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Cambodia Community Service Project, 4 July 2014

Updated: Jan 4


Good afternoon,


I hope that this post finds you well. In November of 2009 I earned a competitive full tuition scholarship to study aerospace engineering at the University of Miami and, while I served part-time as a motorcycle safety instructor, unfortunately I did not have the financial means to acquire housing at the university. In order to save enough to secure an apartment next to campus, which I was able to do the following semester, every day I would study in the university library until two o’clock in the morning, and thereafter I would take a brief nap in the student union. I woke early each morning, exercised, showered, and dressed at the university fitness center; and I conducted dry cleaning at a local cleaner near the university.


While I am not proud of this experience, the trial served as a testament of the resolve that I hold to gain access to education, and I fortunately earned a 3.5 grade point average in that semester.


Four years later, as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy, I met Savorn, a young man of 25 years who waited tables at a restaurant that my team and I frequented in Kep, Cambodia, during an international summer service project. Savorn lived in a nearby village and he rode his bicycle 6 miles to work five days a week. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday he would ride 24 miles such that he could attend courses at the university located in the city of Kampot.


After returning from Cambodia I began to better appreciate the difficulties of billions around the world. I am now committed toward the facilitation of educational opportunities for aspiring students and, if interested, I have provided a narrative below which outlines the excursion in greater detail. In either event I am grateful for your time in considering this post and please have a good day.


Sincerely, Winston












1981 Endowment Cambodia Cultural Immersion Program: Video statement, 4 minutes 38 seconds, Center for Digital Storytelling, 5 January 2015 1. Travelers: Colonel Martin France, Cadet First Class Dylan Juedeman, Cadet First Class Winston Sanks, CadetSecond Class Lucas Stensberg, Cadet Second Class Hansena Vangen, Cadet Second Class Annie Von Seggern 2. Preparation: Five cadets were selected by Colonel Martin France, Department of Astronautics, for this cultural immersion trip. The team accomplished an Independent Study 499 course cooperatively sponsored by the political science department. The 499 course focused on the reign of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979), its aftermath, and the current political and developmental state of the nation. Below are books from the course reading list: · Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors -Pran, Dith · The Last One: An Orphaned Child Fights to Survive the Killing Fields of Cambodia - Yann, Marin R. · Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare - Short, Philip · Surviving Cambodia, The Khmer Rouge Regime - Lim, Bun T. · Alive in the Killing Fields: Surviving the Khmer Rouge Genocide - Nawuth Keat · When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge- Chanrithy Him · Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land - Brinkley, Joel · A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival- Tully, John · The Elimination: A survivor of the Khmer Rouge confronts his past and the commandant of the killing fields- Panh, Rithy · Escaping the Khmer Rouge- Chileng Pa with Carol Mortland · The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia- Kiernan, Ben Additionally, the spring 2014 Semester was utilized scheduling vaccinations, arranging flights, researching things to do and see in Cambodia, and acquainting ourselves with the NGOs with which we'll be working, Equitable Cambodia and Developing World Connections.

3. Goals: The objectives of this trip were to expose cadets to Cambodian culture. Cadets were introduced to the strategic history of the region as well as its relationship with the United States. Additionally, the cadets would work in a service role: building brick latrines in the rural village of Odong alongside local foremen in order to experience the country and its people first-hand. The team also travelled to historical sites across Cambodia to include the palace in the capitol city of Phnom Penh and the ancient Angkor Wat religious complex. Below is information on the NGOs with whom the service work was completed. ORIENTATION – DEVELOPING WORLD CONNECTIONS Developing World Connections is a Canadian Charity, non-profit society, and international volunteer experience provider. We are partnered with registered non-profit grassroots organizations in our host countries who direct their energies toward sustainable development projects and programs.

Developing World Connections coordinates international volunteer experiences. We provide the opportunity for regular everyday people to spend time working on sustainable, poverty alleviating projects in the developing world. Volunteers see first-hand the help that they are giving. They also get to know, up-close, the struggles of people in other parts of the world. We have no professional or religious affiliations. We do not give money, food or medicine. Simply put, we offer people the adventure of helping to improve someone else’s life, and these intense volunteer experiences build empathy and expand participants’ understanding of the world around them. We connect individuals and communities that are a world apart. ORIENTATION – EQUITABLE CAMBODIA Equitable Cambodia has a long history of facilitating volunteer placements where young people, students, interns and professionals have the opportunity to participate in meaningful cultural exchanges, short-term trips and work placements in Cambodia where they can learn about the people and culture of Cambodia, have meaningful and illuminating interactions with Cambodians and work to make tangible, positive impacts on the people and communities with whom they work. Our Volunteer Program provides participants with the opportunity to be involved with a range of EC and partner organizations operating in Phnom Penh and Kep province. Volunteers have the opportunity to gain an insight into Cambodian life and culture, an introduction into the world of development and human rights work, and important life skills and valuable experiences as well as the opportunity to develop meaningful long-lasting connections with people, communities and organizations in Cambodia. In 2013 Equitable Cambodia’s Volunteer Program hosted 107 volunteers in Phnom Penh and 37 in Kep.

