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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Assumption students and stuff bringing supplies to Cambodian sister school this fall


BELLINGHAM - The last time Assumption Catholic School teachers Betsy Gottschalk and Jill VonFeldt went to visit Assumption's sister school in Cambodia, there was no water, only a few books on the shelves, and charts on the walls were hand-drawn.

But when they venture there again this November, five years after their first trip, they expect to see a successful vegetable garden, students using a computer, the only well in the area and classrooms filled with students.

For the last six years, Assumption Catholic School has been raising money to help support Bellingham Community School No. 253 in Preah Vihear Province in northern Cambodia. The sister school is the creation of Ham Hayes and Gloria Harrison, who worked through the nonprofit organization American Assistance for Cambodia to open the first middle school in the region.

It officially opened its doors in 2006, the last time Gottschalk and VonFeldt were in Cambodia.

Assumption's parent-teacher organization pays for most of the salary of the Cambodian school's English and computer skills. But the support for the school goes beyond that; students and staff have helped raise money for the school to purchase a computer, install solar panels and dig a well for a vegetable garden.

After the first trip to Cambodia, Gottschalk and VonFeldt started small fundraisers to collect money for the school, which features five classrooms in a cement block building for nearly 130 students. But it wasn't until second-grade teacher Liberty Sponek started a vegetable garden at Assumption a few years ago that the biggest fundraising efforts for the sister school took off.

Every Sunday from spring through the school's fall harvest festival, produce from the school garden is sold at Assumption Catholic Church, with all proceeds going to support the "dream things" at the Cambodia school, Sponek said. The garden, which is part of the Whatcom County School Garden Collective, is planted, tended to and harvested by students and parents. So far, a slow Sunday brings in about $65, while on a good day, they may collect $300.

But Assumption's garden does more than raise money for the Cambodian school - it also provides a connection between Assumption and Cambodian students. When the Cambodian school added a well to its property, that enabled those students to create a vegetable garden to help provide food for the school.

"We can make that connection now because we're both digging in the dirt," Sponek said.

The main reasons for this year's trip are to bring 10 bikes and two computers and to assess the school to see what other items are needed. But this trip is also a chance for a few Assumption students to become student ambassadors to Cambodia.

"It's important for kids from here to meet people and see what's going on in other parts of the world," Gottschalk said.

As the sister-school relationship continues and more Assumption families get involved, Gottschalk hopes they can some day build dorms for teachers and students who must travel several miles to attend the Cambodia school, and maybe even pay for some Cambodian students to come to the U.S. to receive a college education.

"It's core to who we are as a Catholic school," said new principal Monica Des Jarlais about raising money for a sister school in Cambodia. "We teach students that Jesus is calling on us to make a better life and we need to look at what we can do to transform other people's lives. ... Students have a responsibility of going out and improving lives, both locally and globally."

HOW TO HELP


Assumption Catholic School students, staff and families are raising money to support Bellingham Community School No. 253 in Cambodia and travel costs associated with students and staff bringing supplies to the school this fall.

Students will be selling hand-made crafts at the Bellingham Farmers Market on Saturday, Aug. 27. Items include garden art, windsocks and cards.

Produce from the school garden will be for sale from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. every Sunday at Assumption Catholic Church, 2116 Cornwall Ave., until Assumption Catholic School's Harvest Festival in mid-September.
Reach KIRA M. COX at kira.cox@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2266. Visit her School Days blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/schools or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamSchools.

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Cambodia's rice export scheme sees good omen with Chinese investments

By Nguon Sovan

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia has seen a positive sign towards achieving its self-imposed target of one million-ton- rice exports by 2015 as the sector has been attracting a number of large investments from China.

In last August, the government launched the rice export policy in a bid to boost the exports of one million tons of milled rice by 2015.

"The main challenges to achieve this target are the shortages of sophisticated post-harvest technologies and capital to buy rice paddy from farmers," Kong Putheara, director of the Commerce Ministry's Planning and Statistics Department, told Xinhua in an interview on Friday.

However, the issues have gradually been broken through as a number of large Chinese firms have signed up to build a hi-tech rice processing plant and to purchase Cambodian rice for Chinese market.

Among those firms is the China Grain Reserves Corporation ( Sinograin) Guangzhou Branch.

The firm signed up on Aug. 16 to buy up to 200,000 tons of milled rice per year from Cambodia and has put its initial investment of 20 million U.S. dollars with a local T.T.Y Corporation to buy rice paddy from farmers to process for the exports to China.

And the China's Yunnan Overseas Investment Co., Ltd. signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a local Soma Group of Cambodia to build a high-tech rice processing plant to process rice for China.

Also, China Oil and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO) signed a deal with Cambodia's Angkor Rice this week to buy Cambodian rice.

"A lot of foreign investors have been looking at Cambodian rice potentials, especially China," said Putheara.

"Chinese investors have been leading investments in Cambodian rice sector for now," he said. "Moreover, I believe that China will also be the largest purchaser of Cambodian rice in the future. "

Besides China, he said the Philippines, Brunei, Senegal, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bangladesh has also approached Cambodia for rice purchase despite no deal signed yet so far.

Phou Puy, president of the Federation of Cambodian Rice Millers Associations, said Saturday that currently the country has had only a few modern post-harvest technologies and also had a few large-scale rice storage.

He added that the country's sophisticated rice processing plants are capable to process only about 200,000 tons of rice per year at the moment, so to meet the target of exporting 1 million tons a year by 2015, it needs to be invested other four or five times in modern rice processing plants.

"Therefore, Chinese investment in the rice processing plant is on the right time," said Phou Puy, who is also Chairman of the rice exporter Baitang Kampuchea Co., which invested in a modern post-harvest technology in Battambang province.

The company had exported nearly 20,000 tons of processed rice in the first half of this year, double rise compared to the same period last year.

Puy said the Baitang Kampuchea had also signed a MoU with a Chinese firm for the supply of 10,000 tons of milled rice to China per year and the exports will be starting from next year.

He said his plant is capable to process an average of 130,000 tons of rice per year.

Chan Sophal, president of Cambodia Economic Association, said on Saturday that European countries and China will definitely be the big markets for Cambodian good quality rice in the future.

Cambodian government has simplified procedures for rice exporters; however, the high cost of electricity and transport compared with its neighboring Vietnam and Thailand is still a concern for investors, he said.

Currently, Cambodia has about 35 rice exporters; the country had exported 80,442 tons of good-quality milled rice in the first half of this year, 369 percent increase from 17,144 tons at the same period last year, showed the statistics from the Ministry of Commerce.

However, this country can export only small amount of its milled rice so far due to the lack of sophisticated post- harvesting technologies, storage, and capital to buy rice paddy from farmers; therefore, most of the rice paddies have been sold to Vietnam and Thailand without recycling.

In a year, Cambodia lost about 600 million U.S. dollars from rice production that exported without recycling, Prime Minister Hun Sen said last year during the launch of rice export policy.

Chan Sophal said that the government's rice export policy would broaden and strengthen the foundation of economic growth while accelerating poverty reduction and improving the people's livelihoods through job creations when more rice post-harvest technologies have been built in Cambodia.

With a series of Chinese investment plans in the sector, it's believed that Cambodia will be able to achieve its target of exporting one million tons of milled rice by 2015.
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