27 November 2010

Little things mean a lot

This afternoon I was disturbed by someone knocking on my door. It was my landlady and her daughter. Her daughter is learning English and has helped us communicate on occasion. Today, she told me she thought there was something wrong with my moto. Ouch! Wonder what has happened. I thought I'd better investigate, but first I'd better get properly dressed! I love lazy Saturdays at home when I can be very casual about what I wear, but it's best to be modestly attired before leaving the house.

Anyway, suitably attired, and with keys, sunglasses and helmet in hand I headed downstairs where I quickly discovered that there was indeed a problem. My moto was leaking fuel all over the ground. OK! It's always better to discover these things during daylight than after dark, so I put helmet and sunglasses on, and pushed the bike out into the road. Fortunately for me the repair shop is probably only half a km away, so I walked the bike there. It did not take the guys there very long to pinpoint the source of the leak, a perished piece of hose, which was quickly repaired by snipping off the perished part and rejoining the fuel line. He also very helpfully put some much needed air in my tires and then sent me off to the fuel station at the end of the road to refill the tank! Praise God that I rarely have more than $2 worth of fuel in the tank, so the loss was not huge. Having been almost empty, I could have put $3 in this time, but I'm never quite sure, so just put the usual $2 worth in. Half a tank will get me to and from church tomorrow as well as a few other trips around town.

When I eventually got home, the landlady was out, but I do have a small gift to give her next time I see her. Little things like them climbing the stairs and knocking on my door to tell me actually mean a lot.

One day at a time

Christmas is coming, but it doesn't feel like it. Christmas in Cambodia is definitely different to Christmas in Australia. Yes, the commercialism is starting to creep in, especially in some of the larger stores. You can now buy tacky Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, and even some Christmas cards. As I have watched friends posting on Facebook about setting up Christmas trees and decorating, and even buying "Back-to-School" supplies, I have felt twinges of wishing for Christmas at home, but then I remember how long it takes to get there and back again (and the cost), and I think that I rather just stay here and enjoy the peace and the break from the everyday routine.

It's hard to get excited about Christmas when you know that you are single. Christmas is  much more fun when little children are involved. Yes, I do enjoy celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus, but I sometimes fear that this purpose is lost to much of the world where Christmas is celebrated. I'm also wondering if it's OK to share the real reason for Christmas with my students. My heart desperately wants to do this, to set up a Nativity in the classroom, and to read the real Christmas story to my children. I guess I'd better put this on the list of things I have to talk to the principal about. I don't want to deny the other parts of Christmas, and am happy to decorate the classroom with other Christmas characters as well, but I need to be able to share His love with my students. That's why I'm here. God will guide me through this Christmas season, and it will be just the Christmas He wants it to be.

One day at a time. That's all God asks me to handle. He gives the strength for each day, as the day comes. I want to praise Him that He has given me the strength for each day this week as they have come. He has guided me through each day, and ensured that the children have been learning things along the way. He guided me as I allowed the children to share their experiences of the Water Festival holiday, including the tragedy. Cambodian television did not sanitise the shocking images that were shown on the local television stations, and they were played over and over again, with no apparent thought that children might be watching this as well as adults. Some of my students have seen things no child should have to see. Pray that they will not suffer as a result of this. Pray that I will continue to be sensitive to them in relation to this.

As my body continues to fight off the germs that have been attacking it, it is a reminder of the need to take care of our bodies. They are his temple, and so we need to respect them. I pray that He will help me to do just that in the coming days and weeks. God, you have given me so many good things that I do not deserve. Thank You. Please help me not to complain when tougher times come along, but to lean on You and Your everlasting, unchanging love.

25 November 2010


How can a single day be both a day of Thanksgiving and a day of Mourning? It seems to be a contradiction of major proportions, and yet it has happened today. I've been reminded in different ways, that for my American friends today is Thanksgiving Day, and I hope that they have been able to be truly thankful for the many, many good things God has given us all. While some have reservations about this day, I personally think that it is a great idea to have a day that is dedicated to giving thanks. I'm not sure it needs all the food, and other stuff that goes with it, but I guess that's part of the fun. Having said that, shouldn't every day be Thanksgiving Day? I'm thankful that I woke up this morning! Thankful for a bed to sleep in. For air-conditioning to facilitate sleep. Thankful for food to eat, clean water to drink, clothes to wear, a home to come back to at the end of each day, internet, friends, family, and most of all a living God, who cares about me, whom I can have a personal relationship with.

