Archive for the ‘volunteer’ Category

New Website

June 7, 2011

Hello all!

Many thanks for all your support over the last year as I travel, work and write. It’s come time, however, to change things up a little. As a result, I’ve launched a new website:

www.stevensirski.com

I am still trying to figure out how to post pictures, but I hope to have that done shortly. I’ve tried to clean things up a little for easier navigation. Please let me know if I’ve been successful or if something needs to be changed.

If you have any suggestions, please contact me at stevensirski [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be more than happy to talk/chat/email with you.

As for this site, I will keep it active for now, but will stop updating it shortly.

Many thanks for your continued support,

Steve

Merry Christmas! And about those goats…

December 25, 2010

I know it’s a bit late in the day, but I just wanted to make a quick post to wish you a Merry Christmas! Did you remember to track Santa with NORAD?

I hope you and yours have a great and safe holiday season. Enjoy your time together since you never know where the next year will take you (for me, last year it was Busan, 2011 might be Poland/Ukraine!)

My family did something a little different this year. Instead of exchanging gifts we bought goats. My brothers and sister raised enough cash to buy one herd, our Dad matched that and added one more, which was then matched by the Government of Canada and other organizational donors bringing us to a total of six herds. (If you buy a herd they also send along some boy goats so they can, um, well, propagate the species.)

So, sometime soon, a bunch of families in Africa will be receiving goats, goat training, assistance with breeding them wild beasts, animal shelters and various drugs and supplies to help the goats be productive. Plan Canada, the company through which we bought our goats, apparently keeps 20% of the money for operating costs, other than that, it’s all goat milk from there.

Ah, for those of you wondering where this idea came from, well, my sister saw a documentary called Where’s My Goat?, about this guy, Christopher Richardson, who buys an “ethical gift” from Plan Canada. Curious to know if its the real deal or a scam, he goes to Africa to find out. Although I have yet to see it, you can find some more information about it on the website. A write-up about the documentary on the University of King’s College website gives a glimpse of the controversial nature of this “ethical gift” giving. I’m eager to see it.

Filmmaker tracks down his gift to an Africa family, a goat.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Week 2 – April 26th to April 30th, 2010

April 30, 2010

So I’ve finished my 3 week stint teaching English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I’ll miss the kids. It was like seeing one big family taking care of each other. I took quite a few pictures on my last day, and the kids and I had fun using the video camera to record our antics, even in front of the Australian lady visitor we had (no idea who she was). Watching the kids take care of each other was phenomenal. If some kid fell down and hit his head, often he cried for 3 seconds until someone acknowledged his pain and suffering, and then he stopped and ran off to the next activity. I saw kids falling off of benches (and yes, I did try to stop them), and all they needed was a hug to keep going. My mom used to tell me to be more resilient. Sheeit, these kids are the epitome of the word.

So how did it go? It was fun. I didn’t try to teach the kids anything new, opting instead to get them using whatever knowledge they had already. I read some more books to them and then on Wednesday we watched Kung Fu Panda. Thursday was actually a write-off since I was out with a head cold (and I know which little devil gave it to me!!!) This was a very easy week. My goal on Friday was to make a movie with the kids, but NONE of them were interested. I stopped by again on Saturday with some treats for the kids and we had a party. I bought some VCDs (Khmer karaoke) for the kids to sing along with, but then I was informed that the DVD player didn’t work. One of the kids had an old CD player and managed to find some computer speakers (I have NO idea where they came from) and made one of the CDs he had work. I don’t think the kids enjoyed the music I brought 😦

It’s been a very good experience for me while at SFODA. I would come back. Many of the other volunteers who I’ve met have different itineraries than I. Some are in Cambodia explicitly to volunteer to complete some degree requirements, others are on prolonged travels and have no urgency to get back to where they came from. I do question whether or not I made a difference in the kids’ lives. I’m told that they were asking for me the day I was absent, but I wonder if I’m just one of many open-minded and fun volunteers that have passed through those gates. I’ve also been informed that the staff thinks I’m an actor because I can change my voice (yes, including my amazing British/Australian/Scottish/Latin accent, my “gay” voice, my penchant to sing and my high-pitched female voice) and my facial expressions.

As I move towards Vietnam this weekend, I can’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come over the last 3 months alone. I finished up a contract in South Korea that put me in touch with a whole swack of interesting people (such as crazy Blackburn women, a rockstar, a natural playa, beautiful women, a great cook, amongst others). And now I’m moving through southeast Asia having met fighters in Thailand (including a squadron of Canadians in Phuket), a British diplomant (well, I call him them because he’s a hell of a lot nicer than I am to the tuk-tuk drivers), and now hot Swedish and Asian women.