Day 0-3: Travel 20-23 June 2014 The cadets arrived to Col France’s house on the night of 19 June 2014 for pizza and a bag drag - also the first round of malarial medications were taken. The group left for Denver Airport on a private van that left the France residence at 0353.





It was a warm, humid night when we stepped out towards the Phnom Penh airport exit and almost immediately saw a young man carrying a sign from the Plantation Hotel. He guided us to the van and we were on our way in just a couple of minutes. We drove down the dark streets of Phnom Penh surrounded mostly by motorbikes with two or three passengers on them, a few pedestrians on the sidewalks, and the clear signs (trash in the streets, etc.) that we were in the capital of a developing world country. We were all a little shocked. We arrived at the airport by 2330 and were guided to the lobby. The hotel had a non-descript, rather shabby outside parking area, but opened into a beautiful, well-lit small courtyard with a pond.












Day 4: Phnom Penh 23 June 2014 We headed to the US Embassy at 0845 for meetings with Assistant Defense Attaché, Major TJ Cerullo (USA). Major Cerullo was a great host and set up a meeting with representatives from the US Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps. We had two full hours with these four and it was time well spent. Each of them briefed us on their current activities. We had plenty of questions and they could not have been more informative and helpful. We learned about US priorities (human rights, political stability, education, and food and health stability and availability) and how Cambodia is slowly changing and improving in the face of overwhelming corruption and decades of single-party rule with little real democracy. From there, we returned to the hotel and got to see the sights and sounds of Phnom Penh. We went to Rombeng for lunch with our tour guide. Rombeng is part of a group of training restaurants that is a functioning non-governmental organization (NGO) that trains young people on-the-job to enter the service industries. From Rombeng, we spent the next three hours touring three local (not tourist oriented) markets of Phnom Penh. The first, “Orussey,” was by far the most "local" and was the most jumbled and "aromatic.” The next (which translates to "Golden Dragon") was really a wholesale center that held enormous amounts of fruits and vegetables in stalls changing hands. The final commerce center was called the “ Russian Market” and it catered a little closer to what tourists like, allowing us to buy a couple of t-shirts and other souvenirs. There were plenty of other attractions, too, like motorbike parts, fresh crabs, pork, silver, and dried fish.





Mekong River Dinner Cruise We then went to the banks of the Mekong(after overcoming amazing traffic gridlock) for a dinner cruise on the Mekong.


Unfortunately, it rained nearly the whole time, but the food and drink were good and the conversation with Sing was even better. He amplified what we heard that morning fromEmbassy personnel about the state of his country and was very generous and accommodating in answering our many questions. We made it back to the hotel just a little after 8pm.

Day 4: Phnom Penh 24 June 2014 Royal Palace We started off with the usual wonderful breakfast at the hotel with fresh fruit and coffee. Senh (pronounced "Sing") met us at 0830 and we went immediately to the Cambodian Royal Palace for the first of our tours.







From the palace, we went to a Buddhist Temple to see the monks praying. There was also a fair-trade gift shop there and working areas for craftspeople who were sewing silk articles and carving wooden statuettes.





Our next stop was the complete opposite of our temple visit: the Genocide Museum. This former school building was turned into the Pol Pot Regime's center for torture and execution of many of Cambodia's educated citizens and leaders of the former Lon Nol Party. Visiting the museum was a shocking experience. To rationally understand that a tragic event has happened, as we had read about prior to our arrival, requires a degree of fortitude. To stand amongst the cells where the acts have taken place and to se e the torture implements on display requires quite another. The reality of what has happened in Cambodia was a humbling reminder of the incredible liberties that we have been granted as American citizens.

We then travelled to the temple collection known as Angkor. This religious complex is the largest in the world, covering over 400 square kilometers, and consists of 246 individual temples. We entered from the east, passing through a smaller temple on the way to Angkor Wat, the largest faith-based monument in the world. Over 720 continuous meters of carved sandstone reveal Hindu stories fundamental to the Khmer culture’s religion as well as the laws and punishments of the time that the temple was built.


