Let me introduce you to Sek Savann. Warmth and enthusiasm radiate from him. His humour and genuine loving heart, revealed themselves within the first few hours.
Savaan was born just after the time of the Khmer Rouge. He isn't sure how old he is, 30 or 31, nor which day he was born. His mother can't remember which year nor which season. There was still civil war in Cambodia at the time and given that everyone was just trying to survive, it is understandable. Speaking about his family, Savann told me that his grandfather committed suicide because he wasn't prepared to do what the KR wanted him to do. Savann's parents were separated during that period and he had a sister who died of starvation. Things were so harsh. His older brother, who was 5 or 6 at the time, and didn't know any better, was caught trying to take some rice from the rice plant. The local KR soldier, took Savann's brother, tying his hands and feet between two posts to hang there in the hot sun for several days. His mother was unable to do anything because her young son would be killed if she interfered with the punishment. I cannot even imagine the torment nor the hardship people endured. To emphasise the strength of character, the KR soldier who did this, and likely many others, continues to live near them. Although it is difficult, the past has been put behind them and in true Khmer style, you would never be able to detect that there was even the slightest animosity.
Back to Savaan. Savann remembers as a child, going out to the fields, playing with and holding, hand grenades and other unexploded ordinances. After returning to his house one day, there was an explosion and the other children he had been with, were killed by these very devices. Needless to say, his grandmother and mother were frightened, pleading with him to never ever go near any of these things again. As he reflects on the event, he can't help but wonder why he was spared.
|Mother, father, niece, younger brother, and Savann|
Savann now supports his 80 year old father, 64 year old mother, his younger brother, a nephew and a niece. He paid for older sister to get her teacher training, and is now paying for his younger brother's university until he graduates this spring. How has he managed to do that? He has work as a motodup driver making anywhere from $1-$5/day. For those unfamiliar with the term, he sits on a corner with his motor bike and waits to give people rides. It's a motorcycle taxi. Savann doesn't complain and when asked why he paid for his siblings education in stead of his own, he says so that they can have a better life.
|The kitchen with flood waters underneath and around the edge.|
When Savann took me to meet his family, we went down a dirt road, parked the moto, walked through a small path between two houses, then crossed a plank of wood over the area around his house that is still flooded with "swamp" water. The house is lower than all the other houses so water floods in during the rainy season, having the downstairs part of the house fill with about a foot of water for 4 month. Savann's father loves gardening and even though the ground is still too wet, he is out there trying to cultivate and seed his mounds. Savann's parents were lovely. His sister is now married and both she and her husband teach in Poipet, about 40 minutes away. Because they both work, the grand-daughter lives with her grand-parents. Gaga was sleepy when I met her having nothing to do with anyone except snuggling up to her grandfather on the hammock. For some reason that I don't fully understand, neither the sister and husband, nor the older brother in Thailand, send any money to help support their children. Savann says he has no choice but to help his parents to support the grand-children.
|The other half of the yard is still flooded.|
|Snuggling on the hammock|
Each month, Savann gives his family $30 for rice and another $20 for food in addition to paying off the debt he has accumulated to buy a used motorcycle, pay for gas, and pay his brother's university tuition. Savann never complains. His dream is for his parents to have a place to live where his father can garden and where they are out of the swamp water.
Luck is certainly on Savann's side. He met a French woman, Francoise, who has a heart of gold. She was already helping Savann's close friend Sokear with costs and education.
|Sokear and Savann, the closest of friends|
|Sokear and Savann preparing dinner for me|
|Chef Sokear and family pet|
|Sokear's wife and 3 month old daughter, Santi|
A few months ago, Savann decided to apply for a position as a Volunteer Assistant for VSO in health. He is now on a 5 month contract. He cannot believe his good fortune. He never ever imagined that he would be working for an NGO, helping people who help his people. Now, he works mornings as a VA, afternoons as a motodup, then teaches English for 3 hours every evening, in addition to attending university from 7:30 am - 5:30 pm all day Saturday and Sunday for 6 months each semester.
The health volunteer took some holidays, and Savann helped me on the days that I didn't have a VA. He mentioned that as a motodup, he would take people to Banteay Ch'mah, a sacred temple which pre-dates the famous Angkor Wat. So, I hired him and off we went, for 4 hours on a bumpy dirty road to see these ancient ruins.
As I was getting to know Savann better, something became glaringly apparent. He is incredibly bright. He is curious, wants to learn, and especially wants to improve his English. I would use a word, he would ask me what it meant, then within the next 5 minutes, he would use it in a sentence...correctly. He has an amazing memory, is interested in absolutely everything, and surprises me with how much he knows. I must admit that I feel a bit embarrassed when he asks me how to spell something. (No surprise to anyone who knows me as to why I would be embarrassed...I'm just not very good at it.) I suspect he will be correcting my spelling any day now. The thing about Savann is he is very eager to please, and loves to talk. Let's just say that keeping secrets is difficult for his open and transparent personality. You know like if you have a gift for someone, he stands by eagerly to watch them open it and blurts out what is inside he is so excited. His new vocabulary words are discipline, impulsive, spontaneous, and genuine.
Like most Khmer people I know, Savann has a great sense of humour with that stereo-typical warm smile. Another Khmer characteristic is the ability to sleep anywhere. Yes, he is actually asleep.
|It is hard work driving motodup over a dirt road!|
That's all for now folks. Stay tuned though...one just never knows what is just around the corner.
I hope you are all having a great start to 2013 and I wish you all the best as the year unfolds.
Lots and lots of love and hugs to all.