September 2017 HVTO Newsletter
Summary: A great deal has occurred since our last newsletter, with remarkable progress in many areas in 2017. This includes three upgrades to school facilities - repair of the exterior structure of the original building, the conversion of a bicycle shelter into a presentation room, and the construction of a wall around the school grounds. Among other student news, in the final high school examination for our 12th graders, 18 of 24 HVTO students were able to pass and directly begin their path to a bachelor’s degree. Most of the remainder will begin work on an Associate’ Degree. In a major Clean Water Project development, A Drop of Life (an NGO from Hong Kong China) has commissioned the drilling of up to 4,000 new wells over the next three years.
HVTO School Facilities
Seal of Love Charitable Foundation (Hong Kong China), the organization that provided funds for the original HVTO school building and the land upon which it was built, funded the construction of a wall to better isolate our facilities from strangers, both of the human and animal variety. Security aside, local cattle, dogs, and chickens are helping themselves to our plants and student scraps and leaving behind unwanted calling cards. In addition to providing food for 40 of the poorest families in the Commune, Seal of Love is also funding repairs to the southeastern corner of the school building, which has subsided because it was built over a former pond. Both projects are scheduled to be complete in December. See photos below.
The front of the HVTO Center where wall construction has began
Damage to the southeastern corner of school
Another major improvement to our facilities was the conversion of the bicycle shelter area into a presentation/meeting room. Funded by Hiram Johnson and Owen Thurtle, the room is located adjacent to the new school building that was funded by Viking Cruises Corporation. A recent Homestay Volunteer (Dan Boyd) made use of this room to give two groups of students and parents a presentation that included photographs of his family and his journey to Cambodia. This room’s large size, combined with an overhead computer projection system and internet access, makes this a very valuable facility. See Photo.
The newly created HVTO Presentation/Meeting Room, generously funded by Hiram Johnson and Owen Thurtle.
Day-to-day expenses required for running the HVTO facilities are provided by the Studiosus Foundation and from Viking Cruises Corporation. These two groups are also the largest source of volunteers that come to the village to help in education. These former tourists help bring a perspective of the outside world that our students can get no other way. Thank you Studiosus and Viking for your unflagging support in maintaining our core programs.
The annual high school equivalency examination in Cambodia, which is a pre-requisite for beginning university, took place on August 21-22 this year. A two-day 10 and ½ hour affair, this exam is a nail-biting rite of passage for Cambodian students throughout the country. HVTO had 24 students take this exam this year, of which 18 (75%) were able to pass. As a percentage this is a bit below our usual standards in the mid-80s % passing, but not significantly. Putting this into context, there were roughly 100,000 students nationwide that took this exam in 2017. Of these less than ½ % received an A, 3% a B, 5% a C, 6% a D, and 47% an E (still passing). Those receiving a failing grade of F accounted for 38% of all students taking the test. Obviously, grade inflation is not an issue in Cambodia. 
The six HVTO students that were unable to pass the high school equivalency examination this year have two options. They can retake the exam the following year, as Met Lim (sponsored by Oliver Nesensohn) did successfully this year, or enroll in university and obtain what is called an Associate’s Degree in two years. Because a second failure of the exam permanently excludes a student from attending university, an Associate’s Degree is generally the preferred route. This degree replaces the high school equivalency examination and gives the student the option to obtain a full Bachelor’s Degree with three additional years of university study.
Because such a degree program requires five rather than four years to complete, the standard HVTO sponsorship will run out one year before graduation. In order to reward students that better apply themselves and pass, and to provide a reality check for those that do not, our general policy for students wishing to begin an Associate’s Degree is to temporarily take them off of their sponsorship for the first year of this program. Then, if they are able to get good grades in university, and with agreement from the sponsor, restart their support for the final four years. Of course no two students are alike, so sponsors can take whatever course they deem appropriate.
HVTO now has 43 students studying in university, and with only two graduating this year, when the fall term begins in late-October we will increase to between 59 and 65 by the end of the year. Attrition will undoubtedly take its toll, but given the HVTO grade level distribution below, we should roughly double the number of graduates by 2019 and nearly double it again in 2020.
With their English skills, the majority of HVTO university students work for hotels (usually as receptionists), where they continually interact with tourists. A typical day for a student begins with work from 7 to 11 AM, a break, and resuming work from 1 to 5 PM. Classes then begin at 6 and run until 9:30 PM. Collaboration between universities and the tourism industry, which is massively dependent on student labor, allows for these rather odd schedules, which go on six days per week (Mon-Sat). Average monthly wages for our students usually range from $120 to $150 per month. As in the village, HVTO university students have developed a support system, helping each other by posting on Facebook job openings and providing each other job references. This helps make the transition into the city far less traumatic for new arrivals. In fact, in contrast to a few years ago, our students are now positively anxious to move to the big city (Siem Reap).
