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Gecko turns 4, the kids turn on a treat and Siem Reap turns into a river

July 2009 marked the 4th anniversary of the Green Gecko Project and given how far the kids have come and their innate love to party, it was set to be a day to remember. Early in the day, the kids - along with Tania and Rem - organised a surprise thank you lunch for the staff. Instead of the staff serving the kids it was reversed and the kids proudly set a full length table for 18 Khmer staff; table cloth and flower decorations to boot. Lunch was served by the kids with 5 star standards, complete with shoulder rubs and moving speeches of gratitude (in both English and Khmer). In the afternoon we invited our loyal locals gecko friends to enjoy the festivities; a giant birthday cake courtesy of our beloved friends at De La Paix, cane juice from one of our mums micro-businesses and a special performance clandestinely organized by the kids. 'thank you for the music by ABBA was turned their own rap version of 'thank you for Green Gecko, complete with beat box sounds and carefully rehearsed rap dance moves! Another moving presentation was made by the kids with a beautifully bound book that Claire had secretly been collating with words of love and gratitude from our kids and support and well wishes from our friends abroad. A few more tears of joy were had. Kom Khuan exclaimed 'there was so much pressure, we had to keep secrets from everyone! and well worth it we reckon - a great day and evening was had by all and as usual we danced the night away until our solar power ran out at 8pm :)

Sending 60 "cheeky" kids to the same school can sometimes evoke havoc and, as you can imagine, we have received our fair share of phone calls from the principal for a "meeting". So when this particular call was made and he announced with pride that 24 of the state's top NYIS students had been selected from his school to travel to Phnom Penh and receive accolades from the Ministry of Education for outstanding academic achievement, we were pleasantly surprised! One by one, the envelopes were handed out to parents, with their child's name on the front. We waited in anticipation to see which one of our children was going. They handed us an envelope, then another and another... until we had 10 envelopes in our hands! OMG, 10 of the 24 top students were GECKOS! That's 42%! - not a bad result seeing as most of them have only been in formal education for less than two years. Way to go Geckos!

Siem Reap experienced some unprecedented flooding in the first few weeks of October which saw the river bursting its banks and all of the downtown area covered in knee deep water. While most tourists in Siem Reap found the excessive flooding "entertaining", trying to keep dry but inevitably walking through water to get to restaurants and bars, the situation was much more dire for our families. Most of our families live in a ghetto slum on the river so were severely affected as the flood waters reached chest height and kept rising. Their houses, already built on stilts, looked as if they were floating, and having nowhere else to go, they were forced to sleep in hammocks tied to the roof. With families stranded and food scarce, the kids were naturally concerned for their familie's well being. Our tallest geckos didn't hesitate to volunteer to wade through chest high water to deliver rice to them. Thankfully, due to the hard work of the kids laying dirt and rocks for our paths when we first moved into our home, Green Gecko was probably the driest place in Siem Reap! Thank you for all who wrote emails of concern.

As most of you are probably aware, Green Gecko supports 33 families that live in chronic poverty. Poverty that is not just about having a very low income; it's about multidimensional deprivation. Most are illiterate and uneducated, many are victims of landmine accidents. Our outreach program aims to ease them into healthier, more sustainable lives by helping them to reduce the harms associated with the way they currently cope with past and present issues; alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling issues, debt and domestic violence. Despite the issues we are up against, some great progress has been made with the families of late. Business is up and welfare is down. Rem is working closely with the families to establish new micro-businesses, which so far include a pig farm, a motorbike mechanic shop and a farmers' garden. One of the gecko dads is doing a great trade selling the Gecko cookbook NYUM BAI to tourists, and two gecko mums have been employed at Green Gecko - one as a cook, one as a house aunty. The latter is a former beggar herself and a chronic gambler, causing many problems for her family and for gecko too. She promised that if she got a job, she would stop begging and would cut down on gambling. We gave her the opportunity and she has come a long way. In an open discussion, she confessed she had played cards on the weekend and lost $5 and her shoes! But came to the conclusion that it was no longer the same. Before I begged for money and played all night and did not care if I lost, but now I work hard I don't want to give my money away!. It was heartening to hear. We look for forward to sending the next update.

On a final note, we are very proud to leave you with an honest account of Kim Suan's life story. Written and read by Kim Suan, she shares her past, her present and her dreams for the future. Thanks to our wonderful friends at Porter Novelli and Clemenger who captured her story with such integrity. Here it is, Green Gecko Project :: Kim Suan's story please feel free to pass onto your friends to show then them who you support and why.

As usual, there is always more we could tell, but we can save it for the next newsletter. Thank you very much for all your ongoing support, particularly to our angel donors, creative contributors and fabulous volunteers, you know who you are (and so do we!).

Much gecko gratitude, Tania, Rem and all the Green Gecko gang

Ps: For those of you who are still waiting for me (Tania) to wade thru my 362 deep inbox to get to your email, please except my apologies and rest assured I will definitely get to them all eventually.





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