Educate a Girl: Narrow the IT Gap

When Peggy, Erica and I wrote the paper “Information Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean” for UNESCO we coined the term “world-wide-wedge (www).” People fall into two categories: those who have computers and access to the Internet and those who don’t. The report is a real page-turner – or an instant cure for insomnia – for anyone who wants a copy.

Now that Lina, Nita, and Pannie are going to a better school – thanks to Iris, Dennis and The Nurse – they need to get computer savvy. Never having been shy about asking for what I want I posted a notice on the Cambodian Parent’s Network (CPN) with a link to the “Educate a Girl; Change the World” blog.

A couple of hours later, Kevin Stainburn got back to me. He is the head of the HR department at QB. They had a couple of refurbished computers and wanted to find good homes for them. Would it be in a public area? No. The girls have a homework station set up under grandma’s watchful eye and there is always someone in the compound. The delivery was organized and everything is now up and running.

And here are some happy snaps of the girls who just crossed the www.


“I am very happy to have a computer at home,” commented Lina, the oldest of the three who shyly speaks English, “Now it means I can do my homework and print it out. I will be able to improve my English. I never thought anything like this would happen.”


A couple of days later Debra Merchent asked if we could use an older laptop and a few other IT bits-and-pieces. Yes, thank you. Thea – the 20 year old who wants to go to university to study English – was thrilled. She doesn’t care if she has to hit F1 occasionally if the computer won’t boot.

Thea exclaimed, “Thank you so much. This is wonderful because now I can study English at home. I look after my grandmother because she is old and I don’t have enough money to study at the university because it is very expensive.”


There are all sorts of English courses on DVDs readily available from the Russian market for about $1 a copy, so we should be able to find some good ones for them.

Stay tuned to this blog for updates on how our computer students are doing with their studies.




Traditional Vietnamese Opera: A Photo Essay

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It is all about costumes, make-up, movements, gongs, and drums. Traditional Vietnamese opera is truly larger than life and twice as loud.

Recently Brad Callihoo – an Iroquois photographer and documentary film maker – and I spent a week in Ho Chi Minh City. VO 11Our mission was to do some reconnaissance work for a philanthropic organization and identify non-profits in need of financial assistance. On our way to the market Brad noticed women dressed in traditional costumes being painted. He started to snap shots through the door.

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A guy who had been sitting at a table with a crowd of coffee drinking men sauntered over and beckoned us. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and followed him down an alley with no idea of where we were headed.

Even before we got to the performance area I recognized the clanging gongs and the high pitch screeching that is the first-cousin-version of Chinese opera. Flashback: I knew I had been in the Middle Kingdom too long when I actually started to appreciate the genre.VO 22

And suddenly, there we were in the midst of some sort of celebration. A wedding? A birthday?  A funeral? Nobody spoke any English so we never did find out. People were eating, chatting and watching the performance. Brad went to work and got some spectacular shots. I wandered around, took a few happy snaps and watched the crowd. An old lady graciously lent me a fan.

We were fortunate enough to be invited into a foreigner-free performance. But such is travel when you just sort of wander off and know that adventures await those who embrace them.

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Da In Wonderland

For the 20-minute trip from Kampot to Kep, Da – Nick’s 63 year old mother – was in the front seat; she needed to keep an eye on the horizon to avoid motion sickness. Andrew tried to fasten the seat belt, but gave up after two tries as Da insisted it went behind her head. The driver walked over, spoke in Khmer, and buckled her in properly.

The Nurse, her partner Andrew, his daughter Ebony and I announced we were going to act like tourists in Kampot to get away from the dusty capital for a few days.IMG_5555 Nick shyly asked if we could take his mother with us as she had never been to either place. “Of course, why not?”

“You buy credit for your phone,” Nick instructed me. “Then if my mother doesn’t understand you call me and I will sort it out.” We weren’t worried as in tourist places there are always people who speak English.

We rented a car with a driver as it was cheaper – and such a better option – than the bus. With four women in the back, however, it was a touch crowded. After the first instance we warned Andrew – who scored the front seat simply by size – that if he fell asleep and started to snore again we would take turns and smack him. Really, how dare he?

Once at Kampot we settled into a guest house. In her room, Da’s eyes widened. A huge bed, cotton sheets, a bathroom, and a television. Pure unadulterated luxury. Privacy.

Alex – a long time resident of the Kingdom – had recommended The Rusty Keyhole as the place to eat so we headed there for dinner. IMG_5552They served American size portions.

