Kratie Day 1

After a 7-hour long roadtrip all the way across Cambodia, we finally arrived in a sleepy town in Kratie Province in southeast Cambodia. Our hotel was surprisingly clean and had internet, air conditioning and hot water, which makes it pretty glamorous for that area! Only exception is that the hotel did not stock any toilet paper. Luckily we were able to take some from the SP office in case of emergencies.

One of the things that struck us as we drove into the province were the trees and the hills. Our little corner of the country tends to be flat, dry and sparse; so to drive into hills covered with rows and rows of rubber trees and slowly rolling hills is quite beautiful. But, then we realized that because it's rubber trees, none of it is natural. Endless acres of indigenous forests had been ripped away to clear the land for the plantations. We saw some evidence of more forest being cleared, and it was not a pretty sight. One of our group had flashbacks of Michael Jackson grabbing charred trees and singing, "What about the elephants?" in "The Earth Song" video.  (watch it - you'll be in for a treat)

Our first day was spent driving out into villages, visiting different places where SP plans to work. SP's main focus right now is maternal health - helping mothers have healthy lives and pregnancies so they can have healthy children and families. There are few other programs in the area. Many of the people in the villages work as day laborers in the nearby forests or plantations, as well as traveling to other locations searching for jobs. 

This house is home for two parents and six children.

We also visited a local health center which SP plans on partnering with. A health center is somewhat similar to the county health departments that exist in communities throughout America. Families can visit for vaccinations, well child visits, and pregnancy care. Midwives and nurses also deliver newborns at the center, since the nearest hospital is too far for most families to travel to. In fact, the health center we visited is too far for some of the villages we drove to, as during the rainy season the roads become impassable. We heard one story where a woman in labor tried to reach the health center to deliver her child, but died on the road along the way. It's pretty horrific to imagine any woman or newborn dying just because the roads are too difficult for her to reach help.

Waiting in the shade to meet the health center staff

The local health center

While on the road, it becomes a bit more complicated but not impossible to stay in touch with other staff and leaders in other offices. Andrew and another manager had a meeting they needed to attend while we were traveling. So on goes the loudspeaker for the phone, in goes the dual head sets, and attend the meeting they did!

Andrew's main interest in this visit was the water situation in the area. We spent a lot of time looking at wells, testing them out, and talking to people about their use of water. We found a surprising number of wells in different villages, but they often went dry during the dry season, and there weren't nearly enough to meet the needs of all the people. On our last home leave, Andrew brought back some GPS devices, and he used them on the trip to mark the different water access points we found. He also used it to track our average speed on the way home, the predicted time of sunset, and the circles we drove in when we got lost a time or two.

A deep well - good water source, but not covered, which allows easy contamination. It's also difficult to get water, since you have to drop the bucket and haul it up - a lot of work if you need 20 liters a day for a family.

We ended the day visiting a small school in a local village. The setting sun gave off the most beautiful light, highlighting the well-used school, chipped paint and all.

The following day held some pretty exciting adventures, including a long drive into the forest, a walk over a rickety bridge, and a moto drive down a dusty road lined with waving school children. The story will soon follow...

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