You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me!

I am in the last six weeks of teaching my first college classes in Cambodia.  I am shocked to learn that it is almost a universal policy in this culture to buy the answers for the final examination.  Even though I have been in this country for two years now, I never had access to this bit of information until now as I wrap up my two classes.

Apparently it is an accepted norm throughout the culture to buy (bribe) one’s way into a passing score in the 9th grade examinations and the 12th grade examinations.  The 9th grade examinations determine whether or not you can proceed into high school and the 12th grade exams determine whether you can go to college.

I have loved my students, but I have been completely mystified by their attendance patterns.  The college I work for has a clearly articulated set of rules about attendance and class responsibilities. 

One of my students has attended only 22% of my class and as a result has not had a lot of the in-class experiences and the hand outs.  Following university written protocol I refused to let her sit for the mid term examination, and I also indicated that I would give her a fail for the course.  She appealed my position to the school Dean and the Dean granted her permission to continue in the class and take the exam.  He said he felt sorry for her.

What I find fascinating is that students  (most all of them) skip classes frequently and then appear almost 100% for exams.  They are then permitted to buy the answers to the exams and then they move on to the next course.  It appears that I could get any kind of a college degree in this culture without attending any of the classes.

Since I am teaching English writing, speaking, and English literature, I don’t understand how a student (or anyone) could expect to claim that they speak and write English fluently without the real classroom experiences and preparation.  Prospective employers would find out about the fraud within minutes of an interview.

I have always been a bit dismayed to know that I am teaching “advanced English” but my students do not have comprehension skills that would even let them know what to do when I ask them to “please stand up.”  I have to use a translator.

This country is filled with corruption everywhere.  I had always known that elementary and secondary teachers all expect to be paid bribes on a daily basis or the student is not permitted to learn and advance for any given day.  I just had never even suspected that this kind of corruption followed all school students year after year in this culture.

I am puzzled about how the country as a whole would have expectations of lifting itself out of “Third World Country” status if the entire educational system is a fraud. 

Can you imagine me being a neurosurgeon.  I skipped most of the classes, and I bought the answers to the final examination.  But I have my degree which hangs on the wall of my office.  OMG!

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I Met Roth Sakana Today

Roth Sakana is a sixteen year old young boy who is an inspiration to me, and all of humanity for that matter.  rothtola

I had heard a lot about him from my translator (Bora) who had met him at a Pagoda near our house.  He goes by the name of Rothtola.  He came to my house today and let me get acquainted.

Rothtola was abandoned at birth and left in a basket at a hospital.  He learned about that abandonment as he grew older.  In the Cambodian culture it is shameful to have a child who is handicapped.  In the Buddhist culture it is believed that body deformities are a reflection of past life poor choices.  As a result, Rothtola has lived all of his life in an orphanage with 24 other handicapped kids who were also deserted by their parents and their families.

Rothtola is a handsome young boy with one of the best psychological attitudes I have ever experienced.  He showed me how he can write, use a telephone, put his glasses on, and walk up and down stairs.  His legs are fitted with prostheses and he said that they hurt from time to time, but in general they work very well.  He also talked about how he was bullied and picked on as a younger child because of his handicap, but as he has grown, he says that the bullying has stopped.Rothtola4

Rothtola is convinced that he will be married with children and a happy and successful business person in Phnom Penh after college he goes to college.  And, the kid speaks great English.

If you look at the picture of Rothtola leaning up against the tree, it would be impossible for any observer to notice that he was born without hands and legs.  What an inspiration.



I have been somewhat frustrated by certain Christian critics here in Cambodia who are very judgmental about the presence of orphanages.  They take the position that all children need to be living in family situations, but they continue to be grossly naïve about the cultural stigma that exists throughout the family and extended family.  These Christian individuals would force the handicapped into family situations where they would be unbelievably poor and totally discriminated against. 

It seemed clear to me that the orphanage Rothtola has been associated with all of his life has done a great job with him, and even his teeth sparkle as much as his eyes do.  The orphanage, which is supported by people in Singapore and Switzerland, will support Rothtola all the way through college and into his married years.

Rothtola Orphanage

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Returning to Prag Tale Village

In my most recent Blog I mentioned that I had gone to visit the people in the Prag Tale Village.  These are people who live on the edge of the garbage dump here in Phnom Penh.  Poverty there easily matches any level of impoverishment anywhere in the world.

As I mentioned in the last Blog, I had just received word from a donor friend in Minneapolis the he would be sending me some money. 

After visiting Prag Tale I was moved by their requests for assistance to help them deal with the cold and the lack of food.

Temperatures in these last couple of mornings have dropped to 66 degrees Fahrenheit.  That certainly may not seem like a big deal to the people of Minneapolis and the mid-west who are presently hovering around –9 degrees Fahrenheit.  But for the people who live in this tropical environment with average temperatures most often in the mid-ninety range, 66 degrees can be very uncomfortable.  My team and I immediately went shopping and were able to buy 15 blankets and 24 jackets along with 60 pounds of rice.

We returned with our gifts on Thursday afternoon late.  Word spread throughout the Village that we had come bearing gifts.  I was expecting ten people to receive us, but we easily counted 85 very dirty people who stood in line to get one of our gifts.  I was amazed how fast several hundred dollars could just disappear into the hands of really desperate people. 

As I left I felt a real sense of sadness knowing that we had to turn so many people away.

Thank you so much to everyone who has been supporting us as we reach out to people who are just simply trying to survive for another day. 

They all knew how to thank us and say, “som pra bra dien bo” (God Bless You).