With that, Vietnam, here I come.

Volunteering Week 2 – April 19th to 23rd, 2010

April 26, 2010

This week was my first full week at the orphanage. Teaching here has been an interesting adventure. There aren’t as many resources available here as there were in South Korea. The place has some school supplies (such as markers, pencils, paper, and some books) and has an area dedicated to being the classroom. But as for photocopy or printing, it’s lacking.

Few of the bigger kids don’t seem to care to learn any more than what they learn in school. Sometimes they show up, sometimes they don’t. The younger kids, however, I’ve found to be very eager to learn. They love colouring, and that can easily take up 30 minutes if I let it. They also love when I read them books. We have a few of those books where the kids have to look at the picture and say the word. My antics seem to go over very well. Lesson plans are pretty basic, and I don’t really have any specific topic I try to teach them since their school text books and/or teachers seem to be doing a pretty good job. As a result, I read to them, play some games, give them worksheets, and get them talking about whatever.

I’m supposed to teach for about 2 hours in the morning and afternoon but I’m not. Cambodia has a weird school system where the little kids go in the morning and the older kids go in the afternoon. Then they switch every month. The little kids can bear with for an hour, but then they make it known that they want to go. They’re smart kids, love to participate and they are obedient. The girls seem to enjoy talking in a conversational style more than the boys, while the boys are much more eager to play games, especially sports. Outside of “class time”, I spend time talking to the kids, but much more time fighting the boys. I told them I do Khmer boxing and so they took the opportunity to test my skills. The boys are pretty good at boxing. There are two or three of them that I can see being quite strong when they grow up. There’s also one kid who loves break dancing. He’s okay right now, but if he keeps it up he’ll be able to pull any chick in the bar when he’s older. Good luck my man!

I think this will be one of my last teaching stints. Although I’m enjoying my time as a teacher, it’s not something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I would do it again especially if I needed the money, but I think the next challenge lies in finding a different type of job for a while.

This last week was my first full week at the orphanage. Teaching here has been an interesting adventure. There aren’t as many resources available here as there were in South Korea. The place has some school supplies (such as markers, pencils, paper, and some books) and has an area dedicated to being the classroom. But as for photocopy or printing, it’s lacking.

Few of the bigger kids don’t seem to care to learn any more than what they learn in school. Sometimes they show up, sometimes they don’t. The younger kids, however, I’ve found to be very eager to learn. They love colouring, and that can easily take up 30 minutes if I let it. They also love when I read them books. We have a few of those books where the kids have to look at the picture and say the word. My antics seem to go over very well. Lesson plans are pretty basic, and I don’t really have any specific topic I try to teach them since their school text books and/or teachers seem to be doing a pretty good job. As a result, I read to them, play some games, give them worksheets, and get them talking about whatever.

I’m supposed to teach for about 2 hours in the morning and afternoon but I’m not. Cambodia has a weird school system where the little kids go in the morning and the older kids go in the afternoon. Then they switch every month. The little kids can bear with for an hour, but then they make it known that they want to go. They’re smart kids, love to participate and they are obedient. The girls seem to enjoy talking in a conversational style more than the boys, while the boys are much more eager to play games, especially sports. Outside of “class time”, I spend time talking to the kids, but much more time fighting the boys. I told them I do Khmer boxing and so they took the opportunity to test my skills. The boys are pretty good at boxing. There are two or three of them that I can see being quite strong when they grow up. There’s also one kid who loves break dancing. He’s okay right now, but if he keeps it up he’ll be able to pull any chick in the bar when he’s older. Good luck my man!

I think this will be one of my last teaching stints. Although I’m enjoying my time as a teacher, it’s not something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I would do it again especially if I needed the money, but I think the next challenge lies in finding a different type of job for a while.

I’m in talks with the orphanage to sell some prints of their paintings. If you’re interested, let me know. I’ve commissioned a special larger painting of Angkor Wat which I will copy and sell. Majority of the proceeds will go to the orphanage while I’ll retain a part of the proceeds to cover my costs. Otherwise, you can email the orphanage directly and ask them about the paintings they have for sale. All original paintings sold contribute to the development of the orphanage.

