The booklet is about ordinary people who can be found in thousands of villages in Cambodia.
There is Koy Kim Nget’s mother, a seamstress, and her father, a palm-tree climber who sells palm juice fresh and in sugar form.
Ben Kung Hay’s brother is a mechanic and their father an elementary school teacher who just retired.
Kath Vibol’s sister weaves silk on her loom at home, and Chok Buntoun’s father works outside the village at construction sites when he cannot farm.
And since there could hardly be a Cambodian wedding without music heard throughout the whole neighborhood, there are Sok Chantha’s parents who rent sound equipment for special events.
Written in German and Khmer, the 30-page, color booklet was produced by young people to show the life of their village of Trapaing Sdok, located at the foot of Phnom Chisor in Takeo province.
Done at the suggestion of Dorothea Schaffernicht, their German teacher and a volunteer with the German NGO Preah Ong, it started as a class project and ended up involving friends and relatives in the village.
Putting themselves in the shoes of German journalists exploring rural life, the five students—Kath Vibol, Koy Kim Nget, Sok Chantha, Chok Buntoun and Ben Kung Hay—toured their village, interviewing people in German, with one of them serving as a German/ Khmer interpreter.
The information written, they laid out the text with photos on panels that local art students illustrated with drawings of the area’s rice fields and mountains.
Then the class turned the panels into a booklet. They kept it simple, writing the text by hand on a pastel background, the strokes of their crayons left visible, and filling the pages with images of thatched-roof homes set among buffalo carts and boys riding bicycles.
In addition to copies made available in Trapaing Sdok, Schaffernicht, a language teacher from Vienna, will have copies printed in Austria, where the booklet will turn a distant Cambodian village into a real place whose people have faces and names for readers abroad, she said. The publication will also help Preah Ong show donors who this one-village NGO is helping in Trapaing Sdok.
Based in Hamburg, Preah Ong was launched in 2002 by Hi-Khan Truong, a Cambodian who was barely 2 when his family, fleeing the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces, was granted asylum in Germany in 1979.
A freelance media designer for Internet and multimedia, Hi-Khan Truong made his first trip to Cambodia in 2001. Visiting the Trapaing Sdok area, he decided to give impromptu English lessons.
“On the first day, I had over 60 young kids willing to learn English for free. I spent a whole week, 6 hours a day, teaching English to very motivated children,” he said.
Back in Germany, he convinced friends and family to support an NGO to offer free language classes and support for the needy in the village. Since then, Preah Ong has built the Alysha Chan School in Trapaing Sdok, and operates with a staff of eight Cambodians managed by Sim Thoeun and assisted by visiting volunteers.