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Prag Tale Village

I haven’t written a Blog in a long time.  I stopped a couple of months ago when I found out that expatriates here in Cambodia were using the information inappropriately, and for the purpose of defaming me.

I’m back today however because of an experience I had this afternoon.  I had heard about the horrible living conditions of people who are raising their families on the edges of the garbage dump.

After my college class ended this afternoon Bora (My Translator) took me to the Prag Tale Village and my breath was literally taken away.  The housing was horrible and the surroundings just stunk. 

I can’t even imagine existing in such a smell for more than a couple of minutes, let alone live there permanently.

The people were so wonderful and welcoming and they immediately identified themselves as “Christians” which almost makes me think that it was a strategy to raise the level of the foreigner’s (me) compassion.  Regardless, it was clear that these people were living in very extreme poverty, the likes of which it is hard for me to describe. 

I was given a warm welcome by the residents, and a tour of the place which for me was horrid. 

I took a picture of one of the houses, and if you look up into the ceiling of this one house you can see the bamboo floor with the slits in it. 

It was clear that my weight would not be supported in any way, climbing the ladder or standing on the floor of the house. 

Inside the house there is no cooking equipment, no bathroom, and no shelter from the cold weather.  I asked about the NGO (Non-government organization) that was based in the village and once again I was quite surprised.  I was told that the NGO only helps children, and so the adults are on their own. 












For me it was somewhat of an irony that four hours earlier, I was told by a St. Paul Cambodian friend that a man was trying to send me $500.00.  Knowing that money was coming I told these people in the Prag Tale Village that I would buy them a bag of rice, fifteen blankets and twenty jackets in an effort to help tolerate the cold weather that we are having.  The man you see in the group photo immediately called out to me “thank you, but please don’t give the items to the community chief.”  I was told that gifts like mine in the past were first given to the commune chief and the items never got to the people.

That’s the definition of corruption.  I know that the USA sends aid to Cambodia, but the money does not reach the people of poverty – ever.  So the same thing was happening here in this small impoverished village.

  The chief keeps the donations meant for the people.

I always want to help, but my money is limited, so knowing that a donor was about to surface gave me the opportunity to reach out and be helpful to these struggling people.

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Third World Country Kids Encounter Video Games.

I guess it is not just in the USA where video games have become an obsession of young kids.  My foster kids here in Cambodia do not even know that there is such a thing as an XBox or an MP3-4-5 etc.

I remember back in the states when people would talk on and on about the impact that video games were having on their children.  Nothing ever happened and the concern just grew and grew. 


Here is Cambodia, I noticed in this morning’s paper that the provincial government at Siem Reap is moving to close down the businesses that cater to young people using computers for video games.

This is an article by Thik Kaliyann written for the Phnom Penh Post, December 5, 2013

Siem Reap provincial authorities are shuttering more than 40 internet cafés in Siem Reap district this week after parents repeatedly lodged complaints with authorities that children were wasting time gaming online, authorities said yesterday.

Tith Narong, Siem Reap town police chief, offered no timeline for how long the crackdown would last but noted that police began closing the internet cafés on Monday.

“We have received many complaints from the parents of children because many of these [internet] shops have online gaming [programs] that children get really absorbed in,” Narong said, adding that constant computer games were distracting youth from studying, according to their parents.

Narong told the Post yesterday that a committee of provincial authorities was created to investigate shops blamed for stirring up all the parental angst, but could not remember exactly when the committee was formed.

Siem Reap Deputy Governor So Platong confirmed that any shop owners intending to ignore the crackdown by continuing to offer online gaming would be disciplined.

“[Shop owners] have to ask our permission to [reopen] and we will make sure they no longer provide online game services in their shops,” Platong said.

At Asia Net, an internet shop in Siem Reap district, an employee who was not authorised to speak to the press told the Post that she was yet to hear about the crackdown.

“I don’t know about this matter. My shop just has normal internet service where my customers can check their email. I have no idea why they would want to close us.”

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Children’s Ministry in the Village

Because of the rising number of children coming to church in our Village each Sunday, I decided to create a children’s service at 3:30 PM and then a family service at 4:30 PM.

It is so much fun to talk with totally non-English children who are coming to church without their parents.  We have a great time and they leave singing “Jesus Love Me.”  Considering that all the children are Buddhists this is a real hoot.

I am told that kids stop by the house where we have the Sunday services and kids ask Lynath, “Is Dr. E here?”  Well I am not, but it is sure fun knowing about their inquiries.

This Sunday we talked about and acted out the story in 1 Samuel about the Giant Goliath and the shepherd boy David.  We made a slingshot and the boy who played David, got me right in the gut.

  Then we played a game I called “Jesus Loves Me” and this was an adaptation of the American game “Duck, Duck, Grey Duck.”

The kids loved their new time and the families (during the 4:30 PM slot) seemed to enjoy the decreased chaos of having to deal with 30-40 kids sitting right in the middle of everything.

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Thanksgiving Dinner–Revisited

We actually ate dinner at our Thanksgiving dinner at our church on Thursday night the 28th of November – Just like in the USA, except that the food was Khmer food.  Some I liked, and some I didn’t like.  The boys however thought that there should also be a home celebration.

Three friends stayed the night on Saturday.  My kids asked for permission to go grocery shopping by themselves and then be permitted to cook their own Thanksgiving meal.


In Cambodian tradition, the dinner was spread out on the floor in the living room and included all of the traditional vegetables, but the item that caught my eye was the BBQ dog sitting directly in the center of the circle and being gobbled up like an American turkey.

I cannot comfortably sit on the floor and I am also not comfortable eating Khmer food, especially dog, so I ate by myself at the dining room table and had spaghetti.

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