Let the Bank Accounts Roll

“Yes, I did what you told me,” says Vichika. She heads down the lane and returns a few minutes later with her new ATM card and the passbook for her bank account. I hug her. Len and Theda also opened accounts. IMG_4422Yes, our entrepreneurs are well on their way to working their way out of the cycle of poverty. When Vichika finishes the breakfast run, Theda takes over the space and sells cakes and cookies. The drinks cart is doing well and Len is happy with her earnings.

The bank account is a major benchmark. Now they can keep their money save, develop a savings habit and keep track of what they spend. I’ll ask someone else to teach them about saving, because I’ve never quite figured that one out, even though my mother tried, really she did. The new rule is that applicants have to open a bank account before they can get a loan.


Next up for micro-loans are Vansok, Sreylin, Radi and Lalay. They all want $200, which seems to have become the magic loan amount. Vansok and Radi want to get rubbish carts they can pull around, which makes it easier than stuffing recyclables into bags. Sreylin wants to extend the tin roof on her little shack and turn it into a bit of a store that sells essentials.

“Yes, I think it will work,” offers Nick, “because she is in a good place and lots of people walk by here.” Lalay wants to get a bicycle that has a basket on the back so that she can sell goods. I’m a touch vague about exactly what it is she plans to hawk, but there are lots of these peddler-type bikers plying their trade on the streets of the capital.

The entrepreneurs are going to repay their loans at $30 a month. I’ve stressed that we need money to lend it to the next person on the list. Social pressure will also be brought to bear to make sure they don’t miss payments.

When we told the assembled group about the planned trip to the Phnom Tamao Zoological Park –  — all hell broke loose. Squealing, jumping up and down, cries of delight. “They have lions and tigers and elephants there.” None of the kids from the dump has ever been there, but everyone knows about it. The zoo is a place of mystery and awe.IMG_4425

Sandie gave me the contact details so it is in the works. The game plan is to load up 35 to 40 kids with some adult supervisors and head out for a day. DITD will cover the bus and lunch at $3 a person. According to Nick, entrance for the locals is free, but I’ll have to pay $5. I asked if  Didis – my friend who came to the dump with me – would have to pay as well, “No, she is Indonesian, but she looks Khmer.”


The Tree People

A couple of weeks ago Nick came to tell me, “Lin and the kids are back on Street 110.”

“Not surprised. I knew she wouldn’t stay in the province, so it was a matter of time. At least she had a break from Tran for a while.”

“How did you know,” quizzed Nick, surprised that I wasn’t reacting

“I used to live on Indian reserves in northern Canada.” He didn’t get it, but that doesn’t matter.

It was still early enough in the day as we were headed back to the city so I tapped Nick on the shoulder, “Let’s go see the tree people.” He nodded.IMG_4446

Lin was a touch apprehensive as we approached. She likely thought I would be upset with her. Tram was feeding Siva with a grubby baby bottle and Jivi was playing  around.

“The other two boys are at Friends,” translated Nick. Friends is the Mith Samlanh organizatiion — — and they run a good residential programme that morphs into vocational  training when the kids are 16. Tivan and Tivin now have a safe place to sleep, food to eat and books so they can go to school. Karma, Inshua’Allah and a puff of ju-ju smoke that Lin and Tran let them go.


Didis and I organized food, water and milk for them. There was nothing more we could do, but at least the tree family ate on Saturday. Ali sold the Boomerang and the space is turning into an Italian restaurant and wine bar so that bond of camaraderie disappeared. Perhaps we can find a sympathetic shop owner in the neighbourhood and pay-forward for some essentials.

Still no identity cards so nobody will rent to them. The monsoon season is drying up so they can go back to sleeping under the tree rather than on the concrete sidewalk under the overhang across the street. We will check on them from time to time.

Dennis slid some more money into my account, so the DITD balance sits at $606.88.  If you are looking for the perfect Christmas for that impossible-to-buy for person, give a Down in the Dumps donation and I will send an e-mail receipt and thank you note.

Updates to follow as they unfold.






