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13 Nov 2012

Koh Kong and Kayaking

This week Sarah and Will arrived for their two week Cambodian holiday which was wicked.  I met them at Phnom Penh airport and then we headed to Koh Kong in the South-west of Cambodia, a totally new province for me.

Despite them being a little bit jet lagged, we managed to fit in quite a lot in our 2 and a half days in Koh Kong.

 Koh Kong has both rivers and the sea so our activities tended to revolve around those.

On the first day we visited the beautiful Tatai Waterfall...

 ...where you can also go swimming.

On the second day we took a boat trip to Koh Kong island which is a protected area and very beautiful and secluded.

We swam and snorkeled and generally enjoyed our beautiful surroundings

The guide and boat driver cooked us a delicious lunch of BBQ-ed chicken and vegetables.  It was a great trip apart from the fact that I got bitten by numerous sand flies and have been incredibly itchy ever since.

 On the way back to town, we glimpsed a dolphin in the distance as we went up a river to visit the mangrove forest.

Views of the mangrove forest from the watch tower

 The mangrove forest as we walked through it

From Koh Kong we headed back to Phnom Penh for a day and then onto Kratie. Luckily for us, Suzanne has just moved to Kratie and opened Sorya Kayaking Tours so we were able to take advantage of the launch of her business on the Friday afternoon along with Gordon and Claire, VSO volunteers in Phnom Penh who were also visiting Kratie this weekend.

Getting our briefing from Suzanne before we set off

On the way to the starting point

Ready for action

 Me and Sam (fully covered up from the sun in true Cambodian fashion) attempting to coordinate our strokes (this was after about 5 minutes on the water and I was already tired - god knows how my brother managed to do this for 10 days)

 Coline and Greg looking cool and composed in their kayak

A brief stop for some pictures and a bit of swimming to cool off

Sarah and Will with Coline and Greg in the background going in opposite directions. I think it's safe to say that none of us really knew what we were doing!

 Claire and Gordon sailing off into the sunset

We all had a great time and would definitely recommend it to other visitors to Kratie.

We've had action-packed days with lots of swimming, walking, and kayaking which have left me realising that I'm really not that fit!  Sadly Sarah and Will have set off yesterday on their own to visit Siem Reap and I am left with the daunting task of adding the final touches to my dissertation and handing it in.  Freedom here I come, just in time to make the most of our holiday in Cambodia in December and our big trip starting in January. 

4 Nov 2012

Now published: Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie

Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie
Ladies & Gentlemen,

I present to you what many are tipping for this year's surprise Christmas best seller, my first book, Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie. It is now available to buy in printed and eBook formats (suitable for iPad, Kindle, Nook and most other eReading devices and applications). There is also a free preview available in various digital formats.

The book is a celebration of the art and craft of Cambodia's hand-painted advertising, 138 colour pages crammed with photos of everything from flying pigs to retro hairstyles and hand grenades.

Spread from the Beauty Salons & Barbers chapter
These images are accompanied by the unique story of the signs and the people who paint them, alongside my own observations on what they tell us about Cambodia.

Opening spread from the Introduction
Even in this book's short life many of these hand-crafted creations have fallen by the wayside and, day by day, the content of the book becomes increasingly rare.

Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie on iPad
I hope you will join me in this celebration of Cambodia's hand-painted advertising and please share with friends, but not those who you plan to give it to as a gift...
More sample spreads from the printed book and screen shots from the eBook:

Contents page from Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie
Spread from the Khmer Script chapter
Various motorbikes on hand-painted signs in Kratie
Introduction page from eBook on iPad

2 Nov 2012

Education Today article

VSO recently asked me to write an article about my placement in Cambodia for the magazine Education Today that they frequently contribute to.  Here it is:

Teacher Gilly Clifford, 32, from London, reflects on her two year VSO placement in Cambodia:

“As I approach the last month of my two year VSO placement working as a teaching and learning adviser in the small town of Kratie in North-East Cambodia, I have mixed feelings about leaving. On the one hand I’m excited about the future and ready to use what I’ve learnt from my time in Cambodia for new challenges; but I know I will also miss the town and the people I have come to love.

Cambodia is still considered a post-conflict country long after the civil war ended in the 1990s. The war destroyed Cambodia’s education system and thousands of people, including 75% of teachers, 96% of university students and 67% of all primary and secondary school pupils, lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979 (VSO 2008).

This has had consequences for rebuilding the education system, the economy and society. Culturally, people are less inclined to question things or deviate from the norm. The education system relies on rote learning in which the teacher talks and the children listen but they don’t necessarily fully understand the subject matter. There are high drop-out and repetition rates, particularly in grade one (Rao, Pearson, Constas and Pearson 2007). In 2009, the percentage of female children repeating grades across primary school was 10% and 12% for male children (UNESCO Institute for Statistics).

I am based at the Provincial Office of Education in Kratie town and I travel across two districts in the province to help implement the Ministry of Education’s Child Friendly School Policy. Although this policy was introduced in 2002, there is little evidence in schools of the interactive approach it recommends. Over the last two years, I have focused on five target schools, working with the grade 1-3 teachers and school directors to help them implement this method of teaching through workshops, lesson observations and discussions.

My biggest success has been to develop a DVD project in which groups of teachers watch Ministry of Education produced films on literacy or maths and we discuss different learning methods. This helps the teachers to reflect on their own teaching as well as see what works so they can make improvements. After five months of doing the project, I began peer observations of each teacher and encouraged them to put these ideas into practice. The difference was striking; teachers became more confident, more responsive to the children’s individual needs and willing to try out group activities. Since then they use real objects to introduce new topics, visual aids like puppets and try out different classroom layouts, making the lessons more fun and encouraging discussions and critical thinking.

Working in Cambodia has not been without its challenges. I have definitely gained skills in negotiating, improvising and flexibility to navigate the complicated, hierarchical and bureaucratic educational system. Despite this, it is very motivational when I see teachers use my suggestions and pass these ideas on to others. I have loved my five minute commute to work cycling alongside the mighty Mekong River, buying fresh vegetables and fruit from the market and bumping into people I know every day. I can now speak a new language and ride a motorbike, two things I never thought I would be able to do. I would definitely recommend the experience to others; volunteers develop so much both professionally and personally and most importantly, are able to share their skills too.”

Rao, N., Pearson, E., Constas, M.A., & Pearson, V. (2007). Evaluation of community preschool and home based early childhood programs in Cambodia. UNICEF: Cambodia.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) (2012) UIS Statistics in Brief – Education Profile: Cambodia 2010. Online. Available at [Accessed 4 August 2012]

VSO (2008) Teaching Matters. A policy report on the motivation and moral of teachers in Cambodia.

And here is a link to the actual online article (it takes a minute to load) and I'm on page 7.