The first time I went to Cambodia I was touched by the faces of the children there.
In November 2013 I witnessed the hope, aspiration and appetite that they have for learning, and I witnessed the challenge and success that Classroom of Hope continues to work for.
I spent a few incredible days with Duncan Ward the founder and CEO of Classroom of Hope. We went to some of the schools that COH has supported, we watched the children learning, and I gained an immense respect for the passion that Duncan and his team have shown towards making hope a reality for these beautiful children.
In 2012 Duncan Ward travelled to Cambodia, he was searching for purpose and meaning in his life. He met a man named Racky.
Rackys’ story inspired Duncan in a way that has changed his life, and the lives of over 5000 children in the last year. (check out this video to see a lovely film of Duncans story)
Duncan recognised the plight of Cambodia in the aftermath of the Pol Pot era, and through Racky’s passion for the future of Cambodian children; Duncan found his purpose.
He returned to his home country of Australia and founded Classroom of Hope. By the end of 2012 he had established the Schools for Excellence program which is now supporting 15 schools, and providing access to quality education for 5019 children. Duncan has bought together a team of people who share his passion for this cause and on the 4th of Nov 2013 he was in Cambodia inaugurating a further 7 schools into the program, celebrating the achievements of the last year, and exploring new ways to work with local NGO’s and government to continue the work.
Below: These photographs demonstrate some of the conditions that Duncan is working to overcome. Structural issues are just the surface of the challenge however. Classroom of Hope is also working with local NGO’s to supply teaching materials, uniforms, school transport and other resources.
Below: As Duncan walks into the inauguration ceremony there is an immense feeling of happiness. The day is a celebration of hope realised, a celebration of the combined efforts of his organisation, the work of Racky and other NGO’s all supporting the children of Cambodia.
This trip to Cambodia gave me the opportunity to witness the success of Duncan’s effort.It also gave me a chance to spend time with a man who found meaning in his life by helping others to find meaning in theirs.
It begins with a Cambodian boy, who survived the genocide of 1975 -1979 when the Khmer Rouge murdered 1.5 million people under the regime of Pol Pot .
Thy Bunrith (Racky) was separated from his parents, forced into child slavery at the age of five and survived three attempts on his life before escaping into hiding for months.
Years later, his passion to help the people of Cambodia inspired him to establish an NGO named Children’s Action for Development (CAD). He has dedicated his life to providing education opportunities for the poor and underprivileged children of Cambodia.
Racky’s inspirational story and his determination in the face of unimaginable tragedy leads to the second part of the story which will follow in my next post.
Below: Racky shares his emotional memories of the thousands who were led to the edge of the killing caves at Sampeou (Boat Mountain) in Battambang before being thrown to their death. It is hard for him to come to this place, his Grandfather was killed here.
Below: A ghostly image of Racky as he stands by remains of people who were murdered in this cave.
Below: I struggled to comprehend the scenario that led to this chilling end. This is not a tourist attraction, these remains, collected from the dark corners of the cave by locals and families left me chilled and saddened by something I could not come close to understanding.
Below: The moment is overwhelming, and shared by everyone in the group. Duncans’ Father Keith embraces Racky, it is an incredibly warm and loving gesture which lightens the mood in the cave.
Below: More than 30 years on from this tragedy, and with a humility that is touching and inspiring, Racky maintains his dedication to developing opportunities for the children of Cambodia. In this photo he is standing in the door of a rural classroom as the young children inside recite english sentences.
This story of inspiration continues in my next post…
Fishing boats that smell of bait. Protests that never get heard. Doors that hold back street smog. Markets packed with crowds. When there is no rhyme or reason you can always just sit back and look at the pictures.
While thousands of dedicated political protesters stay their ground at intersections all over Bangkok, there is a flip side to the city which shows you that life continues as usual for many more thousands.
I spent a day showing some friends around a few of my favourite sights earlier this week and it gave me the usual opportunities to witness the wonderful variety and extraordinary people that make Bangkok such an interesting city to live in.
The flower markets (Pak Khlong Talat) are a 24/7 thriving mass of traders and buyers, where colours and smells are overwhelmingly fascinating. It’s hard to go there without buying some kind of bloom or exotic branch. It is supposed to be at its best at 3 in the morning when all of the farmers come in from the provinces, but any time of the day is worth a visit.
In the Amulet market that occupies the dusty sidewalk between the Chao Phraya river and the Grand Palace, locals huddle over tables spread with all range of trinkets and objects of worship. It is a great place to see Monks bargain for a deal and traders while their time away.
