it’s always a pleasure to turn my blog over to someone who has recently returned from facilitating a Writing Through workshop. There are no better ambassadors for the work that we do than the talented and brave people who go out into the field and work with the students themselves. Today, let me introduce Martha Scarborough, an American living in Singapore, who has recently returned home and posted this blog. Thanks, Martha!!
“In early September, I made my first trip as a facilitator for Writing Through to ODA (Opportunities of Development thru Art) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Barbara Rittner accompanied me from Singapore to shadow and experience the Writing Through process on the ground and prepare to deliver it herself someday soon.
From the moment we hopped into our hotel tuk-tuk with our luggage stacked precariously around us, we knew we were in for an adventure.
ODA is a grassroots NGO situated in the temple precinct, between Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm temples. It is a family residence for disadvantaged children, built by a wonderful Khmer couple, Leng Touch and Sry On, to provide a creative, educative and loving environment for children without homes. ODA currently supports 33+ children at their ‘Family Home’. It may seem a strange thing to say of a refuge, but the children under ODA’s care here are really extremely lucky, as it is a sad fact of life in Cambodia that 2-3 meals a day and primary and secondary education are not enjoyed by many children at all – with hunger being a critical issue.
The children also study painting and create lovely artwork that is sold to support the operation of the shelter. Every time a child’s painting is sold, it is entered into a ledger with a percentage put aside to fund his or her future university tuition. Leng and Sry On do an amazing job of creating a real family feeling for these children and young adults, while enriching their education and preparing them for productive lives as adults.
Our Writing Through workshop began with 12 students, age 11- 18. The children were dropped off after their morning of government school classes and hurried to change out of uniforms and gather for a quick lunch before our afternoon class. We were included in the amazing lunches supplied daily by the mother of one of our students. I must say, she is a gifted cook, and Barbara and I both remarked that these were some of the best meals we had in Siem Reap!
Our classroom was open to the outdoors, and sounds from motorcycles to roosters to little ones playing nearby created a lively and challenging environment, although probably more so for me than for the students, who are used to studying and concentrating as life flows on around them.
Standing before these 12 students, none of whom had written a poem before, and most of whom didn’t know what a poem is, I felt the moment of exhilaration before a roller coaster takes off on a wild ride. Although the ODA students were gracious and attentive, there was clearly a slight tension and a trace of fear in the air. ‘How can we do something we don’t know how to do?’ And then we were off! For me, the beauty of the Writing Through model is expressed in the magical moment when, for each student, that fear melts away and is channeled into focused creative effort.
The poems and stories produced by the ODA students were full of joy, longing, curiosity and compassion. At the suggestion of Shirley, the ODA administrator, they were accompanied in the magazine by skillful illustrations done by each student for his or her poem.
At our Big Event, generously accompanied by Barbara Rittner’s fabulous chocolate birthday cake, the students jumped up in quick succession to read their poems and stories. The pride shown by the students was matched by the attentiveness and delight expressed by the audience. Included in the audience were the ODA little ones (from age 3), and the graduate IT expert who helped produce the magazine. A special treat came with a quick appearance by Leng and Sry On’snew daughter, just 8 days old.
It was a great privilege to spend a week with the ODA family and be a part of such a supportive and lively organization. As Barbara and I prepared for our final tuk-tuk ride out, we were surrounded by well-wishers extending prayers for our future health and happiness. In the weeks since my return to Singapore, I find my heart still connected to these students, and I send them well-wishes in return.
Thank you again to Martha and Barbara. We are a small organisation growing like crazy, and are always looking for volunteers to help in all sorts of ways. Do let me know if you’d like to become involved. This is really the power and the beauty of writing in action, writing changing lives!