Thus far in 2017 HVTO has added 21 new sponsorships, all for students between grades 9 and grade 12. Of the roughly 186 HVTO students that have been sponsored thus far, 29 have dropped from the program. Some leave for personal reasons, which can include family issues, wanting to go straight into the workforce, to getting married and starting a family. However, the most common reason for dropping from the program is a recent move by the Cambodian government to increase salaries for public school teachers from $150 to $250/mo. As these jobs also include retirement benefits, which are not yet the norm for private companies in Cambodia, many find the enticement too great to ignore. However, far from being a negative, these students’ HVTO experience will enrich the public school system and open student minds to ideas and perspectives that were unknown even a few years ago.
Pannasastra University of Cambodia, better known as P.U.C., is the premier university in Siem Reap. Although tuition is higher than elsewhere, here there are more expatriate teachers, all classes are taught in English, and levels of discipline are far higher. As a result, P.U.C. graduates are considered to be the best of the best. On 2-September, 2017 representatives from HVTO met with the president of the university, Phann Keara, to tour the facilities, discuss academic programs, and investigate possible synergies between HVTO and P.U.C. Reduced tuition costs for the highest performing HVTO students was a major topic of conversation. At present tuition costs for a full course load at Build Bright University (BBU) and the University of SE Asia (USEA) are $560 per year. The same course load for P.U.C. is approximately $900 per year.
Meng Seaknam, Sim Piseth, Dan Boyd and Phann Keara (Director P.U.C. University Siem Reap)
Posters at P.U.C. showing the sense of discipline instilled at this university
In other university student news, Mam Makara, sponsored by Jo Ellen Killion, took a test in science aptitude that won him a full-ride 5-year scholarship to attend university in Beijing, China. He was ready to begin his second year at Techno University in Phnom Penh majoring in construction engineering, but in an HVTO first, wrote a letter to Jo Ellen explaining that he no longer needed any money. The first year of Makara’s scholarship will be occupied with intensive training in Chinese.
Mam Makara with his father Mam Hout, with Sim Piseth shortly before his journey to Beijing.
In other student news:
  • Seak Srey Ros, sponsored by Marianne Kripper, passed an examination to become a military nurse. She began her training this year.
  • Oeun Solai (age 22) was discovered to have a lump in her breast that her sponsor, Oliver Nesensohn, helped pay for surgical removal. It was thankfully found to be benign.
  • Bo Sokun is a Cambodian living with her parents in Seattle, Washington where she works for a small hospital supply company. On a trip to visit friends in the area she visited the school on 6 September. Taking advantage of this rare opportunity she was invited to, in Khmer, field all questions concerning the challenges of living in the U.S. from the HVTO advanced English class.
                  If only the teacher could hold the class’s attention like this.
  • Kon Kai, a 2015 graduate sponsored by ‘Friends From Oklahoma’, has been brought back from the district office in Angkor Chum District to Siem Reap where he was promoted to Area Credit Manager for A.M.K. (Angkor Mikroheranhvatho Kampuchea) Plc. - a microfinance institution headquartered in Phnom Penh. Kai is pictured below.
  • Khiev Leakana, sponsored by Jodi Katz, graduated in June, 2017 from Build Bright University in Siem Reap with a degree in Accounting. Leakana has secured a position at Cambodia Post Bank in Siem Reap.
Khiev Leakana with Sim Piseth after receiving her diploma from Build Bright University
  • Chem Chien, sponsored by Oliver Nesensohn, also graduated this year from USEA. Chien has an entrepreneurial streak, and when he is not working at the international call center where he is employed, he is laying the groundwork for an online start-up that will link buyers and sellers of various types of merchandise in SE Asia to China, Europe, and the U.S.
To date HVTO drillers have drilled over 14.2 kilometers, in the process of completing almost 600 wells. These wells have brought clean water to over 3,700 people in rural Cambodia that would otherwise have no access. Thus far in 2017 190 wells have been drilled, with special mention again going to one of HVTO’s most stalwart supporters in the drilling of water wells: Rosemere High School in Quebec, Canada. Now led by Deborah Adams and Wendy Haas, through their and their predecessor’s efforts, in the past four years Rosemere has funded the drilling of 70 wells, 16 of these in 2017.  
A spectacular development in the Clean Water Project came in early 2016 when a Hong Kong NGO, ‘A Drop of Life’ (ADOL), approached HVTO to determine the number of families unable to afford the wells necessary to provide clean water in the 24 Communes within the three Districts around our core area of Kontreang Commune. A Drop of Life is a Hong Kong registered NGO with charity projects in Cambodia, China, Nepal and Hong Kong whose core objective is to bring clean water to people in need. After much interaction with Village, Commune and other community leaders, it was determined that a total of approximately 4,000 (3,980) wells are needed.
