Feb 16, 2021

"I just didn't fit in"

8th graders at Tong Neak village, Prey Veng.
8th graders at Tong Neak village, Prey Veng.

When I was a small boy on summer break, I always used to look forward to going back to school and starting a new year, but that enthusiasm was soon snuffed completely out when I realized that my family was very poor and I had 7 other brothers and sisters who would be going back to school as well.  We all needed new school clothes, books, book bags, etc., but my family could not afford to buy them for us. So on the first day of class, I wore the only clothes I had, last year’s clothes, which were dirty and greasy. Other students showed up wearing brand new school clothes, laden with plenty of new school supplies. I stuck out like a sore thumb among all those students with my old threadbare and dirty clothes.  I felt like I was strange, different, and not one of my classmates, like I just didn’t fit in. I experienced shame like this year after year. We had other kids in our village whose families were dirt poor as well, and who shared my experience, but they had it even worse because they could barely find food to eat, let alone afford school supplies. They were so ashamed that they stopped going to school. 

Our Back to School project is extremely important as our many student recipients are in the same situation as I was years ago. Things have not changed that much. This project may be saving many children and teens from dropping out of school, especially during the pandemic of COVID 19, when times are just as tough. Schools are now requiring students to wear sneakers and belts, which for poor families, are just out of their financial reach. Lack of simple school supplies and proper clothes can be just another obstacle or factor to keep children from returning to continue their studies, allowing the cycle of illiteracy and poverty to continue in Cambodia. This project provides each student from a poor family with a package containing a uniform, sneakers, book bag, notebooks, pens and pencils, erasers, and a ruler. Each bag is worth 50 USD.


On March 19, 2020 we gave out school supplies to:


- 32 students of YESIC Center

- 25 students at the Kompong Thom YESIC Center

- 30 students in DOVE’s Prey Veng Satellite

- 23 students in Chak Angre village


Story of Change: Interview of YESIC Package Recipient. Ms. Tu Chanlida, Age 14. Chak Angre Kraom Commune.


Ms. Chanlida comes from a poor family. Her dad drives a Tuk-Tuk (3 wheeled motorcycle taxi) and her mother is a cleaner in a private school. She and her 3 siblings live in a very small house and their father is an alcoholic, constantly arguing with their mother, which makes Chanlida very unsettled and unhappy. Any money she gets from her parents goes to paying bribes to her teachers at school so they won’t fail her. This is typical for most students in Cambodia. She is in the 8th grade attending a junior high school school not far from DOVE. When we gathered the students from poor families together at DOVE’s Drop in Center to hand out the packages, we had our leadership club members mix it up with the Back to School package recipients. Some of the recipients were asked to get up to speak at the gathering and Lida volunteered.  Lida said she heard of YESIC language center through a friend named Malis from House of Peace, who told her that YESIC had good teachers who cared about the students, and it was a safe atmosphere where one could hang out. So she enrolled to learn English.  After enrolling she felt loved and made a lot of close friends, and she felt she had a safe place to go. She publicly thanked YESIC and was excited to receive the Back to School package and mentioned that she never received any gift like this before. She was glad, too, because it took the financial pressure off her parents to find money to buy these items for the four children. She said that she is committing herself to being a good student, and a good member of society. Lastly, she thanked YESIC and all those who donated toward the Back to School Project school.


Chanlida, Age 14
Chanlida, Age 14
Jan 12, 2021

Leadership Cross Pollination Adventure Retreat

Theme:  Learning from each other through community in nature

 Purpose:  To bring DOVE’s growth groups together so these groups can learn from and spend time with each other in a challenging environment, and DOVE’s community can grow deeper and wider.

 Growth Groups:  Al Anon, Leadership Club, and Men’s Group with leaders and helpers from ONYX 2.

 # of Participants:  33 Campers ages 16-30. Elders; 8, ages 27-37.

Location:  Brian and Bophal’s Farm in Ratanakiri



Campers and leaders left Phnom Penh on the night bus on Thursday night and arrived a bit bedraggled at 6 am in the pouring rain in Banlung, Ratanakiri.  After a short trip to the market for breakfast and supplies, and clearing skies, they began the short 15 Kilometer ride to the farm on 2 motorcycle pulled trailers and in Brian’s truck.  After stashing their gear they set up 7-8 tents, which was a new learning experience for many of them. After getting all squared away, Virak had a few teaching sessions and a gallery walk in the pepper plantation that touched on the topic of how we unconsciously build and maintain our ego at the detriment of the more important parts of our humanity like our emotions and soul. Campers met in small groups during the afternoon.


Mr. Virak (Youth Learning Center Manager) planned the campfire so that the growth groups could present and share how they have been transformed through their growth group. Some gave testimonies, others were interviewed and one group presented a skit. At the end of the campfire, every understood the value and purpose of DOVE’s growth groups.  Both nights during the campfire the moon and stars played hide and seek with wild cloud formations that added to the whole mystique of being in nature, in a wide-open field under a huge expanse of sky.

The next morning after breakfast prepared by ONYX and HOP helpers, Elder men attended a men’s work workshop led by Brian, and women went with Bophal and the younger men with Justin where both groups identified both a positive and negative defining story in their lives to share with their peers. 

 At 10:30 am, we split them into their assigned groups with ONYX leaders and they were to prepare a meal from what they found on the farm. We supplied pots, pans, some spice and matches. Off they ran, some built the fire, others got water, some prepared spices, and others went to find the food; leaves, roots, tubers, fish, etc.  Thinking it might be too tough Mr. Virak hid some simple greens like morning glory around the meal prep site so the test tasters wouldn’t suffer too badly.  It was hilarious to watch the face of Ms. Pha Lin, the camp cook test each meal. The meal that won the contest, was actually quite good, and all the campers had a blast putting their heads together, working under their leader and collaborating together. 

After real lunch and nap, we arranged a scavenger hunt for the 4 teams. Some items on the list were 2 kilos of cow manure, a snake, a live fish, an very ugly insect, a wild flower, a frog, photos of the small group in the fish ponds, pair of red underwear, bring two huge logs (3.5 meters long), and other miscellaneous items.  Again, they had work in collaboration to collect all their items and some teams had to lose time in order to help another team. 

 Through both these exercises campers who were only vaguely familiar with each, now knew one another a bit more deeply. 

 The second campfire rolled around, where there was singing, another wicked night sky. Mr. Kimlien, who brought a young man from Siem Reap to experience the retreat, shared about his alcohol addiction and he recovered through AA. The campers then stayed up late and roasted corn and potatoes in the embers of the campfire under the ever-changing night sky.

 The last day was a hike in the community forest where each camper walked silently for 3 kilometers to reflect on nature, God, or just to enjoy the solitude, fresh and air and listen to wild jungle birds call to each other through tropical jungle.  The hike ended at a swimming hole where most went swimming or splashed each other with the water.  Halfway back, the group stopped at a copse of very large tropical hardwoods to debrief on their reflective walk.

 Back to the farm to pack up, take down the tents, eat lunch, clean up the area, and rest before heading off to swim in the pristine crater-lake called Yek Laom, and do some more retreat briefing.   At 6 pm, 35 tired but happy campers arrived at the bus station and prepared to board the night bus back to the PP.  They arrived in PP at 4:30 am the next morning. 

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