Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rotary Wheels for Learning Distributes 75 Bicycles to Children in Rural Cambodia

Ecstatic children waiting to receive their Rotary Bicycles!

 October 17th RWFL Distribution Report from Lisa McCoy in Cambodia

The monsoon season here in Cambodia has been particularly devastating this year with 11 lives lost and countless families left homeless.
Just days before our first Rotary Wheels for Learning scheduled distribution, I had first-hand experience of what it was like to be stranded in over meter-high floods waters.  I was just outside of Phnom Penh staying with RWFL local coordinator Vanthon and family when the rain and wind began.  In a matter of five hours, the rain had severely flooded the whole neighborhood, resorting families to go to their rooftops.
It took a week for the water to drain and then people could assess their damage and try to resume their already difficult lives.  People in many rural areas were stranded much longer. Vital rice crops had been damaged.
Many main roads had been underwater, bridges washed out and rivers had broken their banks…I was concerned as to whether we would be able to get our truck of 75 Rotary Bicycles down to the rural villages in Takeo province- an 87km trip from Phnom Penh!
But, we had to try. It’s not an easy thing to just postpone a bicycle distribution to children who live in rural areas!  Villages families live far apart as most are farmers working a rice field. They have no telephones. Families had been notified in person of the Rotary Bicycle Distribution date a couple of weeks ahead of time.  It would have been difficult to notify 75 families that the distribution had to be postponed – disappointing to the children also.  Most families can’t afford a bicycle. For a child – receiving a bicycle is one of the biggest moments in their life.
So, we hoped for the monsoons to subside, kept informed of road conditions and decided that one way or another, we would get that truck of bicycles down to Takeo.
Amazingly, the sun showed its face on the morning of Sunday, October 17th, and our truck of bicycles and van of volunteers set out for Takeo province at 6am. We had chosen an alternate route when we heard that National Road #2 was flooded – taking #3 instead. We arrived at Trapeang Tasome village in Takeo by 8:30am only encountering one area of road that was flooded.
ALL the children and their families were there anxiously waiting when we arrived at the village chief’s house beside Big Love School.
Parents and children were dressed in the very, very best clothes that they own. Village, commune, and district officials and all area teachers were present. Everyone had come from miles around to see the children receive Rotary Bicycles!
While our team of volunteers unloaded, set up and numbered each bicycle, I was greeted by many families with the traditional Khmer greeting of bowed heads and hands together in prayer position. Parents and grandparents came up to me to touch me, smile and thank me for giving bicycles to their children. I could not understand their words but their message of appreciation could not be mistaken.
Cambodian people love to celebrate and hold a ceremony for any event out of the ordinary. Weddings last 2 days here, funerals much longer! It is customary here.
75 bicycles coming to a village for the children is a HUGE event warranting a proper ceremony.  All the government officials, teachers gave speeches thanking Rotary. They encouraged the children to attend school regularly and study hard. They were told not to sell their bicycles.  I gave a short speech on behalf of Rotary that was translated by area teacher Ban Van.
Then it came time for each child’s name to be called out and then proceed to the front desk to sign the form to receive their bike.

Most of the kids were scared.....a couple even cried signing the form.  Some can't even talk! This is truly such a big event in their life! Imagine that you are a poor kid living in a hut, have never been outside your village, and this huge opportunity comes your way where you get a free bike from a strange white person.
Once they signed the form, one of the volunteers would bring them to our volunteer photographers, who would take a photo of each child with their Rotary Bike – another unusual experience for the children as poor people don’t own a camera.  But many times, after we take the photo, we will show the child the digital image of themselves on the camera and that produces a big smile!
It’s simply a wonderful and overwhelming experience – just impossible to convey with words!  So, Rotarians – you’ll just have to come over to Cambodia next year and get first-hand experience of giving out Rotary Bicycles!
Lisa McCoy,
RWFL Field Coordinator
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Here's a lovely letter of thanks from village teacher, Tim Vet:

Dear Lisa,

How are you today? I am so happy to see here on offering bicycle day. I am so happy for my children who got every thing from your love. I hope that we have many good works in my country. May God bless you to take care of you for your works in Cambodia long time. I hope to see and work with you soon.



Your donation of $50 provides a rural child in Cambodia with necessary transportation to get to school. Please see this site's home page for information on how to donate.  We need your help to raise funds for 75 bicycles for rural children in Battambang province. You will receive a photo and short biographical information on your sponsored child.

With holiday season approaching - consider giving the gift of a Rotary Bicycle in the name of someone special on your gift-giving list!

In Canada, tax receipts will be issued by the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst.

For those on Facebook - Be sure to visit the Rotary Wheels for Learning Facebook Page

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