Pigeons: the ubiquitous winged park carpet that no city is exempt from.
The khlongs off the Chao Phraya River team with a life that sits behind the facade of the streets and express ways. Even though tourist boats hustle up and down the narrow waterways, the locals go on with their life in a way that represents reality – allowing you to see a side of the city that you would otherwise never see.
The 2010 floods wreaked havoc on some of the already weak buildings along the khlongs.
Behind closed doors, and shutters of wooden windows, one never knows who lives, and how.
temples and barges, haze and heat, smoke and water….
locals.. you just cant account for some peoples taste.
I make no claim to understand what the hell is going on in this country right now. When foreigners who have lived here for over 20 years tell me they are no closer to understanding the intricacies of Thai culture it is little wonder I cant get my head around what is happening.
The Prime Minister dissolved the Government and is now operating in a ‘care-taking’ function. The opposition party resigned parliament as a show of disrespect for the system. The protest movement is being led by an ex-politician and clearly states that a win-win outcome is not acceptable. The Army Generals have neither confirmed nor denied that they might stage a military coup. The king is remarkably quiet on the whole affair, and while he has the power to veto the outcome – he believes the people should find a solution.
There are thousands of people crowding the streets 24 hours a day to block intersections, disrupt government process and make threats that they will storm political offices and capture politicians. When you walk amongst them you can see that they are dedicated to their belief. Old woman and families are sleeping on the roads. Everyone is smiling and dancing to around the clock entertainment. Whistles blow, music blares, voices fill the city from loudspeakers. At night there have been some gunshots. Redshirt clashes, or angry lash-outs at Political targets. It’s not an entirely peaceful protest.
Some speculate on the outcome and the timing, but not me.
Meanwhile the carnival continues…
When far from Bangkok and not in the mood for street photography, this little piece of me never fails to inspire my passion for life.
Just as random and surprising as life, I include this section of shots into my normally Thailand focussed blog to reflect my recent Trip to South Africa.
I hardly picked up my camera while I was there. It was one of those trips where I wanted to soak up the moments myself rather than with my lens. Most of my shots were focussed on family with little direction to street photography for my blog.
In this post are a few pictures taken in Knysna, a small coastal town north of Cape Town.
The trick is to wait until there are no tourists in the shot right?
It has certainly been my motto over the last 6 months of this blog. Frankly, they’re just not a pretty sight. They don’t represent the culture of Thailand and they usually dress funny!
Some tourists represent their stereotype so blatantly. I suppose we’ve all been there. I remember my first journey into SE Asia; Dreadlocked hair, braided bracelet, sleeveless t-shirt. A wide eyed face coupled with a defiant look of ‘I’m very well travelled you know’.
I feel an odd stigma to being a tourist. When walking with my camera I’m often asked if I want a tuk-tuk ride or a massage, I quickly reply in Thai (with the limited vocabulary I have!) to ensure they realise I am NOT A TOURIST!! Then there are those times when I’ve been visiting a well trodden tourist site and suddenly surrounded by a bus load of tourists I cringe at the idea that I may be mistaken for one of their pack. Ridiculous concerns; as even separated from the group, and having lived here for 9 months I am still a tourist to all of the locals I meet. With my Nikon camera, My khaki shorts, a sweaty t-shirt and a backpack with water bottle in the side web.
But to be fair, the tourist has been a part of the Bangkok ‘culture’ for years! You couldn’t say they are part of tradition, but as soon as the first colonials arrived they started buying, bargaining and behaving badly and their presence has influenced the way Thai people do business, advertise and educate themselves to this day.
On June 1, 2013, Time magazine reported that Bangkok was identified as the most visited city in the world by the 2013 Global Destination Cities Index. (excerpt from wikipedia). So I guess it would be wrong for me to document my time in this city without including a few photos of the people who make up nearly 7% of the GDP.
Please let me know if you spot yourself in this lot – All photography taken with the utmost respect! :)
I’m no conflict journalist. Well, not in this conflict anyway. The opportunity for sensational photography is certainly tempting, but for some reason I just haven’t been compelled to go out and get amongst it.
Today it was unavoidable… 150,000 people marched through the streets of Bangkok on their way to Government House. Only 150 metres from my house was a line of peaceful protesters stretching as far as I could see in either direction.
Someone theorised that todays march was a world record for volume of people in peaceful protest. I wonder though what will happen tonight when the smiling people go home. When the sun goes down and the angry people remain.