IMG_5542 We belched softly and watched the sunset over the river. Not quite as spectacular as some of the ones I’ve seen in Saskatchewan – which isn’t sufficient reason to make me want to live there again – but enchanting nevertheless. IMG_5539Da was enthralled. I asked the waitress to explain that we were going to go to neighouring Kep for lunch the following day.

At 06:05 the next morning there was a knock that slowly got louder. I struggled to crawl out of my groggy sleep. When I stumbled to the door, Da was standing there, suitcase in hand. With about 13 words of Khmer, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to explain we were staying for another night and she didn’t have to take her bag with her. I took her to the front desk and had them translate. I suspect it was her first stay in a hotel.

Once at Kep, Da had another “virginal” experience: the ocean. IMG_5558The tide rolled in and she skipped around in the shallows and clapped her hands. IMG_5561Andrew and Ebony waded out to swim. IMG_5566When Andrew dived under the water Da frantically grabbed The Nurse’s arm and pointed wildly. When he resurfaced she relaxed until he went under again.

IMG_5583Lunch at one of the crab shacks in Kep was a glorious feast. They keep the sea food in cages until you order it.

Does it get much fresher? The food photos say it all.

IMG_5588IMG_5586-001IMG_5591Back in the capital Nick reported, “My mother had a wonderful time and she thanksyou very much. I think she has changed now.”

The Nurse and I looked at each other and smiled. For us the highlight of the trip was living it vicariously through Da’s wide eyes and constant smiles.





Educate a Girl; Change the World

“So how much do you need to send Lina to Beltei for one term?” I asked Nick, my Cambodian personal chauffeur, friend and little brother.

“It is $190USD for fees. I will pay for her uniforms and books.IMG_5502

A great project that is a joint effort; a supplement rather than a dependency.

So I get on the Internet to my friend, Iris, in Canada. “Hey, I just found a way to spend some of your money. Lina wants to go to Beltei – a much better school than she currently attends – can you cover the fees? For a mere $190 a term – $200 when converted to USD – you can change her life for the better.”

Iris was in. She often quips “God works in mysterious ways. You are a devout atheist who spends my money doing good works.”

Nick was glowing, “Lina is so happy to be going to a good school and everyone in my family thanks you.”

“Tell them it isn’t me. I’m just spending my friend’s money, which I do very well. The long term plan is to hook up the two of them us on the Internet. Then we will send lots of photos of Lina in her uniform and scans of her marks and such. I want Iris to put her through university. Does Lina know how to use email?”

“No, not yet, but she is very smart and will learn quickly.” In the course of the conversation my former tablet with all my Spanish lessons sort of disappeared so the girls in Nick’s family could become computer savvy. But who can argue with that?

As expected the younger sisters were jealous that the oldest was going to a good school. Fair enough, I would be too.

Next, I contacted my high school friend Dennis, who is also financially stable. IMG_5514While he wasn’t quite willing to commit for the rest of his life – which it might take to put six-year old Panni through university – he was more than happy to go one term at a time and zapped off a cheque to my Canadian bank account. Akun – thank you in Khmer – as we know he is likely in for the longer haul.

So that left Nita, the middle child.  I figured nobody would be concerned if slid some cash out of Down in the Dumps to cover her fees. Then my friend The Nurse – as we call her because she is one – and her partner Andrew came to visit in Cambodia. When I told her about my latest project she said, “Hey, Andrew and I will give Nick the money for Nita’s fees this afternoon.” Done and dusted. IMG_5512The Nurse is moving to Cambodia at the end of April as she got an impressive job as the Medical Manager at a private hospital. She will take over Educate a Girl project and I will concentrate on Down in the Dumps.

If you want to get involved with educating a girl and changing the world, all donations – no matter the amount – are greatly appreciated. IMG_5520Lin, Nick’s youngest daughter starts school next year.  Twenty year old Thea desperately want to study English at the Num and Pahhasasra Univerity. IMG_5538She looks after her elderly grandmother and is doing a non-paying internship at the Ministry of Education in the hopes it will lead to a job. The tuition is about $600 a year. If enough people give us $10 we can cover it. There is no shortage of girls who want to go to school so it won’t take long before there is an extensive waiting list.

The research about educating girls in the third world is well documented. Limited resources are more likely to go to the boys and girls suffer. Educated girls are more likely to marry later, have fewer – and healthier – children. Further, they are less likely to be abused or get HIV/AIDS. Their earning power also increases exponentially. In short, educated girls have better lives.

Every riel will be accounted for and the books will be open as they are for Down in the Dumps. The parents will cover the uniforms and the books so it isn’t a free ride.

If you want to contribute please send money to Paypal (

Thank you and akun.