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3 in prison, 97 to feed and 202 unanswered emails 12/11/06

Hello All,

This is an unplanned update to let you know the reason behind the turtle pace communications taking place at the moment. Only 14 days back in Cambodia and big things are going down. The police have had another major crackdown on begging due to the pending Korean Expo and complaints from the tourist industry, but this time it looks like its going to stay. It is now "illegal" to beg or walk on the street if you are a known beggar. Rem has had to escort the children on his moto to school every day due to the attempts by undercover police to pick them up - despite them being dressed in full uniform and laden with school bag on their backs. Scary stuff.

Unfortunately, this week 3 geckos were apprehended and placed in prison. 14 year old Yoeurn who was taken in font of our eyes for begging when he wasn't, he was buying his dinner after working all evening on his book stall. All the pleading and reasoning we could muster didn't help the situation. We were told to meet the Commissioner in the morning and present our argument to him. Thanks to my sister and her mate Tommo we were put in contact with a well respected Cambodian man that agreed to accompany us to the prison in the morning. It helped a lot. As we arrived in the grounds, the echo of Tinyar Tinyar was heard again once more. Quite surreal. So many children we knew were in there. It was then we realised two more geckos were detained. They were little Srey Mao (7 year old girl), whose parents are mentally retarded and Seha (7 year old boy) who is an Aids orphan with an abusive alcoholic Aids stepfather. Naturally Rem and I were overcome with a gamut of emotions.
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The corwded cell where Yoeurn was kept overnight
The crowded cell where Yoeurn was kept overnight
freedom for Yoeurn. The sign says Rehabilitation Centre for Drug Addicts
FREEDOM for Yoeurn. The sign says Rehabilitation Centre for Drug Addicts
Seha and Srey Mao in detention
Seha and Srey Mao in detention
We sat and talked our way through hours of negotiations/discussions making sure to bow at all the right times. They agreed we could release Yoeurn on the proviso that we ensure he is a working boy and not a beggar, we provided the necessary paperwork and on our third visit 2 days later he was released. They also requested we make ID cards for the children to carry on them. The two younger ones were not so easy. We asked what was required for their release. They were unsure of the answer and requested 3 days to think about it. Tomorrow is the third day, Rem and I will meet with the bosses again to negotiate the requirements for their release. Please wish us luck.

Earlier in the week, knowing the begging ban was pending, we set up two micro-businesses for two of the Gecko families, sponsored by two generous Australians Kim and Margaret. One family has hit the ground running with their new book stall and is extremely proud of their new social standing. The other family, hindered by a gambling addiction has not been so fast off the mark, but we don't give up hope easily.

Needless to say the new "law" has sent the beggar community in to a spin and there are a lot of hungry families as a consequence. We have made up nutrition packs of fresh veggies and dried fish as well as their normal portion of rice to take home. We are feeling a tad overwhelmed as you can imagine. This Friday's free day hit an all time high of 97 kids, including over 20 faces we had never laid eyes on. They were hungry and coming out of the wood work to find a meal. For the first time in gecko history we ran out of food! We pulled aside 20 of the long timers and asked them to stay behind while we went to the market to get more food. They were totally cool with that. It was insane. We so need a bigger place.
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Saron BEFORE
Saron BEFORE
proud as punch
Saron NOW...and proud
Kids making up the nutrition packs to take home
Kids making up the nutrition packs to take home
There is so much more to share but I have 202 unanswered emails in my inbox vying for attention in between school, hungry kids and jail breaks. Please accept my apologies if you are waiting on a reply, I promise to get to you eventually even though it may take a few weeks L.

Love and gratitude as always,
Tania and Rem and the geckos.

PS: When we asked Yoeurn what he wanted to do first after he got out - go home to see him mum or eat fried rice? - he said FRIED RICE!

PPS: And for those of you who often ask me about Sieng (our heaviest glue-sniffing girl), we have wonderful news. Sieng has been to gecko 3 times this week making it her all time highest attendance record in one week! She even joined in, somewhat enthusiastically in the dance class. We guess it's because she can't beg to get money for glue so it's not all bad!
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First Supper! First Supper!
First Supper!
97 line up for the lunch head count
97 line up for the lunch head count
Sieng happily joining in with dance class!
Sieng happily joining in with dance class!
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