We proceeded to Angkor Thom, famous for its 216 large Buddha faces carved into the ornamentation of the temple spires. Our tour guide, Kean, quickly made it clear to us that both Hindu and Buddhist traditions blended to form the culture of the Khmer empire. Aspirations for each new Khmer king came to be characterized by their fervor to build temples with greater features than the previous ruler.

Ta Prohm

Overgrown with plants and picturesque banyan trees, the temple featured in the Tomb Raider movies, Ta Prohm, was our next stop. Later we visited Banteay Srei, a smaller but very ornate temple in a rural area far from the other temples. Its carvings of women and animals illustrated that the early Khmer culture was deeply matriarchal, focusing on educating women to maintain the culture and develop their society while men went off to fight in wars or carved the sandstone for building temples.

















Day 9: Kep June 30th First day on the Job

In the village of Odong our group was split up into two groups of Colonel France,Cadet Sanks, Dan, and Cadet Von Seggern and for the other Vy, Cadet Juedeman, Cadet Stensberg and Cadet Vangen. The first work locations were very close together making communicating with the families and contractors much simpler with access to Vy being so convenient. The first day included starting to dig the holes for the waste holding containers (four large cement rings to be almost completely buried under the ground behind the latrines) and laying the first rows of bricks as the foundation for the latrine. It also marked the first of many amazing noon meals to be had at the Vine Resort where they served us traditional Khmer meals for every week day we were in Kep. The day ended with supper at the nearby Crab Market.











Day 10-12: Kep 1-3 July 2014 Digging through the Muck The next three days was slow going with layers of tree stumps to dig through; a very shallow water table to continuously fill the dug holes with water; and new skills to be learned on how to properly lay locally made bricks and stucco the walls of the latrine. While many of builders did not speak English outside of telling us “No” when we were doing something wrong, we caught on quickly enough though to make major progress and by Thursday we had a product that actually resembled a structure that would withstand some of the monsoon weather common in the summer. The families also provided us with freshly picked coconuts to drink and bananas to snack on throughout the day. Thoughts: Such an experience to learn so much from families with whom we do not share a common language.C/Vangen and C/Von Seggern also experienced the difference in cultures on how female labor is viewed. The female children from the families would just sit and watch the female cadets working alongside the contractors, their fathers, and their brothers. The Cambodian men who were working at the sites were also very cautious of what C/Vangen and C/ Von Seggern were doing. On one occasion, C/Vangen was asked to stop working because she was bleeding from a small scrape and it took Vy quite a while to convince them that she was fine. Day 14: Kep July 5th Mount Bokor, Kampot, and the Durian Monument

Our first day off and so much to see. We headed for Kampot, a nearby city with a massive durian fruit monument where we took pictures, but then travelled on to Bokor Mountain. It was a long drive up the mountain, but the view of the bay of Kep allowed us to see almost to the Thai coast. The effort was definitely worth it. The summit included severalBuddhist temples, an abandoned French casino, and a new Chinese resort. We then travelled out to a cave where some local boys took C/ Juedeman, C/Stensberg and C/Vangen on a short spelunking trip. Supper was back at the Beach House and then into bed.

Day 15: Kep July 6th “Rabbit Island”

Last free day in Kep and well spent. Our group rented a boat and driver for the day and went island hopping. Our first stop was at a small fishing village on an island where we took full advantage of the many beautiful seashells on the beaches because so few tourists generally visit the island. Next, we stopped at Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay in Khmer). The boat ride to Rabbit Island was an experience by itself because we got caught in a major downpour with waves that rocked the boat and soaked us to the bone. Of course once we reached the island, the sky cleared up and it was a hot, muggy day again. A short trek through the jungle ended us on a beach where we spent the afternoon relaxing. Rabbit Island is a more tourist-oriented island with a small hut resort, beach, and restaurant and trails to hike. We returned to the mainland to get cleaned up and then went to eat at Holy Crab and get some sleep for another week of work.




Day 16: Kep July 7th The group went to a new village to begin work on the new latrines. They decided to keep the two teams the same to have a “rematch” of sorts to see which group could finish their latrine faster. The weather was cool that day so they spent less time eating lunch at The Vine than they normally did to work more. On top of that, they also worked later into the afternoon. The extra hours and the accumulated experience of the team members put both groups very far ahead of where they were on the first day of the last latrine project. This advantage would prove to be critical because of impending weather.






















