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It’s all hands on deck and project team members spruce up a school.
It’s all hands on deck and project team members spruce up a school. JOCELYN LAM

Empowering kids – with a little help from the US Navy

The Old Market McDermott Gallery will hold a three-day charity exhibition on September 26-28 to raise funds for schooling in Ballangk Commune, in collaboration with the Connecting Hearts Team from Republic Polytechnic in Singapore.

Students are encouraged to create awareness of the Ballangk Commune and its school through photography and they will be equipped with a camera to take photos of people and places that are significant to them.

A selection of about 20-24 of the photos will be on exhibition and for each print there will be five copies for sale, with proceeds benefiting the school project.

The Connecting Hearts Team will be in town for a week and this is the team’s third ‘service-learning’ trip to Siem Reap, organised by lecturers from Diploma of Consumer Behaviour and Research at Republic Polytechnic.

Jocelyn Lam, a lecturer in the Centre for Enterprise and Communication at the Polytechnic said the group’s last fund raising at the McDermott Gallery raised $1,112.50.

She said, “With this amount, we helped the school several ways. We, with the help of the US Navy, rebuilt the gates and painted for one of the schools and we bought new uniforms for the students.”

She added that the liaison with the US Navy happened by chance in 2013 after the Singapore team members met navy personnel in Siem Reap.

Last year, while exhibiting at McDermott Gallery, Republic Polytechnic students soliciting for people to visit the exhibit met some US Navy personnel.

Some of the primary school kids in Ballangk Commune benefitting from the generous project.
Some of the primary school kids in Ballangk Commune benefitting from the generous project. YI WEN

“This group of US Navy was the philanthropy arm that has been sent to Cambodia. They had been in Phnom Penh for three months but visited Siem Reap for holiday,” she said.

“Upon learning about the Ballangk Commune, they visited the photo exhibit and offered to build a new gate and repainted one of the school buildings. It is really by chance that we were blessed to have the US Navy contribute to our cause.”

The unusual collaboration between Republic Polytechnic and McDermott gallery – and the US Navy – was a result of a visit by the Singaporeans in 2009 to develop project partnerships under their Adopt a Commune for Development initiative.

A small team of staff visited six communes and chose Ballangk as the commune they wanted to adopt.

According to Gwendolyn Soh, lecturer, Centre for Enterprise and Communication, Ballangk was chosen for three reasons.

“Firstly, 70 per cent of the villagers in the commune still live below the poverty level,” she said. “Secondly, the five primary schools in the commune are all basic and in dire need for improvements.”

The third reason was the willingness and permission to proceed from the commune chief and school leaders.

The first project began in 2011 and since then the team has set up a number of initiatives, including building and fitting out a pre-school, installing solar panels and maintaining them in the schools, creating playgrounds, setting up a sports day and teaching sports, and installing eco-friendly bio mass stoves.

During each trip to Ballangk the team also sets up a mobile dental clinic for about three days per trip in collaboration with Singapore Dental Association.

And then of course, there’s the photography project with McDermott Gallery which began in late 2012 when team members approached the Gallery with their idea of arming students with photo gear and letting “them do whatever they want to do with it for two days.”

Gwendolyn Soh said, “We were delighted that McDermott Gallery got back immediately and this partnership was nothing short of incredible. We have received immense support in terms for logistics, publicity and content curation. We are pleased that we share the same vision and passion for photography and so working with the community.”

The gallery is also thrilled with its involvement in the project.

“When Republic Polytechnic first approached McDermott Gallery back in 2011, we were impressed to hear that they were helping give a voice to young Cambodians by putting cameras in their hands,” gallery curator Bina Hanley said.

“A dedicated team taught the students to use film and encouraged them to express their vision of their lives in Ballangk Commune, an area we know well because of our visits to the nearby Chau Srey Vibol temple.

“We feel privileged to support this exhibition of the young photographers' work. It's a great experience to witness their pride and excitement as they stand by their artwork during the exhibition at McDermott Gallery.” ​

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