Day 6: April 9th, 2010 – HOA and A German Woman

April 10, 2010

Didn’t go into my orphanage today. They told me yesterday not to go in. I did, however, go to another orphanage, Hope of Orphanage Association. Another girl who is in the same program as I works there. It was her last day so a few of us from the guesthouse went there to see the kids. It was a good thing I went because I picked up a few good ideas for games there. One of the best was filling up 4 bowls of water and placing 4 empty bottles opposite those bowls (about 20 feet away). The kids had to suck in the water from the bowls then run across and spit it into the bottles. They had to repeat the process until all of the team members were done. I imagined this as a good party-drinking game. For adults, not the orphans.

Came home early, around 12:30. Fell asleep for a few hours. Woke up and tried to finish reading First they Killed My Father by Loung Ung. Found myself wanting coffee. Went to go find GOOD coffee (couldn’t) and ended up playing the Cambodian version of hacky sack with a group of Cambodian men. This game, however, had an arrow with a spring at one end of it so it could bounce. Played it for something like 30 minutes.

Afterwards I met up with a few folks at the FCC, the Foreign Correspondents Club, a coffee shop on the river front. We stayed there for happy hour, meaning half-priced jugs of sangria ($6.75). Headed to Guesthouse #11 for food and more drinks before heading to our coordinator’s house for a party. Met a bunch of folks from Germany and Australia mostly. Got drunk talking to a German girl. She was curious why some Americans seem so superficial. I was so tempted to give Jim Carrey’s line in Liar, Liar: “It’s because you have big boobs.” I must be getting older because I refrained from saying it.

So ended the day.

Day 5: April 8th, 2010 – Teaching English and African Health Advice

April 10, 2010

Good day today.

Played with the kids in the morning. I actually taught a class in the afternoon, too! A full 1 hour and 30 minutes. These kids are super smart. They knew a lot of animals, colours, numbers, the alphabet, descriptions, languages, and countries. The kids loved my lesson on languages of the world. It all started with the French. They asked if I knew it, I’m like, fuckin eh I know French, and wrote some on the board. Next, Chinese? I’m like, sure, I know Chinese, and scribbled something on the board, and the kids laughed. So we worked our way through Japanese, Thai, Italian, Korean, Islam and Khmer. I don’t know half of those languages, but they found it absolutely fucking hilarious that I was trying to write them on the board. They especially laughed when I wrote some Khmer on the board: something that resembled a squiggly happy face. They impressed me, though, because they could spell words like Chinese and Korean (the hardest was Italian). After I tested their animal, description and sentence-making abilities, we moved on to an epic game of hangman, a beautiful game that sucked up 20 minutes of time. Really impressed. I’m going to have to step up my efforts to challenge them next time.

The one thing that really surprised me today was how one kid was interested in learning about the stock market, or at least he sat through my blathering. His name is Sokhum and he’s about 12 years old. I was checking my stocks when he walked into the office and sat down. I showed him some charts, I showed him how I’ve lost some money on one stock, but made money on some others. I tried to teach him about trend lines, but I’m not sure he completely understood how to draw them. He did understand that an up-trend line is good, whereas a down-trend line is bad. At the end, we went through about 6 or 7 stocks and we pretended to buy 100 shares each. He owns lsg.to, pnp.to and osk.to. He did not want to buy clm.to I bought clm.to, bbd/b.to, and lsg.to. I told him we’ll try to check the prices every day. Next week we have off, so I’ll see if he’s still interested in another week’s time.

Bought two paintings. I’ll post pictures. The orphans made them. Made me think of how I can get the kids involved in writing a story with me.

Back at the guesthouse, one of the girl’s works in the kitchen wanted me to teach her some dance moves. I tried to teach her a few, but she was shy, more willing in words than in body.

Heard one of the funniest health tips ever today from a Swedish girl took some advice from a Ghanan doctor: stop eating meat and drink whiskey. Four shots in the morning, one at night. Wow. I have yet to try. No doubt it’d make my day a lot better!

Did some creative writing today. Working on the feature film to be shot in Canada this year.

Day 4: April 7th, 2010 – First Day at SFODA

April 10, 2010

Woke up early today, ca. 4 am, with some nightmares about Cambodian ghosts. I think it had something to do with visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 on Monday. It all started when I had to take a piss and had to use my iPod as a flashlight. Imagine how freaky it would be to turn on your iPod to use as a flashlight and then stumble across a young girl in a white dress and her eyes poked out in your room. Those are the sort of images that were running through my head. Of course, my mind wouldn’t let it go and I kept thinking about how many ghosts Cambodia must have, especially in the country side. Are all of the victims of the genocide resting in peace?

