Sometimes things go smoothly.
So smoothly that you don’t actually realise how good you’ve got it.
The first Bopha Project School was a smooth ride. This one hasn’t been so easy. In the build up to our March 2023 trip. Challenges have reared up around every corner, but despite those bumps in the road, there have been some lovely outcomes.
CHALLENGE 1: THE UK TEAM … DISSOLVED
Things began to go a little pear shaped when in January, everyone from the UK dropped out of the trip. This didn’t dent my determination to go and deliver what I’d set out to do, but I did feel a little vulnerable to be a single woman travelling alone into the Cambodian jungle to camp in a school compound to deliver the education and oversee the project.
I have my Khmer team there and trust them implicitly, however, I felt that I needed at least one person … preferably a male … because whilst I consider myself a strong, capable woman (and part of me doesn’t like to admit it), I also feel that having a male presence in these environment is important.
Due to this, my husband Adam volunteered to come out with me, however this threw in another issue … If Adam was coming to the jungle, it would mean having to take our 8 year old son as well. Which has added an interesting twist.
RESULT: WE NOW HAVE BOPHA SCHOOL FC
When we were at our last school one of the things I’d learnt was that we needed to provide something enriching for the other children. Last time we took out canvases and paint. This time I’d planned in musical theatre and dance but in losing the UK team, I was now delivering the project solo and so the members who would have delivered the extra activities were not available.
At the same time, I now had my son Reid to consider … as well as just what he’d be doing in a remote jungle clearing with no electricity, home comforts etc.
So I said, “If you’re coming out to the jungle, you’re now part of the Bopha Team and you need to contribute. So, what are you going to do?”
“Play football,” Reid replied. “I’ll set up Bopha School FC.”
And here emerged the perfect solution! One thing the jungle school does have is a big compound. What better than to turn the place into a football pitch?
Since then Reid has liaised with the Cambodian lead, Phea and together they’ve designed and printed a load of football kits. The kits are sponsored by SAS and Stiff Upper Lip, two of the bands who put on the Bopha School of Rock night in February.
CHALLENGE 2: WE GOT GAZUMPED
A week ago our Bopha lead contacted me with some unexpected news. After travelling out to the school to check everything was in place for the project, he discovered that the local government had turned up and built a toilet block.
On the surface, this was a good thing. After years of having no water, no well and no working latrine, suddenly the local authority had decided to take action, turned up a fortnight before us and built a double toilet cubicle.
RESULT: WE HAVE A DOUBLE LATRINE SITTING IN A CAMBODIAN TOILET FACTORY
The challenge for Bopha School was that we had already ordered all of the latrine building supplies from the factory and when Phea tried to get the money back for it, the factory said this was impossible. They are were happy to hold the materials for a later school, but couldn’t reimburse us the money. The other issue was that we wanted the latrine to have running water and basins inside each cubicle that would allow the girls to wash their hands and change their sanitary products in private, but the toilet that has been built looks as though it is the basic cubicle, hole in the floor with a bucket of water to splash your bottom type of thing.
Until I get there and I’ve had a proper look, I won’t know whether it’s sufficient, but irrespective to supply the school with another latrine seems silly. It may be that we can add something to the new government toilet to make it better for the girls.
Once this school is completed I plan to go and source the next school for the next project. If all goes well we will be able to send our builders in there straight away and they can take the toilet that is now in the factory and build that there, as well as the water tower and purification systems.
CHALLENGE 3: SICKNESS
Two days ago I heard from our Cambodian team again and one of our key players, the educational facilitator who we are training, is unable to attend the project. Her mother is extremely ill and needs to be with her. The Cambodian medical system is primitive, the doctors have said they can do no more for Lyna’s mum and and as a result the mum has returned home and is being treated with traditional Khmer medicine. I’m not sure what that is, but Lyna is desperately worried and there’s no way she can join us.
RESULT: WE ALL LEARN TO DANCE WITH LIFE A BIT
With Lyna unavailable, it is now just me and the translator delivering the education to the two schools we will work with. This is a shame as Lyna is a strong member of our team, but I know we can still successfully deliver the programme. It feels a bit like a blow – after a number of other blows but here’s what it’s made me realise …
Life is sometimes blissfully straight forward but more often than not, it throws curve balls … and then more curve balls … and then more. The beauty of this is that, in all of the manoeuvres and motions we have to contort ourselves into to grab those curve balls, we get very bendy and very flexible and very Yogic in our ability to dance with life.
The one thing I know is this: the show goes on, despite the dances and the dramas!
See you on the other side.