Scholarship for Sandan Svay

The Down in the Dumps fund is all about helping people who are trying to help themselves. So we are delighted to give Sandan Svay $100 towards his English studies. IMG_4415

I met Sandan when I was teaching an English class at Raffels Le Royal. He enjoys taking photos of life in the little village from hence he comes and he did a guest post that received a number of favourable comments. But how did a young man from a small village end up working at the most expensive hotel in town? He learned to speak English.

Sandan’s Story in His Own Words

I lived on a small family farm far away from the town. My parents worked hard, but they did not make much money. I got 300 riels (less than 10 cents) a day to pay to go to the school that was three kilometers from my house.IMG_4413

When I started school I did not know any words in English and I was very nervous when my teacher asked me to read the text. Then I talked to my mother and told her that I wanted to take the extra classes. It cost 300 riels per hour, but my mum could not afford it because I would have to buy the exam papers every month. One day the teacher asked me why I didn’t attend that private English class. I told her the truth, that I really wanted to learn but I had no money. After that she allowed me to attend the class for free, without paying any tuition.

Unfortunately, the class was closed after one month. I didn’t study English again until I was in Grade 12. Finally, an English center opened in my town and the lessons were free. I decided to study hard, to gain more knowledge. At the end of the first year I got the highest score among 150 students.

My goal is to help poor students who really want to study English so they can have better lives. That is the reason why I chose to study English Educational Management and Teaching Skills.

It costs $210 for one term for the first and the second years, and it will cost $240 for the third and the forth years. If I do my study well, the school will help me to look for a better job. It is difficult because I don’t have enough time to study. I work full time and there are five subjects to learn in the first term. But I will do my best because if I get high scores the school will reduce the fees.


And we hope our small scholarship will help.





Transplanting Trees to the Provincial Forest

“The boys can sleep here,” Lin’s sister announced as she patted the outdoor space on a platform beside her. A wide-eyed Jivi – who has never been out of the city before – was on her lap and Jivin was sleeping close by. IMG_4198 “The roof has holes so the tin has to be replaced. And, of course, they will need a bed with a mattress and a mosquito net.”

Ah, she does get points for chutzpa. These kids have slept under a tree or on the concrete under an awning since they were born. But when a perceived cash cow presents herself you have to go for as much milk as you think you can get.

Not to be deterred – and she was on a roll – the monologue continued, “Our family book (read birth certificates) has to be replaced so they can go to school. That will cost $25. And besides the tuition they will need a bike to get there.” Which turned out to be true enough, but eight-year old Jivan and six year old Jivin are so puny it is questionable if they could manage to ride that far.

“Oh, and we will need more rice to feed them.” By this time I am exhausted from all the palavera. I asked Nick – our translator – to tell them that I don’t have any money and that it comes from friends in Canada and Australia. That caused a bit of confusion as they expected me to just open my wallet and start to hand over cash.

We left with the agreement that the sister would do a needs-assessment and get back to Nick. I had already decided I would veto everything except the school fees – which I would pay directly to the principal – and the bike.

The beginning, the middle and the end

“I have an uncle who has a van,” offered Nick last Friday. My eyes still looked like the hangover-from-hell and after the trip to the jail I realized that to go there in a tuk-tuk would have been total stupidity, even with the swimming goggles. So for an extra $20 gracias a Friends of the Dump we did an upgrade. And we are all glad we did. IMG_4170

“When I checked yesterday the husband said he was going to go with his family. That he couldn’t be separated.” Nick warned.  When we arrived at Street 110 slightly ahead of schedule Lin and the boys were waiting. IMG_4176  I got out of the van, lowered my sunnies and shot the totally-useless Tran a withering look. He suddenly decided it wasn’t in his best interest to push it and slunk away.

On the way out of town we bought 50kg of rice, 10 tins of fish and 12 bottles of soy sauce. Basic staples to ease the welcome home. Well sort of.

Once loaded in the van, Jive howled and rubbed his filthy hands into his tear stained eyes. “He is tired and needs to sleep,” Nick commented.  I’d taken the screaming child from Lin as she couldn’t cope with him and three-month old Siva. Since I forgot to have children I didn’t know what to do with him other than cuddle and rock. It worked and he drifted off.