I need to remember too that He is a holy and righteous God, and nothing that happens in this world is missed by Him. He knows what happened here in Cambodia on Monday night. He knows about the miners in New Zealand and their families. He knows about the conflict between North & South Korea. He knows about little Calvin Dedert and the sufferings of that baby boy, and how hard it is for his parents to see him suffering. Yes, He knows all things, but He wants us to tell Him about them. He might already know how we feel, but He wants us to tell Him. He want us to tell him about the injustices of this world, exactly as we see them. He may not change this, but don't doubt for a minute that He hears you, and He cares.

Today was officially a Day of Mourning here in Cambodia. On the surface it seemed as if life was just going on as usual, but it wasn't quite. Yes, many businesses were open as usual, and we had school as usual, but all around the city the flags were flying at half mast. On major holidays here in Phnom Penh households and businesses are expected to fly the Cambodian flag. Many mini flagpoles are installed in specially drilled holes on the pavements, then removed when the holiday is over. Today those flags were all flying, but at half mast. Our school flag has been at half mast since Wednesday morning (at least), and this morning we observed a minute's silence before separating to our classrooms to start the day's work. Government offices were all closed. Continue to pray for the people of Cambodia. Pray especially for those who were caught on the bridge and survived. Trauma counselling and Critical Incident debriefing are not easily obtained in this country, and yet there are going to be many young people who will suffer unseen effects for many days, weeks, and even years to come. Pray for their families, that they will know the best ways to help them. Pray for those who are able to provide those services, that they will not be burned out.

As I finish writing, this post, it is with the hope that I can move on from here and focus again on positive things, and with the knowledge that God is good, all the time! Who He is does not change, although the circumstances around us do. Give it all to Him, and give Him the glory and praise and thanksgiving that is also due to Him.

23 November 2010

How did this happen?

That is the question on the lips of many here in Phnom Penh at this time. I don't know if we will ever know the full story of what happened on the Koh Pich bridge last night, but I do know that there are many grieving families in this country tonight. Most of those killed and injured were young people, often young women, who had gone out to simply enjoy the final celebrations of the biggest festival of the year. In many cases they were their families hope for a better future. There are many reports in the media about what happened, and some graphic footage has been shown on local and international television. The prime minister has declared a National Day of Mourning on Thursday. What that means, I'm not really sure.

At this stage I do not personally know any of those killed or injured or their families, but that may change tomorrow when I go to school. I pray it doesn't but if it does, I pray that God will give me the right words to say in whatever situation I find myself in. Meanwhile, I can pray for those who are grieving. Grief in this country is something which is shared both visibly and audibly. For many it is a grief without hope. Pray especially for any who are Christians, grieving Christian young people, that God will bring something good out of this tragedy.

As I watched postings on Facebook today, I was reminded of God's protection of His children. One of this year's Seniors at Logos International School posted that that she had been at the site, but chose to go home at 9.15pm. By 10.00pm she was home. When she got home she saw, on the television, all that was happening. She could so easily have been caught on the bridge. I praise God for His protection of this child of His. How many others were likewise protected? We may never know.

Some will question how a good God can let these things happen? I think that if I lost someone precious to me in this disaster I would ask that question too. I don't know the answer. I just know that we live in a world that is fallen, and so we see bad things happening. I also know that God's word says "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28). As we pray for those who are grieving, let us also pray that God will bring something good from this terrible disaster.

16 November 2010

Just clowning around!

This afternoon the children (and teachers) from Grades 2, 3 and 4 at East-West International School were treated to a fun performance by two crazy, clever clowns. Organised by one of my colleagues, the children watched two zany clowns from the Clowns Without Borders present an exciting performance. The children alternatively giggled and gasped as the clowns danced, acted and juggled their way through the afternoon. Some of the children even had a chance to participate!
Earlier today I was wondering what activity I would assign the children during our reading response time tomorrow morning, but I’m wondering no more. Instead of a reading response, this time I will ask the children to write and draw about this afternoon’s performance. We will brainstorm words that we could use to write about both what they saw and how they felt. It will be interesting to see what things they remember and which things they enjoyed the most. A big thank you to the guys from Clowns Without Borders for their performance and another one to Miss Nadia for organising the visit to EWIS.

15 November 2010

Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

Combining well known passages from the early chapters of Acts with anecdotal stories from Bible times to today, this book seeks to challenge readers to “make a difference”. From young people to the elderly, Max invites readers to make a difference, in one way or another.

