The Community Centre and the Medical Clinic

One morning the bulldozers rolled in and leveled a number of the tin and scrap-wood shacks in one section of Stung Meanchey. IMG_5460The dump people are squatters and have no rights. They salvaged as much as they could in a couple of hours and found people to stay with until they could build shanties further to the back.

What used to be the “community centre” – read a wobbly old wooden table to sit on and a hammock in the corner with a chunk of tin for a roof – disappeared. One of the recently homeless slapped some tin on the poles and it became a house. So much for communal space. The people at the zoo want to do follow up activities with the kids; a German couple are scheduled to do a shadow puppet performance. The only place to meet is on the road and that isn’t viable.

After a consultation with our dump advisers it was decided to build a new table with an overhang on a chunk of ground that had to be cleaned up and leveled. Vichika can use it for her breakfast business from 06:00 until the rice runs out.

I had heard from Nick and the German people that the new community centre was impressive. But when we rocked up I couldn’t quite believe it. IMG_5476Amazing. The trash was cleared away, the ground was leveled and lots of people use it for lot on things, including afternoon naps and kids swinging in the hammock. IMG_5478There is a sense of communal pride about this latest development as it is “ours”. $200 well-spent DITD dollars did it.

The Medical Clinic

Good thing the community centre was built last week as the royal we – me being useless as things medical are not my forte – needed it for a medical clinic this week. And we had two nurses. Jirah will be living in Phnom Penh for the next few months and she will do more clinics. IMG_5530The Nurse – as we call Karen Owens – will be moving here at the end of April because she got an impressive Director of Nursing job at the up-market Khema Clinic. We’ve been friends for 19 years dating back to the University of Waikato days. IMG_5496She was the only one who showed up at my 50th in Timbuktu. As an aside, remember to mark Kampala 24 January 2023 in your diary for my 70th.

After the dump we went to check on the people at Nick’s – the official DITD tuk-tuk driver and translator – compound.

Thanks to donations from Jeanne, Molly, and The Nurse – and after another micro-loan – we now have $371.20 in the DITD fund. Stay tuned to this blog to find out how I spend it. Cleo in Australia donated kids’ clothes and shoes that The Nurse brought with her. As a result there are a lot of happy rug rats running around looking very stylish.


Jody the child-hater



The Princess and the Paupers

As the tuk-tuk approached Pann saw us coming, which may have something to do with my traffic-light hair. DSC_8027“She just yelled out to Vichika ‘your mother is here’.” Soma translated. Mother? Okay, if I had whelped, Vichika would have been the ideal daughter, so I will accept that. Well, sort of, but I’d still rather be the eccentric Auntie Mame.

Vichika rushed up to hug me even before Nick stopped the tuk-tuk. Then she glanced up and recognized Soma – whom she had met at the International Day of the Girl event at Meta House on 11 October 2013 – and her eyes widened. IMG_4025 Really, Princess Soma Norodom – the cousin of King Norodom Sihamoni – had come to visit at the dump as she had promised?

I met the unpretentious Soma in July 2013 when I helped organize the premiere of Girl Rising at the French Cultural Centre and had to find a “star” mistress-of-ceremonies.  We hit it off. Remember I was a princess in Nigeria for two years so I sort of understand the responsibilities and demands that go with the position.

Soma was raised in Long Beach after her family went into exile from the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and grew up to have a rather “ordinary” life. A few years ago she returned to the Kingdom with her father as he wanted to die here. I wrote a piece about the foundation she is setting up for Audrey magazine in America. “Education is my platform,” she often says “it is the only way out of poverty.” When their spring issue comes out I will pass on the link.

Meanwhile, if you want to check out Soma and the dump women in action take a look at Brad’s 11-minute video of Out of the Dumps. It takes you into the guts of Stung Meanchy. Pity about the frumpy red-headed interviewer getting too much air time. But I digress.

Arms wrapped around each other as though they had been friends forever, Vichika took Soma off to meet her extended family. IMG_5436With camera in hand, Brad videoed the encounter for posterity.  Vichika has been doing home-improvements since she started making money with her breakfast business – thanks to your Down in the Dumps micro-loan . There are now three wooden ladders to her elevated house – when I met her there was one rotting door with plywood patches on it – and the floor covering are new. Truly a space to entertain a princess. Well done us.