So I found out today that I won’t actually be teaching English until AFTER the Khmer New Year, which is next week. Talked to my Sebastian (program coordinator) about it, and we’ll try to work something out. The idea was thrown around to have me stay for two weeks after the New Year celebrations. As much as I don’t have a deadline, I also don’t have endless pockets to fund this project. Money is a funny thing. Though I’m concerned about it, my good friend Steve told me before I left for Europe last year that money is never the issue and is usually the tip of a much larger ice berg. The debate is now whether or not I can afford and want to stay in Cambodia for a full month instead of just two weeks.

Anyway, about the orphange. It’s abbreviation, SFODA, stands for Sacrifice Families & Orphans Development Association. First, the place itself. It’s a shanty. I really had no idea what to expect but the place is in a run-down part of Phnom Penh and the orphanage itself looks like it needs a major overhaul. The “classroom” is right beside the “playground” which is right beside the kids’ beds. They have an office with a computer connected to the internet, etc., but that’s the newest part of the orphanage I think. In regard to teaching supplies, they are sufficiently equipped: books, pencils, markers, computer, printer, plenty of water for volunteers. They even gave me lunch today too! The one really cool thing about the orphanage is how they do some fundraising. Some of the older kids are pretty good painters. The paintings they make (usually of Buddha or some country scene) are very well done. After they are finished, they can be sold in order to benefit the orphanage. They also make bracelets and some other things. Apparently this is typical of many of the orphanages in Cambodia.

Second, the kids. Hilarious! The kids range from 18 months to 7 years old, though I’m told there are older kids, only 1 of whom I saw today. Their English is also very good, much better than I thought. There are a few girls, Counry, Cundrun, and one other girl whose name I forget right now, who are absolutely hilarious to talk to. They pick up on all of my sarcasm, though their response isn’t as sharp. There is one boy (I’ve named him Toytoy because he tried to say turtle but NO ONE understood him until he pointed at the picture on the wall) who likes to fight me, so we Thai/Khmer box until one of us gets hurt. Then we stop and laugh.

You know the adorable eyes that Puss n’ Boots gives in Shrek? Well, there is one 16 month-old who has eyes like that. There are a lot of babies in the orphanage, usually given over by the hospital for any number of reasons. They’re wild, but adorable.

I won’t teach English until sometime after the Khmer New Year, which means this week I just show up and play with the kids. That gives me some time to think about how to actually teach these kids, given that some of them are so young and I’ve never dealt with babies before!

Day 3: April 6th, 2010 – Orientation Day

April 10, 2010

Orientation day. Learned a lot about Cambodian history, especially the recent political struggle. Volunteer Action for Cambodia had a presentation for us and answered a lot of questions dealing with the situation in Cambodia, both past and present. Went on tour through city, saw a lot of the same stuff from yesterday. Found some cool drums and managed to bargain down to a good price, then I realized I forgot my wallet at the guesthouse and didn’t have access to any cash. Fuck. Guess I’ll go back. Spent all of my money on Khmer CDs and an awesome house coat with a dragon on it. It’s even double sided. Booya muthafucka.

Drunk from dinner with organization folks. Met some cute girls. Met some Cambodian men who said they’d take me out after Khmer New Year’s to meet Cambodian women.

Didn’t get much information about what I have for supplies for my placement, etc. I may or may not be teaching tomorrow morning at 10 am. No one seems to know the answer. Going to bed.

Day 2: April 5th, 2010 – TAT Guesthouse, Phenom Penh, Cambodia

April 10, 2010

Did a lot today. Met a guy named Kevin from Florida, USA. He’s a fellow volunteer with IVHQ. Also met Matt. Kev and I saw most of the main sights of the city today: S-21 (an elementary school that was turned into a prison), the Killing Fields (where the people from S-21 went to be executed), Wat Phnom (the temple that marks the founding place of Phnom Penh), the Grand Palace (where the king lives) and the Independence Monument (built to celebrate Cambodia’s independence from France, but not erected until much later).

