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How fast can chicken pox spread through a home of sixty kids?  Answer: pretty fast! 

Yes, the illness of the month is chicken pox and despite lots of spots, the kids have been amazing - a bit of a fever and headache on the first day and then not another peep out of them. Can't imagine I would have been nearly as brave or uncomplaining!  

Chicken pox epidemic aside, we still had an amazingly productive couple of months. Our Singaporean friends from Pasir Ris Crest Secondary School came en masse to create a mural masterpiece and magnificent playground. The toilet and wash area was completed; we built a fence, a security hut and installed a gate. More dirt was dumped and levelled and paths were laid. We had a team-building carnival and Lunar New Year celebration, complete with our very own home-made dancing dragon and drummers. We had bicycle proficiency training, complete with exams and certificate awards. Got a mention and a few pics in the Wall Street Journal Asia and planted a veggie garden. Our big girls were invited to their very first 'real' birthday party which not only meant that Rem patiently took them shopping for their first ever party dresses but it was the first invitation that had received as non-street kids.  We also reached a major milestone as 100% of school-aged Geckos are now attending Khmer School!

Yes, the fabulous final 5 made it a perfect score. To be honest we thought that day was a little further along but they had other ideas. Let's just say the fabulous 5, apart from being amongst our youngest, are also some of our most 'spirited' and 'special' kids, and to let them loose on the unsuspecting was something we couldn't consider lightly. Yet their persistence won, and after a few teething problems - like Sarm divulging that the reason he wouldn't pick up his pencil was because his teacher didn't speak politely enough to him - they seem have settled into academia nicely.

Six of our bigger Geckos were also lucky enough to receive sponsorships to study English at ACE - a well-regarded International Language School - where our big girl Kom Suan was awarded a High Achievement Award in her first term. Their exam scores were between 74% and 87%. Needless to say we were over the moon with the result. Kom Suan's dream is to be a teacher (although we think she has the qualities for a future Green Gecko directorship!) and she has started a remedial class in the evenings to help some of our younger kids catch up in their studies. Her dedication is amazing! Inspired by her mentor Jon, she prepares work sheets, plans her lessons, marks exams and even makes star charts to commend their work! The day after she started, she admitted teaching wasn't as easy as she first thought. She said, "Sometimes they don't listen and that is very annoying!" I think teachers world-over can relate to that!  

Kom Suan is not the only one developing leadership qualitiesBecause the majority of the kids have not come from stable family environments, we have created our own sub-families called Gecko Groups: 10 kids each ranging from toddlers to teenagers:  Singing Snakes (red), Mighty Monkeys (blue), Buzzing Bees (yellow), Cool Crocodiles (pink), Fabulous Frogs (green) and Energetic Elephants (purple). The groups (families) sit together for lunch, do their chores together and work as teams when they have carnivals or sports.  They also do their activities together. Two months ago we transferred the group leaderships from the volunteers to the kids. They were introduced to democratic voting and elected their first student leaders. Each leader is responsible for checking the chores checklist, for getting the jobs done and for awarding one child per week with the prestigious L'AOR (Good) Award for being the most obliging helper. At the end of the month, the leaders' reward is an evening meal out with us (the directors) during which we all discuss ways to improve the system. When we explained that to get elected again you needed not only to get the job done, you needed your group to still like you, we were met with "BUT HOW?!". You tell u's "hmm OK, well we could say 'good job!' to make them feel good"  "we could say 'thank you'" "oh I know, we could even help them if they are taking a long time"... Well done leaders, we think you are on the right track! Next

Activity classes are also forging ahead. We have 5 subjects - little kids in the morning and bigger kids in the afternoon - that broaden the kids' horizons and exhaust the volunteers. "Me and My Planet" a general studies class to introduce the children to their bodies, their country and their world, including science, culture, humanity, leadership, value systems etc. "Numbers and Logic" to develop their analytical skills with maths riddles, sudoku and problem solving puzzles and games. "Arts and Crafts" for all things creative. "Performing Arts" for their self esteem, incorporating song, dance, drama, circus and music. "Library" to develop an appreciation for books and the value of reading (thanks to Room2Read and the children from Champagnat House at Marcellin College). Sport and Computers they enjoy after hours.

Some of the recent lessons on value systems and trust games came in handy last month when we invited a village orphanage to come and play soccer with us, which in itself turned out to be a sudden lesson on humility and good sportsmanship as our team got whopped big time. With them was a little 8 year old boy by the name of Net who began the day with a mesmerising performance of drum and song, accompanied by an older boy playing the flute.  They were amazing, they was also both blind. To see the awe on the Gecko kids faces was priceless. While the game proceeded the younger children guided Net straight to the playground (as you would), and with my heart in my mouth I courageously held myself back so as not to hinder them by being over-protective. Little Sunly (7)- who has spent most of her short life very ill - was in full force, leading him up the ladder, down the slippery dip, across the sand pit, down off the wall and back up the ladder again! I was blown away. By the time it was half time for the soccer match and the field was free, the little kids had introduced Net to a pint-sized bicycle and took turns in pushing him around so he could feel what riding a bicycle felt like. It was hard work pushing and balancing him but they took turns and revelled in his squeals of delight. Seriously, it was an amazing and humbling experience for all of us. At the end of the day, we spoke to our kids and agreed unanimously to give the bicycle to Net and a huge bag of clothes to the rest of the kids. You could see genuine compassion on our kids' faces - empathy from their past and appreciation of their present. They know how lucky they are...

and never more so than when the highlight of their lives came from the sky, in a billowing cloud of blinding dust and hurling wind. A big orange H painted on the field, an orange windsock whipped up by our resident RAF engineer Alan, and colourful bandanas lining the perimeter fence were not sufficient clues for the kids to suspect a helicopter was about to land in their backyard! Some adventurous guests decided to see Siem Reap and the Temples by air and had the time and inclination to pop in and see us. It was like a scene from a movie - the kids were overwhelmed with excitement, jumping up waving as the helicopter circled and lined itself up to land, but as it got closer and noisier and the full wind force of the blades could be felt, the kids turned and ran with a mixture of trepidation and exhilaration in the opposite direction. However, once the blades had come to a halt and the first door was open an inch, the kids ran over to give a warm and enthusiastic welcome to our visitors. Many hugs, photos, excited questions (and curious looks from villagers) were had by all!

Certainly the biggest highlight of Rem's and my life came between Christmas and New Year, when we finally got the result that our little Sarm (one of the Fabulous 5) was HIV Negative. Ever since we've known him we were lead to believe he had it, so our dream was to give him the most fulfilling childhood we could, while he could still have one. For so long we were powerless to seek medical treatment for him without his father's permission (his mother has already passed with the disease), but on Christmas day we got the thumbprint we needed. We thought, it can't get better than this because now he can receive antiretroviral drugs - but it did, and how! A subsequent meeting at the hospital revealed that he had escaped the transmission from his mother and was free from the disease! Never in my life has a single event had such a momentous effect. Not only did Sarm have a new lease on life, we felt like we were given one too. When you are faced with losing a child you adore and you are given a second chance, nothing seems as big, as important or as difficult to deal with anymore. We are so much stronger, And extraordinarily grateful, for it. 

Life is good; very very good.

With love and gratitude as always,

Tania, Rem and the Green Gecko Gang. 

As always, thank you very much for all your ongoing support, particularly to our angel donors, you know who you are, and so do we! Because you are so many, we have limited special mentions this time to children and their schools.


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