週五, 22 五 2009 00:00

From Steung Meachey to Centre for Children's Happiness

 
Outside of the South of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, lies a mountain of waste that has provided the livelihood of many people- mostly children, who scavenge for anything of possible value that is otherwise classified as rubbish for us. The infamous Steung Meanchey landfill may not be poverty at its third-world worst, but it is a site of extreme human misery, of methane fires, drudgery, starvation and even death.

People scavenge at each waste disposal, working till late for a good day’s pay of 1.50 USD, just enough to get by and not enough to alter one’s own circumstances. It is at this site that Mech Sokha, a Cambodian man who was himself orphaned after the Khmer Rouge regime, has rescued over a hundred children whom were either orphaned or whose parents were financially unable to care for them. The children whom were lucky enough to have been rescued by Sokha, now find themselves in the safe haven of CCH- the Centre for Children’s Happiness.

I set out on a relatively sunny day to CCH and returned drenched in rain. I was blissfully unaware of it as I had after all, the pleasure of spending an afternoon with marvellous Cambodian children and made the acquaintance of a man whose heart was big enough to subdue the odours of the garbage dumps. It was not difficult to recognise Mech Sokha on our first meeting for he had an ageless quality about him, and looked as he did about five years ago on their official website. He smiles quietly as I introduced myself, surrounded by three or four smiling adolescents. There was a very warm and fatherly quality about Sokha and I could not imagine him in any other setting than here in this orphanage.
 


The orphanage itself consists of one large building with a courtyard and a dining area in the middle on the ground floor, flanked by boys’ and girls’ rooms. On the second floor, there is one large room, which is both classroom and library. In front and along one side, there is a garden. In the back, there is a kitchen, a water tower and a place to wash clothes. The standard of living is not what I’d be accustomed to, but then again my misfortunes pales in comparison. There is a sense of warmth in the centre and it radiates from the children, Mr. Sokha and the working staff, enough to make one wonder- just how does one do this? From garbage-picking at the Steung Meanchey landfill to the comfort of the orphanage, it is hard to imagine a present and future so full of promise for the children.
 
Take a tour of the Centre for Children’s Happiness (CCH) with two exceptional members of CCH, Pho Phaneth and Huot Ravuth, young men striving to provide a better place for their family and friends and clearly on the way to a promising future. At grade 11 Ravuth drives the CCH van with ease and is in charge of the twenty-over boys in the building CCH II. Phaneth is now working as an administrator at CCH, whilst studying at a local university. The "no-use" building that the boys refer to in the video operates on donations and will be completed by December 2009.


Since its foundation in November 2002, Sokha started with only 16 children and houses up to 109 today. They now possess a total of three building, one for the girls, the other for the boys and one that is under construction funded by the donations. It is said that the construction should be finished by December. I have never seen such enormous progress in terms of architecture and education for the children, and over the span of seven years. Through the funds raised by their prominent donors known as Friends of CCH from countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Belgium and England, there are now more materials and staff available, not to mention education. Computing and Sewing is taught at CCH, and a few of the older girls are sent to a local NGO to get additional lessons in tailoring. It is not realistic for all the children to complete a formal academic education and Sokha believes they should also invest in skills with which they can eventually earn a living.

The children at CCH call Mech Sokha ’Papa Sokha’ for a reason, he has been the children’s main source of parental attention for the last seven years. When he is not in Phnom Penh and working with the children, he is overseas raising money with Friends of CCH. Ravuth, currently the head of the boys dormitory tells me with love and concern in his eyes that " Papa Sokha is tired, he works too much..." We studied Sokha from afar and I had to agree.

It had not occurred to me that Sokha was only human, and needed more than a couple of helping hands to run an orphanage of so many children. He is however, not alone in taking in Cambodian children in precarious situations, orphanages such as the Lighthouse Orphanage and the French ’Pour un sourire d’enfant’ are all dedicated to caring for the many children in need.
 
Peacemaking is a gift that is bestowed on many, but only a few has had the strength to take it upon their shoulders. Mech Sokha is one of them.

The Centre for Children's Happiness website: http://www.cchcambodia.org/ 
 
In the following video, Alice tells us about her experience at CCH, Phnom Pehn, in December 2009.

週五, 20 三月 2009 21:50

Literature, sci-fi, imagination

From literature to science

I developed a passion for science very early on in my teens and saw them as a realm of infinite possibilities.