Given such a large project, ADOL proceeded with the necessary due diligence by sending a team in June, 2016 to inspect the existing HVTO water projects and the drilling techniques utilized. Satisfied, they sent funds for four ‘pilot’ wells to be installed by HVTO, and then in December, 2016 sent 10 volunteers to drill four more wells using the same techniques. See photo below.
More than just drillers, these volunteers also taught Chinese, brought school materials, bought $1000 of food for the poorest families in the village, and concluded their visit with a massive party for all ~500 HVTO students. See photo below.
To assess the possibility of enlarging the project scale to accommodate the vast number of keen donors in Hong Kong, in April 2017 ADOL asked HVTO to take on an additional project involving the drilling of 158 wells before August, 2017. Because ADOL was pleased with the results of this phase of the project, they commissioned an additional 650 wells through 30 November, 2017. This project has converted our 2 drilling teams of 15 part-time drillers (~10 hours per week) into 5 full/overtime teams (~70 hours per week) working 7 days per week. Although the drillers are thrilled with the extra income, because this schedule is not sustainable, regular recuperation periods will be built into the long-term schedule to allow these men to relax. ADOL has also helped by donating some additional equipment necessary to aid in this accelerated drilling schedule. In the step-wise process utilized by ADOL they have indicated they are prepared to fund at least an additional 3,000 wells over the next 3 years.
Obviously, the ADOL water well drilling project is beyond anything that could have been foreseen, but our drillers seem to be up to the challenge. HVTO remains committed to drilling water wells for smaller sponsors as we always have in the past. So if you would like to donate funds for the drilling of additional wells, please do not let the news above dissuade you.
Another Chinese NGO from Hong Kong, the Once Imagine Foundation, also visited HVTO in June, 2017 with 12 university students. In one busy week these students drilled three wells and taught both English and Chinese.
  • A bridge over a canal that rages in the rainy season was completed in June, 2017. This bridge now safely connects the main village road to numerous families that live on the western side of the village. Shelly Riera, HVTO volunteer and former Viking guest from Nashville, Tennessee, donated the annual bonus from her employer in order to build this bridge.
  • Spark Global Health (SGH) which conducts first aid training and a health fair three times per year, visited the area in August, 2017. Lisa Nguyen, an American from California who leads the SGH team, recruited three Cambodians to act as standing staff for their organization. They will use HVTO as the host organization for their ongoing work in Kontreang Commune.
  • SIGHT (Student Innovation for Global Health Technology), which is a group based again in Hong Kong, visited HVTO in June, 2017. Students from the University of Hong Kong evaluated water and health issues in the village and will begin implementing the recommendations from their report in October.
  • Village road maintenance – Although the main village road is now paved, everything from bicycles to full-size tour buses and tractors have created a continuous maintenance issue. Viking paid for 15 truck-loads (7 cubic meters each) of fill, and the village pooled their resources to buy an additional 24 truck-loads at $30 per truck. Villagers also provided all of the labor. See photo below:
Having seen our work first-hand, Viking and Studiosus tour groups are HVTO’s main source of support. Living all over the world, with the aid of modern technology, these former guests not only help financially, but also provide administrative assistance. This has been a great help to our founder Sim Piseth who, in addition to his many HVTO responsibilities, is a full-time tour guide that must be away for extended periods of time.
Patti Baker, a former Viking guest, is the President of Homestay Teachers Volunteer Organization, Inc., a 501c3 (charitable) organization incorporated in Florida to provide tax relief to US citizens that fund HVTO in Cambodia. This NGO simplifies money transfers and provides a vehicle for access to larger grants that can have a major impact on reaching goals. There is much to do and we are still in need of volunteers, so if you are interested, all that’s needed is access to a computer and the ability to use the internet. To learn more please visit the website at: or call Patti directly at 239-682-0067.
We are continually updating our newsletter and e-mail distribution, so if you have any friends or family that would like to be included in our distribution list, please let us know. Unfortunately, newsletters sometimes end up going into Spam folders, so if you know of someone that has not been receiving these, please have them check this.
If you would like to provide HVTO with financial help, here is a brief cost summary:
Water wells:
$230 (A plaque is an additional $30)
Donors receive a photograph of the completed well with information on the name, size and location of the family for whom the well was drilled.
Below are the all-inclusive costs for student sponsorship.
Grades 1-9:           $270 per year
Grades 10-12:       $400 per year
University:            $620 per year
If you are interested in providing a sponsorship to a student, we have a list of deserving candidates that we can send from which you can choose.
Computer and typing skills are important in both the classroom and workplace.
Here Rurn Sork (sponsored by Robert Isabel) is using Computer Master Typing software that times her speed and records any false keystrokes.
Again, thank you for reading about our continuing story and we hope that you share our pride in HVTO’s continued progress.
        Sim Piseth                                                                                      Seaknam Meng
        HVTO Founder                                                                          HVTO General Manager
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