For many people bureaucracy is overwhelming. And the further down the food chain the more intimidating it becomes, so by the time you get to the Steung Meanchey dump it is astronomical. Vichika, my friend and English-speaking contact, wanted to get her daughter, Srey, into school. Okay, we had a project. A mission. And this is when my natural control-freak inclination comes in handy; I just sort of stepped in and took over, bossy bitch that I am.
I heard about the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) through Alex, a 20-something Australian woman who is savvy about the NGO scene in Cambodia. Thim, a Khmer with excellent English skills called Vichika for me. She and the family would be available to go for an interview. “She is very excited about it,” Thim told me. “And she loves you so much.”
A couple of emails to Asha, the administrator, and she passed me on to Hoin, who is the Community Outreach Manager. We set up an appointment for Tuesday 9 July at 14:30. Next I linked up Nick our reliable tuk-tuk driver to ferry us around and to translate when needed. Hoin told me CCF was difficult to find so I loaded his number in my phone, made sure it was charged – me an’ mobiles have such a love/hate relationship – and off we went.
Vichika et al were waiting at the communal spot when we arrived. It was the first time I’ve met her husband, Sary. Then Nick called Hoin and we all piled into the tuk-tuk, a proverbial extended family of sorts.
Once there, the security guard let us in because I was white. No questions since I acted like I knew what I was doing, even though I really didn’t have a clue. Straight over to an official looking guy who ushered us in to see Hoin. I was so concerned about finding the place that we were 20 minutes early. Hoin circled the chairs and did a family interview. He recapped in English to tell me that Srey was the right age. “She is six and ready to start school, so it shouldn’t be a problem. If she were three or four it would be much harder.”
Hoin then ushered us across the compound to a social worker who sat at an outside desk. He worked through a massive form with Vichika. It seemed to go on forever. The courtyard was full of women and children as CCF runs various programmes. The security guard sauntered through the crowd and handed me a bottle of water. Not knowing which of the 50 or 60 more-deserving people to give it to, I guiltily slid it into my handbag.
Paperwork done, they weighted, measured and photographed Srey. Back at the tuk-tuk we woke Nick and climbed in for the return trip.
In reply to a thank-you email, Hoin said he would do his best to get Srey accepted. I have no doubt it will happen. So in October – when she turns six — Srey will be in the CCF programme. Yes.
She will live at home and every morning she will get into her little school uniform that is supplied, grab her books that CCF provides and head for school. She will study Khmer at the government school in the morning and English at CCF in the afternoon.
I’m very excited about Srey going to school, so I think I will buy her a book-bag as a present.