My brother was the one who helped me realise it. I have to acknowledge it, because I was so unkind to him most of the times. It so happened that he loves to read Sci-Fi novels, and I being the ever-so competitive one, would read them after him… My favourite ones are the oldest, the novels by Jules Verne. Jules Verne’s novels are works of imagination but they are also startlingly accurate anticipations of modern times. I loved reading Paris in the 20th Century : it described air conditioning, auto mobiles, the Internet, television, and other modern conveniences very similar to our real world counterparts. How was he able to imagine all that? Another favourite of mine is From the Earth to the Moon, which is strikingly similar to the real Apollo Program, as three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula and recovered through a splash landing. In the book, the spacecraft is launched from "Tampa Town"; approximately 130 miles from NASA’s actual launching site at Cape Canaveral, or so have I read. And in other works, Verne predicted the inventions of helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and other devices. He also predicted the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not discovered until years after.
Jules Verne is indeed. my hero. When I am told I am too dreamy or imaginative I simply shrug my shoulders. If you want to have new ideas where are you going to find them, except in your dreams and imaginations? I am now convinced that humankind owes much more to dreamers than to hopeless realists… I had tried to convince my maths, physics and biology teacher - not an easy lot, I tell you, as they were so hopelessly realistic…

From helicopters to guitars

OK, I might owe a little more to my elder brother than I am willing to admit. In fact, when we were growing up and were both seen as rebellious, sulky teenagers, we felt much closer to each other than ever. He had developed a passion for music, and played in a band, having convinced Dad and Mum to buy him an Ovation guitar. Thanks to him I now know how the guitar was invented and it makes me even more convinced that imagination is the world’ s driving force – only teachers and parents refused to recognise it.
The first Ovation guitar was developed in 1966 by Charles Kaman. Kaman, an amateur guitarist from an early age, then worked on helicopter design as an aerodynamacist and founded his own helicopter design company, Kaman Aircraft, in 1945. His corporation soon diversified, branching off into nuclear weapons testing, commercial helicopter flights, the development and testing of chemicals, and helicopter bearings production. But in the early 1960s, financial problems due to the failure of their commercial flight division forced them to consider expanding into new markets, such as entertainment and leisure. Coincidentally, Charles Kaman, still an avid guitar player, became interested in the making of guitars. Using his background in aviation engineering, Kaman designed a rounded-bowl back, hoping to improve the flow of sound through the guitar, and developed a new top bracing system. Finally, although he kept the idea of using a wood soundboard, the body and sides of the guitar were manufactured of composite. Since that time the company’s main focus has been acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars.
Applying helicopter’s technology to guitar-making... not bad at all.

Imagining discoveries

The history of science is fascinating, and I dreamt of the life of scientists and inventors the way I did of witches and wizards as a little girl.
When you look at the way science has evolved throughout the ages, you realise that when comparing theories to observations, scientists encounter more and more anomalies, which cannot be explained by the theory alone. When enough anomalies have accrued against a theory, science is thrown into a state of crisis – scientists become restless and sleepless, their wives can no longer bear their sudden shifts of moods, coffee no longer tastes the same as before, they rely on chocolate to struggle against anxiety, and so on... During this crisis, new ideas are tried. Eventually a new theory is spelled out, after epic battles. And it is always the ones who see nothing new to be imagined or discovered whom ultimately look like the fools. Take poor Lord Kelvin who, in 1900, stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Five years later, Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged Newtonian mechanics...

And more…

The more I progress in my studies, the more I am convinced that imagination is the Empress who reigns over all Sciences.
Did Copernic not need imagination in finding out that the earth turned around the sun rather than the reverse?
Did Pasteur and others not need imagination in deciding that “all life comes from life” rather than relying on the widely accepted theory of spontaneous generation?
Was Einstein not the best artist of the 20th century when he came up with the theory of relativity?
One of my favourites is Lavoisier. He showed that respiration was essentially a slow combustion of organic material using inhaled oxygen. He also showed that, although matter can change its state in a chemical reaction, the quantity of matter is the same at the end as at the beginning of every chemical change. These experiments supported the law of conservation of mass, which Lavoisier was the first to state. It is not for these discoveries that French revolutionaries beheaded him however.
I have yet to speak of Lamarck, Darwin or Mendel… To me, these people are the most imaginative artists that humankind has ever known- the real dreamers.

Image by C.P.

 


週一, 16 三月 2009 00:00

Japan, your silence is deafening

I recalled watching for the first time the series of Eve Ensler’s celebrated theatre production known as The Vagina Monologues several years ago. Apart from being thoroughly entertained by the actresses’ witty antics, I was especially taken by the segment on the memoirs of a soft-spoken woman, forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation. She spoke about the horrors, experiences so tormenting that she has yet to overcome at an elderly age; she is one of the few women to have survived the ordeal till this day. 
 

