good.
To find out more information about the Buddhist Library you can visit their website here.