The friends and relies – Australian-speak for “relatives” – gathered at Vichika’s lounge/bedroom and the women chattered away in Khmer, which Soma has learned to speak since she returned to the Kingdom. The shy younger ones sat in the adjoining room and peered in through the door. Nobody could quite believe a real live royal was there, so they had to check it out for themselves. A jovial sense of camaraderie wafted through the air.

Soma bonded with Vichika’s 80 year old grandmother and promised to bring her something special from the US. IMG_5449She is going to spend the next six months there as her mother is having surgery. The plan is to look after her nephew and do some networking for the foundation while she is in the country.

I wandered off with Nick—our official translator and tuk-tuk driver – to see the renovations to Vanie’s house at the back of the dump. It is hard to describe how her hovel went to penthouse status – even though it still looks like a shack to us – with a bit of material.


But it did thanks to Ernest and Anna, two Americans who slipped me the money specifically to do the repairs. The wall that was a rather nice blanket Vanie found in the rubbish now sports a window. The tin extends to the newly repaired roof so she won’t get washed away in the monsoons. She is absolutely over-the-moon that she now has a door – rather than a chunk of wood she slid across the open space – complete with a lock. And the flowers are a nice touch. So much joy for so little. Such is the reality at the dump.

Back in the tuk-tuk  Soma squealed, “Jodeeee, thank you sooooo much for taking me to the dump. I love the people there and will do as much as I can to help them when the foundation is set up.” Yes, Soma, and we at Mums and Bubs and Down in the Dumps will be delighted to spend any money you can slide our way. No offices, no overhead, no salaries. Just straight to the people who need it. And the books are open to anyone bored enough to want to go through them as every riel is accounted for.







Down in the Dumps Goes to Jail

“When the burly Cambodian guard told me not to go any further into the jail because it was too dangerous, I listened to him.  I was already smack in the middle of it anyway. Yes, it was pretty rough.” What was Alex – a switched on 20-something Australian whose mother is the only person on the face of the earth who calls her Alexandra – doing in Correction Centre 2? It is one of the worst of the 23 jails in the Kingdom, not that any of them are exactly a place you would want to spend any time.

There are 16 babies in the prison – two of them were recently born there – and Alex set up the Mums and Bubs project. Like Down in the Dumps it runs on volunteer labour and donations.

“Rather than focusing on what the mothers may have done to end up there, we’re only interested in the babies who range in age from new-borns to three. ChildrenThey are the sickest, most malnourished kids I’ve ever seen” – and she has been to the dump and the tree with me –  “There is a three year old who can’t walk or talk. They don’t get any sunshine or decent food.”

In Cambodian jails they don’t feed prisoners. So without relatives and friends on the outside, those serving time can literally starve. Women with babies get slightly better services from various NGOs. CAMBODIA-ANNIVERSARY-CHILDREN DAYBut with twenty five women and kids in a space that was designed for four, it is a rough go.

The mothers are encouraged to breast feed, but some of them can’t. The immediate concern for Mums and Bubs is to buy formula for the tikes, so Down in the Dumps donated $50. The babies will eat this month. I’m sure you will agree your money was well spent.

The next project for Mums and Bubs is to take the kids to the Children’s Surgical Centre –  run by a German doctor – for checkups. Although many of the services – including ear/nose and throat operations – are free, it costs 5,000 (about $1.25) to take a patient history and 10,000 ($2.50) for a consultation.

“Another major problem is that these kids aren’t registered, the Cambodian equivalent of a birth certificate. kidsWithout that they can’t go to school, get any government services or vote when they are old enough. The cost is minimal. If I could get that organized it would make my day. It is just so important to have that piece of paper, because without it they are non-entities.”

If you can find a few rubles to help Alex with her project, it would be most appreciated. Just let me know that it is intended for Mums and Bubs and I will pass it along.

We still have $240.20 in the Down in the Dumps fund. The next project is a community centre at the dump—a table, chairs and tarp that will come in at about $150. The micro-loaners have repaid $90 and all the books are in order.

Consistent with contradictions, stay tuned for “The Princess and the Paupers” coming up next.