Like many others in Asia during her time, she was what we now call a ‘Comfort Woman’ – a term that I personally find highly inappropriate. Her story and appeal, however short, brought tears of pity and anger amongst many in the theatre, and it certainly left an impression on me. I was bewildered as to why I wasn’t taught of it in school, a detail so crucial that could easily have fit into any of the chapters of my history textbook. An estimated 200, 000 women (predominantly Korean and Chinese), whom during their enslavement, endured torture, malnutrition, sexual abuse, under an institutionalised setting, to me, is war crime history at its foulest. I was instead, informed of it through a former Singaporean television sitcom on the Japanese Occupation.

 

"Historians estimate 200,000 women, from Korea, the Philippines, China, Indonesia and the Netherlands were pressed into wartime prostitution for millions of Japanese soldiers stationed throughout Asia. Some former comfort women said they were forced to service up to 50 soldiers in a day."

- VDAY, founded by Eve Ensler
(For more information, refer to www.vday.org)

 

 
 
A tragedy times 200,000

To me, the term ‘Comfort Women’ is a euphemism, a sugar-coated term that made reality easier to swallow. I’m afraid it may be too mild a term to reflect accurately on the situation of the women, whom, recruited through dissemblance or force by Japanese soldiers and locals alike, were exploited sexually and enslaved. Military sex slaves would be conceivably more accurate.

In Taiwan, a certain Ahma, aged 92 was forced into military prostitution at the young age of 17, sent to serve as a ‘prostitute’ on the island of Hainan. She was one of the very few to have spoken of her experience very early on. It was not until 1991 that a South Korean woman, Grandma Kim Hak Soon, became the first person to speak publicly about the existence of comfort women.

Sexism was not the only factor underlying the Comfort Women system, a system thought to boost military morale and deter open rape in occupied territory (which was in fact the same thing, only institutionalized), limit anti-Japanese resistance among the local population, avoid international disgrace and protect the Japanese soldiers from venereal disease. Racism played a large part too. For whatever reason, they were indoctrinated to see the Chinese and other Asian prisoners as sub-human and inferior, thus the numbers of Japanese ‘Comfort Women’ were of a significantly smaller number in contrast to women of other ethnicities. In the seminar held in Taiwan on ‘Comfort Women’, the lecturers mentioned a significant difference in the treatment between the Han Chinese and Taiwanese Aboriginals. Han Chinese women were either recruited by force or shipped to serve elsewhere in different Military brothels overseas, whereas aboriginal women were often kept as house and sex slaves locally.

 
Wrongs to be righted

In January 1992, Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa admitted, after Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi uncovered indisputable evidence, that the Japanese government was involved in the "comfort woman" business throughout the war (1931-1945.) Accordingly, in August of 1994, Japanese Prime Minister Tomichi Murayama set up the Asian Women’s Fund, which offered $18,200 in atonement money to each surviving "comfort woman." This fund however, is not from the Japanese government. The women feel that the Japanese government must officially assume responsibility for these acts and that to accept the privately raised money would make them prostitutes; not the victims of war that they are. Former "comfort women" continue to seek redress in the courts in Japan.

With the surviving victims, organisations and international parliaments, hot on their heels for an official apology, the Japanese government has yet to break their silence – a silence that would soon no longer be heard by the remaining ailing victims.What will not be reported, are the voices of the already-deceased women and what the Japanese perpetrators have recollected in their time. To look behind the scenes in War-time Asia and juxtapose the unreported realities with the personal stories of trauma and recovery told by the survivors will simply reduce the stories to a few simple facts, and an array of supposedly unfathomable war violence. I believe there are always more facts lurking behind the shadows of the Japanese society, and it will be up to their descendants to acknowledge their atrocities and compensate accordingly.


Note:
A name worth knowing: Yoshiaki Yoshimi
Professor of modern Japanese history at Chuo University in Tokyo. Yoshimi is a founder member of the Center for Research and Documentation on Japan’s war responsibility. Following the discovery of incriminating Imperial Army documents by a Japanese historian in 1992, the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged "moral, but not legal" responsibility for the comfort women. The government of Japan still refuses to make an official apology and provide proper compensation. It continues to deny legal responsibility for the system. Some of the surviving victims tried suing the government in Japan seeking an official apology and reparations but to no avail.


捐款

捐款e人籟,為您提供更多高品質的免費內容

金額: 

事件日曆

« 五月 2018 »
星期一 星期二 星期三 星期四 星期五 星期六 星期日
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      

目前有 7448 個訪客 以及 沒有會員 在線上