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standing proud, prepping for uni, 100+ teenagers & our journey to the sea

As we are now well into 2010 and fast approaching Khmer New Year, so much continues to happen in Gecko land. From celebrating International Women's Day, educating and empowering more young people, to our eldest Gecko preparing for university and the fun we all shared on our journey to the sea. We do hope you enjoy catching up on our latest news.

"In the future we want to see that men and woman have the same pay and opportunities for work and finishing education. We want to see people respect all workers. All jobs have value and all people working, both men and women, should be respected". Nott (13) and Pichet (12), Green Gecko girls 

In a country where women receive 30% less pay for doing the same work as men, and 23% of girls get married before the age of 18, celebrating International Women's Day with Cambodia's next generation was something we felt compelled to do. )


So at 8am on Monday 8 March, the children of Green Gecko and Sangkheum Centre united to celebrate and honour the women of Cambodia. Two Gecko girls co-wrote and presented a speech on the importance of International Women's Day. There were also poems, questions and answers and performances to remember. The Sangkheum girls performed their Tivea Brapey dance showcasing the femininity and elegance of tradition Khmer dances, while the Gecko girls put on a powerful display of the strength and determination of Cambodian women with their traditional Khmer martial art (Boxkator) routines. It was the Gecko girls' first ever public Boxkator performance and true to form, they didn't disappoint. The audience was amazed with their new warrior-like skills and range of routines. The finale was a skit where a group of courageous school girls save the market ladies from a gang of troublesome boys, showing us that women can fight back… if the need arises! The crowd went wild. Check out a small taste of the girls' performance here 

Love and gratitude to Bouney and Vanthat from the Women's Resource Centre for their inspiration and facilitation of this wonderful event.

From Warrior dances to University, it's all going on. Peda is our eldest Gecko and the only big Gecko at an age appropriate level in school - he's 18 and in grade 12. Many a visitor may not even remember him - he is a quiet achiever and often shies away from conversation, which can't often be said of other 68! Well, as his high school graduation approaches, we asked him to choose 3 fields he would like to consider for his future. Peda has some big aspirations - he wants to study law, his parents are keen on medicine, and we threw in engineering as a third option. Whichever it is to be, living his whole life in dire poverty, Peda has had no access to the professional world to be able to make that decision lightly.


So, last weekend, Chamroeun - Gecko's clever person extraordinaire and university graduate himself - took Peda to Phnom Penh to visit the different universities, talk with students and find out all he could about each course. He had a fabulous time and came back with his head spinning. "So expensive" he said, to which we replied… "you get the grades and we'll get the money". Peda will be graduating in August and we will be searching for a scholarship for him them, so if any of you are keen to sponsor the first ever Gecko university student, please let us know.

Many of you may remember the teenage workshops that were such a hit last year. Six months on, the effects are still going strong. The kids have a new-found confidence in themselves and their ability in making informed decisions. So positive in fact, we wanted to bring the course to Siem Reap - kit and caboodle - so we could offer the same experience to other young people that would otherwise not have access to such resources.


Through a ton of organising by our outreach trainer Melissa and generous sponsorship from our friends, Green Gecko was able to cover the full cost of the facilitators to come to Siem Reap. Karol & Setha offered a reduced rate to five other organisations we work closely with - community centres, drop in centres and orphanages. Our goal was for 100 young people to participate in 6 workshops over two months. And we made it… 108 in fact. One of the participants commented with glee, "If the teachers at my school made learning fun like this, with so many games and made us find the answers for ourselves, then we would all be so smart!"

From Siem Reap to the sea. The anticipation was at explosive levels at 4.30am on morning we set off on our first ever Green Gecko family holiday. One big hired bus and our own mini bus jammed packed with 63 kids, 14 adult and one 87 year old grandma! Having not seen the ocean nor having an understanding of what a beach holiday is, in the weeks leading up to our departure we were bombarded with questions. What will we do? Is there a TV? Can I bring my homework!? After only stopping for toilet breaks and a quick lunch we arrived - 12 hours later - at our stopover, a hotel on the mainland closest to Koh Stonsay (Rabbit Island). Much to our delight the anti-travel sickness medicine worked a treat and there was not so much as a single "are we there yet?!"


Before we could blink, the kids had dispersed into their 'fancy' rooms, thrilled to have their very own TV and toilet! They were showered and dressed in their pyjamas to watch the sun set over the ocean for the very first time in their lives. 

The next morning, the big bus stayed behind and all the gear was loaded onto the smaller bus to head down to the jetty. The kids took a long hot walk along the ocean's edge, taking it in turns to carry the toddlers.

Six boats lined the shore ready to ferry us to the island. Colourful wooden boats, one man and one motor. The one-size-fits-all lifejackets appeared to be more entertaining than effective… thank goodness we didn't have the need to test them. Grandma said hesitantly, "do I have to get on that?" and one of the kids replied "Yes Grandma, if you want to get to the other side you do!", so cautiously she did. The boats left the shore and took turns to take the lead. Loud cheers could be heard from the enthusiastic passengers, egging on their drivers… of course everyone wanted to be the first to shore!

The boats had not even reached the beach and the kids were in the drink - clothes and all!

Our next 4 nights were filled with delicious fresh seafood meals, swimming, swimming and more swimming, collecting shells, catching crabs and catching fish! The highlight was a fun filled pirate 'treasure hunt' with games, tasks and races involving all the kids and the Khmer staff. The winning group of a task got a piece of the pirates' treasure map, presented by a bandana-clad grandma who was the Queen Mother of the Pirate King. Testing their skills in everything from giant (inflatable) whale throwing and human pyramids to most creative sand sculpture and wading races… it was high energy all round. The deal was that the groups had to work as teams and include the littlies in everything they did. Hysterical, breathless laughter followed as the bigger kids ran through the water holding hands with horizontal toddlers, who they towed behind them like a boogie board at the back of a boat. The fabulous frogs were the victorious team, finding hidden treasure at the end anchored beneath the jetty… and of course in true Gecko style they had to share it with all the kids

The biggest challenge of the week was getting the kids (and staff) out of the water for meals, we needed to have one staff member in the water to ferry them out and then there was always excuses to pop back in and "clean my feet"… even though they were just going to get sandy again. 

After 5 sun-filled days, we dragged ourselves from the beach and headed to Phnom Penh. The kids had a chance to experience the big city and visit the Royal Palace before making our way home. 

There is no place like home and after having a marvellous week, were all very happy to get home! The first question off the bus was "can we come back next year?!" Argh :-)


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





Child Wise

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