Day 17: Kep July 8th We tried to work on the latrines in the new village however experienced a rainstorm right from the start. Arriving at thevillage in the morning required crossing a small bridge made of a fallen tree; this bridge was submerged upon ourarrival which made getting to the work site in and of itself an adventure. We attempted to mix the cement, however the storm showed little indication of letting up; therefore the group decided that it would be a waste of materials if the mortar was to be poured in to create a foundation for the next latrine. With regrets, the teams forfeit the day to the rain, and instead travelled back to the hotel and played cards.


Day 18: Kep July 9th Rained Out

The group faced another day of bad weather. This time they made the call earlier that they would not work. By around 0930 they began to accept that they would have to go another day without work and so they began to plan what they would do. C/Sanks took some time to rest up while Dan, Col France, and C/Juedeman hung around in the lobby area. C/Stensberg and C/Vangen went mountain biking on a trail that offered narrow “paths”, deep puddles, and giant red ant nests. The evening concluded with the usual dinner as a group.

Thoughts: Even though it was frustrating to not be able to work, it is important to respect the wishes of the Cambodian contractors. They know the best working conditions and they do not want to end up wasting their mortar. A material like that may not seem significant to Americans but to Cambodians that can be very expensive. The group kept a positive attitude though and got to enjoy a little free time. Day 19: Kep July 10th Hard at Work

The teams worked hard on this last day to try and get done the most that they could. The group of Colonel France, Dan, C/Sanks, and C/Von Seggern ended up finishing the stuccoing of the walls of the latrine which marked their second completed latrine. The other group was able to stucco the outside walls. Although communication was tough, the villagers were able to express their gratitude for the help that the cadets, Colonel France, Vy and Dan gave. It was a bittersweet moment finishing the work because it felt good to complete the project, but everybody knew that once they left they were gone for good. There would be no more cute children or puppies or lives to help.


Day 20: Kep to Phnom Penh July 11th Outreach with the Community

After waking up early, they traveled to a school that was set up by a Korean NGO. There, they sang, danced, and played soccer with the students. Everybody had a great time and it showed because the team really worked up a sweat. The Cambodian children seemed thrilled to get to play with such different visitors. It was a very special moment for them all.









After the school, the team stopped by an artisan shop. There they sold scarves, bags, trinkets, necklaces, dolls and more. It was great to financially support an honest company that made all of the items right where they were being sold. After that, they drove back to the hotel and prepared to depart. Once packed up, they drove to Phnom Penh where they ate at Khmer Surin, the same restaurant that they visited prior to leaving Phnom Penh for Siem Reap. After dinner the group said their goodbyes to Dan and Vy who were wonderful throughout the trip. Having a good versus bad tour guide and co-worker can make a huge difference when overseas. We got lucky with Vy and Dan.



Day 21: Transit July 12th Sampling Kimchee The flight back home consisted of a five hour trip from Phnom Penh to Seoul-Incheon initially. There, the team had a 10 hour layover which allowed them to take a tour around the city. They saw a temple, a market, and the Gyeongbokgung Palace.




It was valuable to see an additional point of view of Asia, even though some of the team was very jet-lagged from the previous flight. After Korea, the group took an 11 hour flight over the Pacific to Seattle. There was another long layover there until the last flight which was about three and a half hours and took everyone back to Denver. Thoughts: Despite not doing anything strenuous, traveling proved to be exhausting for everyone. Switching one’s internal clock by 13 hours is difficult especially with a duty day the next day, but everyone hung in there and did what they needed to do. Having one day to recuperate is definitely wise before beginning a normal daily routine again. All participants who worked on the project found it to be a truly rewarding experience. It would have been easy for the cadets and Colonel France to just take the three weeks off and relax over a summer break but they did something that affected people’s lives all the way on the other side of the world. Thanks to all who followed us on this trip, checked Colonel France’s blog, and wrote encouragement. A special offer of gratitude goes to the USAFA Class of 1981 and the Olmstead Foundation for supporting this trip through their generous donations.


We would also like to thank Developing World Connections (especially Ashley Ekelund), Equitable Cambodia, Intrepid Travel, Mango Tours Cambodia, and our great guides and leaders: Dan Couture, Sotheavy Sov, Sokkheang Ly, Kheng Senh, and Savorn Toem for helping make this such an amazing, memorable, and important experience for all of us.

Sincerely, WINSTON A. SANKS

Anaheim, California










Sanks, Winston Summer of 2014 Cambodia Service Project Memorandum
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