The middle of the sage you have already read. Poor people will try to get as much as they can. Fair enough. But Down in the Dumps doesn’t want to create a dependency or pour money into a black hole, which is exactly what would happen.IMG_4190

The bike would be stolen and need to be replaced. The kids wouldn’t go to school.  Or even if they did, it would be sporadic. They would need 10 notebooks a week. Another dozen cousins needing tuition paid would materialize. And there would be a never-ending list of things that needed to be bought/fixed/ done. Somebody would die or get married and we would be expected to contribute.

The final decision? Cut them loose.

Down in the Dumps got Lin and the boys away from an abusive situation and gave them a grub-stake. We have done as much as we can and there isn’t any point in going any further as a long-range plan is impossible. A fundamental change isn’t going to happen.

On the way to Lin’s village we learned that a couple of months ago some westerners helped Lin replace her identity card. Translated that means they paid about $100 to fast-forward it. Then – oh dear, oh dear – she dropped it in some water and it disintegrated. But she doesn’t take any responsible.

Only help those who want to help themselves is as true now as it ever was.

With limited funds our money is best spent elsewhere. Cruel? Possibly, but this is the Kingdom. Pity about the four boys as their chances of a better life doesn’t look good. But Down in the Dumps throwing money at the situation isn’t going to improve the odds.






The Tree People: Episode Two

Okay, so on Monday morning at 09:30 Nick – the tuk-tuk driver and translator – and I will be at the tree. Unless Lin changes her mind between now and then, she will have the four kids and her one green-plastic-bag of possessions lined up and ready to toss into the tuk-tuk. IMG_4092

We told her to find an apartment and the Down in the Dumps Fund would pay the rent as that way they wouldn’t have to sleep on the concrete under an awning in front of a shop. There I go spending your money again.

Nick and I trudged through a tenement with Lin that rented for $50 a month. She was quite excited because the place even had a bathroom with a shower and toilet, a first ever in her life. But because she doesn’t have an identity card the landlord won’t let her move in, even though we would pay up front. The catch 22 is that the only place you can get an identity card is in the province where you were born.

TivanLin decided she wants to go to live with her sister. Why go back to the province, which is what the Khmer call their home towns? Tran has been beating on her particularly badly lately and her face looks it. How thrilled the subsistence farming sibling is going to be to see Lin and the four kids rock up remains to be seen. We are going to take a 50 kg bag of rice and other basic supplies to enhance the welcome.

“She wants her son to go to school when they get to the provinces,” translates Nick – Jivi is about six, but looks four – “and it costs about 1,000 reil a day (25 cents). But you can go to the school and pay them.” kids

It is going to be a long, dusty ride to the provinces. A similar trip to the jail – a story for another telling – left me infected with a particularly hideous case of conjunctivas. Hells bells, on Monday I looked worse than I did from slip, sliding away in Saskatchewan. Fortunately the antibiotics kicked in. Five days later I could still be a poster girl for domestic violence, but that should clear up in another day or two.

My friend Winston – we share a twisted sense of humour – commented that conjunctivas is a free gift you get from hanging out with the poor. I told him not to forget the lice, the fleas, and the scabies, all of which I’ve had at one time or another. But I digress.

What to do, what to do? I can’t not go to the provinces, but an hour and a half to get there and the same to get back on dust swirling roads is running the gauntlet. Eureka: swimming goggles. They fit over my eyes snugly and will keep out the dust and dirt. Who cares if I look like a bug? Wrap my krama – the Khmer scarf I always wear – around my face to filter out the worst of the dirt and the problem is solved. Or so I hope.

Perhaps some way we can help will present itself when we see the lay of the land. But, frankly, I doubt it. On Street 110 at least the-family-who-live-under-a-tree get enough to eat and tourists give Lin a bit of money for Siva, the withered baby. 3 month old Siva In the isolated provinces, however, she won’t have that option and a lot of people there go hungry. Maybe we can organize an identity card.  When Lin ends up back in Phnom Penh – which I have no doubt she will – at least she will be able to get an apartment, thanks to the friends of the dump.

On the flip side of my life of contradictions in the Kingdom, I’ve decided I won’t bother with the BBQ at the Australian Embassy tonight. Why? Because I’ve been invited to a party the second secretary and his partner are throwing on Saturday nigt. Their penthouse apartment overlooks the river and a live band will be playing.

What happens next? Stay tuned to this blog.J and kids