When I read the first few chapters of Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado I was a little disappointed. I’ve read most of his other inspirational titles, and this one just didn’t seem destined to have the impact of some of the others. After all, I’m already living and working cross-culturally in a third world country, where I hope that I am making a difference in the lives of the children that I teach. I’ve definitely stepped out of my comfort zone of middle class Australia. Fortunately, having agreed to review this book, I kept on reading and I’m really glad I did because once again God is using Max’s writing to challenge me. Some of the later chapters are definitely touching some sensitive spots. A gentle reminder of the power of prayer, something nothing and no-one can stop us doing, was timely for me. Don’t take my word for it. Get hold of a copy of this book and read it with an open heart. You can make a difference!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com http://BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

13 November 2010

Miss Karen I like Maths now!

It's comments like this that just make your day. This came from a little girl in my class who really finds mathematics difficult. She spent the first 5 years of her life in an orphanage, and while I'm sure she was provided with the physical things she needed there is so much that she missed out on. Simple things like counting games in the car on family trips, like helping mummy count the cans of soup to buy in the weekly grocery shop, like playing counting games with big brothers and sisters. Mathematics is all around us in the world, but children in orphanages tend to miss out on much of this. This little girl is fortunate. She was adopted by loving parents who are doing their best, not only to provide her with her current needs, but also to help her make up for some of the things she has missed. I love mathematics, and having my students enjoy it is just one of the many pleasures of being a teacher. It's not always easy to do this, especially when students have not seen successes in the past, but it is worth every minute of preparation that it takes to help the struggling students and at the same time extend the more capable ones. I love this job!

06 November 2010

It's too cold!

On Thursday morning this week it was not until I had been at school for about 15 minutes that I realised I'd left my swimsuit at home. Oh no! Swimming is compulsory, and teachers are expected to be in the water with their students. I will admit that I wasn't looking forward to swimming, but I had put all my gear in my swim bag ready to go and then simply forgot about it in the early morning rush. I decided to confess to the principal and see what she wanted me to do. I always prefer being up front about these things. As it turned out, she had been meaning to tell us that, given the usually cool temperatures this week, it would be OK for us not to do swimming this week. Hooray! That got me out of a whole. While some of the students were a little disappointed, the girls all enjoyed our skipping and ball games time. The boys were a little more disappointed on Friday, although not all of them, however by the time they had spent 45 minutes playing UNO in groups of 7 or 8 with a teacher or assistant none were upset by it. Brrr! While I'm enjoying the cooler weather, I do hope it warms up a little before next Thursday, or at least that it is a little less windy than it was on Thursday and Friday. That wind was definitely coming from Arctic regions!

Sharing your writing is so much fun.

One of the fun things that part of my class did this week was to share their writing with some of the students in one of the Kindergarten classes. I mentioned two weeks ago that one of my Language Arts groups had been writing "David" stories. Some of the children didn't get them finished in class, so I gave them a week to finish them, and on Wednesday this week we headed down to Kindergarten to read the stories. First I read the original "David goes to School" to the class, then we paired the children up and they each got to read their stories to several Kindergarten students. The stories have now been placed on display in the school library so other children can enjoy the work of these budding authors.

I learned a lot from this teaching activity. I think the most important thing that I learned is that if you give children a model and a structure they find it much easier to write, than if you just ask them to write you a story. This is especially true for students working in their second or third language. As a teacher, I know that I still have so much to learn, and I hope that I will always be a lifelong learner.

Another fun writing task we have undertaken over the last week has been letter writing. Over the summer we were contacted by a teacher in the UK who wanted to give her students a genuine writing activity, as well as a chance to learn a little more about another country. We received the letters from her students a short time ago (yep, arrived safely through the mail), and hopefully all the replies from my students will be ready to post off on Tuesday or Wednesday next week. Most are done, but a few still have pictures to finish. They've asked if we would send them some audio/video, so that will also be on the agenda of things to do on Monday. That will need to go electronically, but it will be fun to do. Hopefully my internet connection will cooperate sufficiently to allow me to send it, or I might just burn it on a CD and send it that way. Either way, it's fun for the children to have this link with children on the other side of the world, and to see some of the ways their penpal's lives are similar and different to their own.

Writing can also be challenging. Children who read widely are also better able to write well. Imagine that you can speak a language, but cannot read or write it. When most of your lessons are in that language, school has just become so much more difficult. Planning meaningful lessons when your student's abilities vary from beginning readers to competent readers reading at or above grade level is especially challenging. That's one of the main challenges of my classroom this year. There's a great resource that I've been trialling the last week, but it requires a subscription for me to continue using it. It allows me to differentiate my reading lessons very well without too much effort, and the program contains a substantial number of non-fiction texts as well as fiction ones, so cultural issues become less of a problem than with other programs. Pray that I will make wise decisions about the best and most ethical use of the limited resources available to me.