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8 Dec 2010

Koh Preah

Excuse the wonky picture, this map was on a very low ceiling so the picture was taken without the view finder...

So Gilly has been very busy on the blog front (here, here, here and here!) so it's time for me to have a go, see photos below.

I've been spending some time with the great people at the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT for short).  They are a passionate and entrepreneurial bunch working to help the poorest communities in Cambodia develop sustainable livelihoods.  They do this through increasing food security, access to water, sanitation and renewable energy.  All of this is done with a strong sense of raising environmental awareness, especially in areas around the Mekong where human activities are damaging the rare and diverse habitats of many species, most famously the Irrawaddy dolphin.

One aspect of their work is helping communities create eco-tourism initiatives and these are currently located on two islands in the Mekong, Koh Pdao and Koh Preah (Koh means island in Khmer and also in Thai e.g. Koh Samui).  Another crucial dimension of CRDT's activities is environmental education which is done through the medium of drama.  Working with a local arts group they put on night plays which help people understand the importance of respecting their own environment and realising the impact of their actions more widely.  Using theatre to do this is especially insightful when you consider that many people in these communities are illiterate.

These two strands of CRDT's work came together on Monday night this week as the arts group from Koh Pdao made the five hour journey to Koh Preah to share their message about managing waste on their island.  I took the opportunity to join them and this is an account of the experience.

The trip started with a bus journey to CRDT's Stung Treng office, about 1.5 hours on a mainly bumpy dirt road.  When we arrived some pigs next door had just given birth.  Pig raising is one area of CRDT's work so these piglets are a sign of their success.

Piglets at play

Stopping for a snack

The journey then continued by boat, a really nice stretch of the Mekong and a sense of excitement among the arts group.  The guy at the front of the picture is Samnang who runs the environmental education programme for CRDT.

There were a few groans when it became apparent that there would be some wading required to get to shore.

The community has prepared lots of these distinctive blue and white signs in English and Khmer which identify places and directions around the island.

The locals are never far from an animal: water buffalo (pictured), cows, chickens and pigs to name some of the domesticated kind...

Walking and cycling are the main modes of transport and a great way for tourists to explore the beautiful island.  Here's Abi going over one of the many bridges used to cross temporary streams that form during the rainy season.

Rice is Cambodia's staple and now is the harvest.  Many are saying that yields will be down this year and it is communities like those on Koh Preah that will be hit hardest.  Cutting the rice looks like back breaking work and back home these women would be enjoying their retirement.

Time though for a little photo opportunity.

Once cut, the rice is bundled up and laid in lines across the field ready for the next stage in the production of what ends up on our dinner plate.

The housing on the island is of variable quality, this being a particularly picturesque abode.

After our bike ride it was rest time (Som Rak) and this was the view from my very comfortable hammock. Zzzzz.

Next it was up again and on the bikes to head in the other direction where we passed the island's pagoda and the setting up of the stage ahead of the night's performance.

A short way away is the local primary school with the day's lesson still on the board.
We got the bikes back home just before dark and a short walk down to the river front led to a very nice sunset.

This family were washing themselves in the river which we also did, albeit near the bank and not on a boat.

This boat was making a dash home before dark.

Last sunset picture, promise!

Here's where we stayed.  It's not exactly the Hilton but the family were very friendly and I got a surprisingly good night's sleep.

After a wash and a bite to eat it was back on the road and cycling by torchlight to get to the performance.  Just as the show was about the start the heavens opened and it looked as though rain would stop play.  The pessimist in me thought the show was over but after 20 minutes the rain had stopped and the entertainment was about to start.

The audience waits in anticipation of what lies ahead.

Sound check, the technicians at work.  They did well keeping the electrics working despite the rain.

Before the play was a series of 'karaoke' performances.  These were introduced by Pheaktra (a.k.a. Dermot O'Leary, on the left of this picture) and it was a bit like watching a Khmer X-Factor.  The guy in the middle of this picture got some sort of prize, see what you make of the following acts, in no particular order.  Who would you send to boot camp?

Khmer Karaoke 1

Khmer Karaoke 2

Khmer Karaoke 3

Khmer Karaoke 4

Get into the groove...

It was then onto the main event and the performance which showed a community learning to keep their environment clean through the changes that this brought to the health of the fish and dolphins.  This was coupled with the side effects of more satisfied tourists, as played by these two guys in wigs and big sun glasses.  The caricatures of the tourists were hilarious (even in Khmer) and a bit too close to some of my own behaviour for my liking!

I was doing some amateur film work for CRDT so don't have any video of the show yet but here are the actors at the end about to take their bow.  It is also worth noting that a group of traditional musicians also accompanied the performance, they were significantly older than the actors.

After a late night (11.30pm!) it was home to bed.  No need for an alarm clock though as these chaps pull together as a team to make sure you know it's 5.30am.

The arts group all together the next day, what a great bunch of people, I was even able to crack a few jokes in Khmer with them, admittedly one being of the slapstick variety.

The boat home, Samnang, me and Abi are all smiles.  I can assure you the glasses are her own and not stolen from the props box...

Before the day was out we were shown this activity next to the new born pigs.  It's rice wine being made, the tank on the left being filled with rice, water and some other secret ingredients.  This is heated and the steam flows up the pipe, condenses and drips into the second tank.

The second tank has a tap contraption which drips the hot liquid through the muslin and into the container.  What happens next I don't know but I'm sure I'll be drinking the end result at some point over the next two years.

So, all in all a great excursion and a big thank you to Samnang and the team at CRDT for offering this insight into your work.  Long may it continue.

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