Of Dreams and Spaces: Stories from Takeo, Cambodia
Seven months since we launched our first book, this series is going to be the tiny bit of the narrative journey woven by our experience.
Of Dreams and Spaces is a collection of five years of thoughts and stories nurtured by designing, building and running village schools in Takéo, Cambodia. It is a conversation about differences — in values and cultures, of needs and visions, between “us” and “them” — and a conversation about connections. Through the many faces, voices, touches and traces encountered in Cambodia, Project Little Dream has made their way from indifference and unfamiliarity to similarity and family. Today, over five hundred children are studying English in four schools: in Prey Run Village, Khna Rong Village, Thon Mun Village and Thnouh Village.
1. A Beginning
Image: MCCM Creations Facebook page
Project Little Dream began with a tiny but shared impulse. The fruit of 21st century technology of
e-mails being written in the basement of a university library. Earlier that day, both Clara and Francis, who had not met before, both emailed me to ask if that last chat about building a school in Cambodia was really happening. And so I replied them including fifteen friends, an email titled “I have a little dream — Building a school in Cambodia”. The email talked about how possible it could be. We knew some contacts from our Jesuit church and we had experiences in Boy Scout building with bamboo. We were going to study architecture, international development, and medicine. We thought we might even start a non-profit organisation at some point.
Although we were studying on three different continents, getting together to talk wasn’t the difficult part. I invited fifteen of my friends over and they all came, ready to commit. The tricky part was to answer the questions raised in the first few hours.
Why not build in China?
How much do we need?
How should we raise the money?
How do we build?
After five very long hours of heated discussion, we found answers we could accept.
We thought China faced a more complicated problem than the lack of community services. China faced a very different socio-economical problem; with the inequality and uneven income distribution there, we thought that small-scale construction projects like ours would not be effective. That is why we chose Cambodia. We wanted to work with a country receptive to foreign NGOs and one that was forward-looking towards long-term reconstruction, which remained necessary after its civil war.
We set our budget at HKD 100,000 — a sum we thought we could raise in the coming year. Afterwards, we split into small teams. Most of us had studied together when we were younger, but since we were all at different universities now, we looked into how we could become an independent entity that carries out non-profit work. We also gathered all the contacts we had in order to know more about Cambodia. Those of us who were more interested in fundraising thought of a party in the summer. The last thing that held us back was perhaps the first thing we should have thought about.
“How do we know if they need a school?” Luke asked.
The room fell silent.
It was a question that even the local communities didn’t always know how to answer. Sometimes a more effective development strategy could be additional income sources instead of primary education. Maybe there were more orphans in a village that needed help instead… and the discussion went on as if the last five hours had never happened.
“We should speak to someone who knows more organisations locally. Why don’t we talk to Camkids, in London? They sponsor numerous local groups. Maybe they can point us in the right direction?” Denise finally said.
A few months later, we visited Camkids in London. They recommended two community organisations to us that were in need of a school building. After a 3-hour flight from Hong Kong and then a 2-hour car ride, we arrived at the News Future Organisation in Takeo Province. We spent a week in town and also visited Prey Run Village. It took an hour, this time on tuk-tuk, to arrive at a village. Strangely, most of the children were nowhere to be seen until we slowly walked away from the main road into a cluster of houses. We heard sudden *claps* and *shhh...* in unison. A man’s clear voice, followed by hundreds of children.
“Today is the eighteenth”
“Two thousand, and, nine”
“Two thousand, and, nine”
Thnouh Village, Takeo
夢．行動 (Project Little Dream) 源自大家一個共同的小念頭和二十一世紀發達的電子郵件技術。我們的故事萌芽於一個大學圖書館的地下室中。當日，素未謀面的 Clara 和 Francis 二人分別致電我，打聽上次提及到柬埔寨蓋一所學校的事會否付諸實行。於是，我藉機寫了一封題為“我有一個小小的夢──到柬埔寨蓋一所學校”的郵件，並將其發給了我的15位朋友。郵件主要討論此事的可行性。我們能夠聯繫到耶穌會會堂的一些成員，而且我們也曾經參與過童軍訓練，學習過用竹子建造房屋。我們打算去研習建築學、國際發展學、藥學等相關專業。我們甚至有想過，也許，我們在未來的某一天還能成立一個慈善組織。
幾個月後，我們拜訪了Camkids。他們為我們推薦了兩間有意在當地建校的社區組織。坐了長達三個小時的飛機，再加兩個小時的車程，我們終於由香港來到位於茶膠 New Future Organisation。我們在小鎮上待了一個星期，並拜訪了普瑞阮村。後來，我們又再坐上「篤篤」顛簸了一個小時，最後到了一個小村莊。奇怪的是路上一直未見小孩的蹤影。直到我們離開大路慢慢走近村舍的時候，才有小孩陸續探出好奇的小腦袋。我們隨即聽到不約而同的拍掌聲以及噓聲。原來，是一位老師，帶領著過百位小孩朗讀：
Of Dreams and Spaces: Stories from Takeo, Cambodia :