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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Thanksgiving Celebration in the Village – 2013

For the past dozen years I have attended a special Thanksgiving celebration at my home church – Wooddale in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  The activity as I recall was exactly one hour in length.  It involved an opening prayer and one song.  For the entire remaining time, microphones were open and available for anyone who wanted to come forward and share the blessings of God during the past year.  We copied that activity here in Cambodia.  even with the language barrier we were able to understand what each of us was thankful for.

I tried my best to copy that activity here in my small Cambodian Village church.

  I spent about three weeks inviting people to participate and I had no idea about what kind of response I would get.







To my surprise 28 people showed up. 

I deviated from the Wooddale pattern which did not involve food.  In Cambodia people are really attracted by food and so I proposed that we do what in Minnesota is referred to as a pot luck.  It was exciting to see the response and there were even three dishes for which I could be thankful.

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Teaching World Literature In A Cambodian College

Yesterday was my first attempt to bring real world literature to evolving English students in this Third World country of Cambodia. 

I have a text book that is 1247 pages long, and which comes with a price tag that is more money than these students live on for the entire school year.  These are students who do not own computers, or cell phones, or other kinds of computerized toys enjoyed by American students.Smile

As a result, I am trying to find creative ways to bring important literature to them by transferring great pieces to my computer and from there to some hand outs.

On Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving in class.  The students had never heard of Thanksgiving, and so it was an opportunity to talk about a new concept and compare that concept to messages in literature that I found in Africa. 

We went to Africa and I lifted a story from a book called Out of Africa which gave us access to the story “The Iguana” by Isak Dinesen.  The story talks about how Isak Dinesen was attracted by the spectacular colors of the Iguana.  As a result she shot an Iguana in an attempt to use the beautiful skin of this animal for her personal use.  She discovered that as soon as the Iguana was shot it lost its color and suddenly had no useful purpose for her.

We took that concept into the Thanksgiving classroom and compared that to human beings all over the world who are never satisfied with what they have – and always want more.  The human race as a whole does find it hard to understand all that they already have to be thankful for.

My students struggled with the vocabulary, but we managed to get through the essay and grow in our human understanding as a result. 

It was truly a wonderful session and I was quite surprised to discover that there is technique available to teach world literature through the use of creativity.

Out of Africa

The Iguana

By Isak Dinesen




Dinesen ends with the warning, “for the sake of your own eyes and heart, shoot not the Iguana.”

THE IGUANA by Isak Dinesen

In the reserve I have sometimes come upon the iguanas, the big lizards, as they were sunning themselves upon a flat stone in a river-bed. They are not pretty in shape, but nothing can be imagined more beautiful than their coloring. They shine like a heap of precious stones or like a pane cut out of an old church window. When, as you approach, they swish away, there is a flash of azure, green, and purple over the stones, the color seems to be standing behind them in the air, like a comet’s luminous tail.

Once I shot an iguana. I thought that I should be able to make some pretty things from his skin. A strange thing happened then, that I have never afterwards forgotten. As I went up to him, where he was lying dead upon his stone, and actually while I was walking the few steps, he faded and grew pale; all color died out of him as in one long sigh, and by the time that I touched him he was grey and dull like a lump of concrete. It was the live impetuous blood pulsating within the animal which had radiated out all that glow and splendor. Now that the flame was put out, and the soul had flown, the iguana was as dead as a sandbag.

Often since I have, in some sort, shot an iguana, and I have remembered the one in the Reserve. Up at Meru I saw a young Native girl with a bracelet on, a leather strap two inches wide, and embroidered all over with very small turquoise-colored beads which varied a little in color and played in green, light blue, and ultramarine. It was an extraordinarily live thing; it seemed to draw breath on her arm, so that I wanted it for myself, and made Farah buy it from her. No sooner had it come upon my own arm than it gave up the ghost. It was nothing now, a small, cheap, purchased article of finery. It had been the play of colors, the duet between the turquoise and the ‘nègre’ — that quick, sweet, brownish black, like peat and black pottery, of the Native’s skin that had created the life of the bracelet.

In a foreign country and with foreign species of life one should take measures to find out whether things will be keeping their value when dead. To the settlers of East Africa I give the advice: ‘For the sake of your own eyes and heart, shoot not the Iguana.’

Vocabulary Words:

Reserve – Land set aside by the government for a specific purpose, such as wildlife preservation.

Luminous – Emitting light.

Impetuous – Impulsive, acting sometimes without thinking.

Pulsate – To throb or beat rhythmically.

Suppress – To keep secret.

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