Friday, December 12, 2008
One of my good friends in Cambodia is Vandong the monk, a young, amazingly charismatic man who started an organization to help the most vulnerable people in his hometown of Kampong Seam.
Just a couple of years ago, BSDA was run on nothing but the strength of Vandong's goodwill and the free time of a couple of other monk volunteers. Now, thanks to his cult of personality, the organization has an office, a computer lab, English classes, two buildings for the children, a full stage for the kids' dancing performances, a car, a tuk-tuk, money for programs, and more volunteers.
Vandong is a go-getter. He sees something that needs doing and he finds a way. It's not always methodical, and not always perfect, but he works tirelessly and has an uncanny knack for drawing others to his cause. Vandong and I met soon after I came to Cambodia when he was leading a ceremonial New Year blessing of our office. The outgoing volunteers warned me that Vandong would find a way to "suck me in" to help with BSDA's programs, and they were right. There was just no refusing Vandong. I don't know if was the bright orange robe, or his dazzling smile that was more mesmerizing, but whatever it was, it drew me back to the BSDA offices week after week to help read over donor reports, write new grants, and lend Vandong a sympathetic ear.
When people came to Kampong Cham looking for volunteer opportunities, I sent them over to Vandong. Les Frenchies did a presentation for Vandong's staff about the medical effects of drugs for their drug rehabilitation program and my couchsurfer extraordinaire helped train the English teachers on making lesson plans.
BSDA runs a variety of programs, including life skills like sewing, mushroom growing and pig raising, drug rehabilitation programs, drug-use prevention, and some scholarships. But by far my favorite program is the program to teach Khmer music and dance to orphans and vulnerable children. The kids are practice with a professional teacher and perform for the community and occasionally for tourists. In the process, they gain confidence, self-esteem, and a foothold into the broader community.