Work will start tomorrow. Orientation day. Maybe I’ll be seeing some of the same stuff as today, but certainly not as much. I was brought in by an organization called International Volunteer HQ, based in New Zealand, but technically I work for an organization called Volunteer Action for Cambodia, which is supported by Star Kampuchea. Confusing, I know. Total cost? $570 for a 2 week stay in Cambodia. Not bad given that they took me at the last minute. Food and accommodation is provided. I did some math and I think it cost me something like $40 per day to do this volunteer thing for 2 weeks. Is that reasonable? I’m looking at what I spent today, ca. $15 USD, and consider the accommodation prices, $6 USD, maybe I overpaid. I know I’m supporting the community by paying the fees, and paying for the administrative fees, but it still sits on my mind. I think I found some more organizations in Cambodia to show in my doc, especially some arts organizations.

Phenom Penh, a city named after the woman who is said to have founded the area way back in the 14th century. Phnom Penh translates to “Hill of Penh”. It’s a dirty city, and cheap, two things that typically endear me to a place. I’m not enraptured by the city by any means, but that may be due to all of the death and destruction I’ve heard about in Cambodia so far. It was a welcome breather to view the Wat Phnom after the two horrendous sights we saw in the morning (S-21 and the Killing Fields). A lot of poverty that can be seen all over the place. It’s the first time I’ve been to a place like this.

Haven’t done much creative writing lately, been too busy moving and training Muay Thai. Wondering if I’ll be able to shoot my first feature when I get back to Winnipeg later this summer. This documentary project is also taking up a lot of my mental space.

Day 1: April 4th, 2010 – Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

April 8, 2010

Eating pad Thai at the Cambodian-Thai border. It dawned on me that the more you travel, the more you begin to understand how other people view the world. For example, using chop sticks. Every time I use chopsticks, some Asian invariably compliments me. But would we compliment them on using a fork and knife? Probably not.

Reading Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week. One of the things I’ve taken from it is the “5 year timeline”, especially when it comes to small expenses. Will it matter in five years? I also enjoyed his chapter on the low information diet. I hardly read the paper as it is. My travels have shown me that things are rarely as bad or good as the media makes them out t be. Case in point, the unrest in Bangkok right now. Lots of protestors but no violence. It actually seems like one big party. And in regard to travelling, some days it just sucks to have to try to quietly search through your entire suitcase for your toothbrush or contacts while your hostel roommates go to sleep at 5 pm. Repacking so often also sucks.

Bought a video camera yesterday. A Sanyo Xacti FS11. We’ll see how it holds up during the shoot. It’s a small camera and has more features than my targeted camera. I did a camera test yesterday. The picture looks a lot better on a computer screen, whereas it appears darker on the camera’s LCD display. Big thing however, the video won’t playback on my computer! My computer can’t handle the HD codec. Poopy. But I can compress the video down to work on my iPod. I may have to buy an editing suite for my computer since I don’t have one at the moment.

I’ve started to think what you learn by sightseeing. For me, I think I learned a lot more about myself when I was sightseeing than about any other culture. Sightseeing gives me a livelier look at a culture than a book would, but it still isn’t the same. I’d recommend travelling over reading, but living in a place over travelling to it.

Waiting for the cab to take me to Phnom Penh. If I would have continued with the bus, I wouldn’t got into PP until sometime late tonight. By taxi, I should get there about 8 pm. Paid $30 at the same place where I got my visa processed on the Thai border. Could have only paid $25 at the Cambodian border. Oh well.

2 hours later…

After waiting for nearly 2 hours at the taxi station at the border I finally ask where my taxi is. One guy gets mad at me and says he wasn’t dealing with me, the next guy says wait 1 hour, only then does the tourist police guy finally radio the Cambodian taxi service.

So the taxi drives by, stops to talk to the tourist police dude, then carries on. I have to follow the guy down a couple of streets before I’m finally allowed to put my stuff in the car. Why all the travel? Well, it turns out the man was also transporting about a thousand CDs or DVDs (pirated?) in his car. He had them EVERYWHERE! In the trunk, in boxes on the back seat, under the floor boards of the car. there were many discs. To top it off, along with an old Cambodian grandmother and another lady who can speak pretty good English, he packs in a bag that smells like fish. Welcome to Cambodia. Enjoy your stay.

After we’re all packed in, we make it 3 inches down the road before the car gets stuck. Stop! unload some of the stuff, move over the rut, repack, then off we go. Finally, Phnom Penh, let’s go.

3 minutes later the driver pulls over. He laughs and pulls out 2 license plates and proceeds to screw them onto the front and back of the car. Sadly, I don’t actually recall if there were license plates on the car before.

6 hours later… we get to Phnom Penh, drop off the granny with the fish bag, unload the discs into another van, and then the English-speaking lady helps me locate my guesthouse. Finally made it to Phnom Penh!


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