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Enrolling Poun & Sampohan In Rabbit School

We were handed the baton.  Which lap in the contest was unknown nor did it matter.  Ash and I were going to finish this race.

Many volunteers before us had tried in vain to locate a school catering to children with disabilities.  We had been warned about the difficulty and told it was OK if we failed.  But after falling in love with the two children in need of a daily routine, personal attention from trained staff, and simply a chance, we were determined.  It also helped that a former colleague of mine, Anne MaRous, had spent a week at Palm Tree months earlier and had some solid leads to kick start our search.  This was our primary goal during our stay at the orphanage in Phnom Penh’s Daclaw District.

Sampohan Poun and His Duck Sticker

Poun & Sampohan came to Palm Tree by way of the orphanage where Angelina Jolie adopted her son, Maddox.  After this high profile event, America banned adoptions from Cambodia as a result of the consequential black market fetching up to $12,500 per child that incentivized destitute women to have unwanted offspring.  All the children were adopted from this orphanage before being shut down except for three; all of whom had questionable development abilities.  Enter the open arms of Palm Tree Orphanage.  Sophi (enrolled in basic school already), Poun, and Sampohan found a true home where the family of orphans operate as their sincere protectors.  It really is something to see a group of 90+ kids open their wings and insulate their special brethren.

Poun and Ash Poun Playing Air Guitar

Poun Pushing Greg on Swing Rumored to have been found in an alley amongst trash and living with dogs, 8 – 11 year old (hard to pinpoint DOB) Poun became a dear person in our lives.  Ash and I talk frequently about him, even scheming ways to get him to our June 2011 wedding.  Most mornings, Poun would wait quietly near our wooden door for us to emerge.  From that time forward, he was never too far from one of our sides.  He colored, played, and ate like a typical child.  However, just by looking at him it was obvious he was developmentally challenged.  The only word he would utter was “Mike” and I patiently taught him not to hit for fear that as he grew, people would be frightened.  Sampohan (15 – 17 year of age) may or may not be his biological sister, but the two are an unmatched duo.  Quiet and sweet, she bathes Poun and generally looks after him like a mother would.  She did not attend school either on account of her undiagnosed learning disability.

Greg and Hun Touch of Rabbit School Poun's Pipeline Hat

Cambodia has multitudes of problems, not the least being its educational system.  Considering this fact, it should come as no surprise that children with special needs are currently left in the dust.  Palm Tree did all they could by providing them with a support system within a safe home.  Neither Poun or Sampohan had ever sat down with a qualified professional to diagnose their troubles.  While the other children their age went to school, they would aimlessly wander around the confines of Palm Tree.  So our mission was two fold: have them evaluated and find them a proper school.

Poun Learning Poun & Sampohan At Rabbit School

Sampohan At Rabbit School We met people at Mike’s Burger House whom taught English at local schools.  Those leads became dead ends.  While watching monkeys pluck helpless sparrows from the trees at Wat Phnom I met a women who was volunteering at a settlement atop a trash dump.  Her educational connections proved worthless.  We were chasing our tails.  Anne had dug up a promising lead during her short stint in Cambodia, yet we had not heard back regarding emails and a few voice mails.  At last, Hun Touch from the Rabbit School replied to an email and after several lost in translation messages and Skype conversations, a date to meet was set.  Ash and I were exhausted, overheated, and drenched in sweat after roaming the streets of Phnom Phen hunting for Hun Touch’s elusive office.  A second meeting was set after he provided an exact address rather just a general area.  He provided a thorough look into his past experiences, educational background, and his leading role prodding the Cambodian government to provide a framework for children with disabilities.  May he have the wind at his back.  Two hours later, we left mightily impressed with Hun Touch’s mission and passion to give these special kids, who are otherwise forgotten, a fighting chance.

Group Photo With Teachers At Rabbit School Sampohan's Teacher Looks So Genuine

Poun and Ash Say Goodbye During our last week at Palm Tree, Poun and Sampohan visited the Rabbit School to undergo a proper evaluation.  Score!  We urgently awaited their return.  The excitement in their eyes was palpable.  They were going to attend school like the other children.  Their elation made us weep.  Next, we sorted out funding for their daily round trip moto ride to Rabbit School.  They were set to attend school for the first time in their lives after the Khmer New Year.  Score!  It brings tears to our eyes and grins to our faces to write that they have been not only been going to school, but showing signs of development as well for over five months.  The photos seen here are recent shots taken at Rabbit School.

We crossed the finish line, but the race for Poun and Sampohan has only just begun.  And for that, we are thankful.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Determination can do wondrous things.  If you are patient, tireless, and unyielding, goals have a way of being realized.
2) Success in business after a long slog makes you feel good, but succeeding in changing someone’s life is a high like no other.

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