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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Bellport girls look to aid Cambodian kids

By Kay Blough
A trip to Cambodia last winter was a lesson about the haves and have-nots for two Bellport sisters and sparked a desire in them to do something to help the gentle, friendly people they met.

Watching children ride in floating metal rice tubs on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Southeast Asia, flipping into the water or sitting in boats with snakes around their necks so tourists would donate money, drove home to Rae, 12, and Emmy Specht, 9, how much harder life is in some parts of the world.

"The kids would run around with no shoes, and they lived in shacks, and the little kids would run around and beg," Rae said. "It was sad that they were living like this, but they were happy and smiling.
"We kept wanting to hand out dollar bills, but we were running out," she added, "so we thought about what else we could do."
When they returned home they shared with friends pictures of what they had seen. They did some research and decided to raise money to buy water filters to benefit 200 Cambodian families, because, as their site explains, 75 percent of deaths in Cambodia are caused as a result of drinking unfiltered water. And so Four Girls For Families was born. This year, the girls registered their charity and now have a website,, with videos made during their trip, an e-sales section and a PayPal donation button.

Rae and Emmy recruited best friends Madeleine Joinnides, 12, of Brookhaven, and Clara Walker, 11, of Bellport, to help, and other friends have pitched in to make, sell and buy their products, which are usually created at the Specht's residence and include T-shirts, cards and jewelry that sell for $8 to $15. They recently worked with a Girl Scout troop and a church youth group that helped them make bracelets and T-shirts they will sell to raise money for the filters.

Community helps out

Their initial goal was to raise $2,000. So far, they have raised about $7,000 and plan another fundraiser weekend soon at a storefront in Bellport donated by the Grucci family, famed for their fireworks productions.

The girls sold their wares at the annual Bellport Day summer festival and Artists on the Lane, the annual July Fourth Art Show produced by the South Bay Art Association, both Bellport events. Cedar Graphics in Ronkonkoma donated printing services for the cards the girls designed.
"This is a very cohesive town," said Joanne Specht, mother of Emmy and Rae. "Everyone knows everyone here."

A donation of about $8 pays for a clay water filter glazed with silver that sits inside a large plastic drum fitted with a spigot. The slightly porous clay blocks anything bigger than a water molecule from going through, trapping contaminants, while the silver glaze helps kill E. coli bacteria, said Brian Specht, the girls' father.

The Specht girls and younger brother Sam, 5, travel each winter with their dad when he attends a toy fair in Hong Kong. Afterward, they take a family vacation and last year went to Cambodia. Time hasn't diminished their desire to help, so Brian Specht has been researching companies in Cambodia that will sell filters to the girls' charity and supply a truck and driver so they can deliver the filters this winter.

The project is a double benefit since the filters are made in Cambodia and the project creates jobs for villagers, Joanne Specht said.

Service project
To keep up with science homework while she was on vacation last year, Rae did research on some of the geological aspects of Cambodia and the silk farms. The water filter project segued into the community service aspect of her National Junior Honor Society application at the private Laurel Hill School in East Setauket, where she was in 6th grade last year.

William Schmidt, her sixth-grade science teacher at Laurel Hill, said he urges students to think "not just in terms of how much money we can raise, but that we are helping no matter what we do."
That has stuck with Rae and the other girls she has partnered with, he said.

"They were amazed by how much they initially raised, but the amazement increased when they realized how many people they can help with the purchase of the water filters," Schmidt added.
Interest spread at school, and they sold T-shirts there, too.

The girls are keen artists and have a sense of humor that's reflected in their designs. One "Wizard of Oz" inspired T-shirt with the writing "Girls Night Out" features Dorothy and Glinda the Good Witch shopping for red sparkly shoes. They'll also take custom orders if customers see a design they like but not in their size.

They plan to help deliver some of the water filters when the family returns to Cambodia in January, hopefully along with Clara and Madeleine. Joanne Specht hopes the girls get a chance to teach a class at the orphanage they visited last year near Siem Reap, the former capital of Cambodia that is near the temples of Angkor.

In the meantime, fundraising efforts continue. Rae is thinking big, and long-term.

"If we raise a lot of money," she said, "I'd like to help build a house for the orphans."

Where to buy on LI

Four Girls For Families will sell their jewelry, cards and T-shirts this weekend at a storefront in Bellport.
Where: 14 Bellport Lane
When: Saturday, Oct. 15 from noon to 6 p.m.
How to help:
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Sophia Harvey appreciates obscure, ordinary in film

By Emma Daniels

When asked about her favorite movie, Assistant Professor of Film Sophia Harvey didn't have a definitive answer. She named a couple of Southeast Asian documentaries—in particular, Tan Pinpin. a Singaporean film, and Mysterious Object, a Thai film.

"I also really like The Big Lebowski," she added. "My favorites aren't high art. I don't do high art; I work in popular genres, like horror, for example."

Accordingly, Harvey, who teaches a wide variety of film classes at Vassar—ranging from World Cinema after 1945 and Indian National Cinema to senior seminars like Cyborgs in Popular Culture—focuses primarily in her research on popular Southeast Asian films, and within that region she often discusses its range of horror films.

Harvey's interests stem from her cross-cultural childhood background. Although she was born in Singapore, she went to an American high school in Germany. Harvey's experience growing up was extremely influential in leading her into her the field of film.

She chose film as her course of study after helping produce her high school's weekly news and game show that initially piqued her interest in media and media production. She furthered her interest in the field with an internship in Singapore.

"The spark was planted in high school, but when I interned at national archives in Singapore when I was around 18 or 19, I realized there was a real dearth of critical lit or any kind of history of the moving image culture in Singapore from colonial times to independence in 1965, and it put me on a path towards a Ph.D," she said. "I wanted to contribute in a critical way to the cinema of my country."

Her interest in horror was obvious from an earlier age. She became interested after she watched an Indonesian film in the genre, Sundelbolong.

"It was a very foundational moment that made an indelible impression," she said. "I've made it a subject of study."

Currently, Harvey is working on a book analyzing contemporary cinema in Singapore released from 2000 to 2007. She is looking in particular at how some of the films that have emerged in this period deal with phenomenology, or how these films explore the senses, as well as life and living in the city state of Singapore.

"The films that I'm particularly drawn to explore cinema as a tactile practice—that is, exploring cinema as a sense of touch. Others that interest me have a creative sound design, privileging hearing as opposed to just a sense of sight," Harvey noted.

Harvey's other main research project is larger in scope. It is focused on how cinema can be a space and site for healing. She is studying in particular the cross sections between film and various other art forms, like the use of dance and music by Cambodians to explore the genocide of their own people.

"These art forms act as a space for Cambodians to visually and narratively explore impact of genocide on themselves and their families," Harvey said.

One focus of the project is the Cambodian diaspora in the United States, and the resulting art that has emerged from Cambodian immigrants. She is studying Cambodian-American documentaries, Cambodian-American rap and also the resurgence of Khmer (Cambodian) dance, in particular in a dance academy in California that's looking to re-explore and reintroduce Khmer dances, many of which didn't survive the genocide.

Both projects relate to the classes she teaches and her genres of interest. One section in her course Screening Southeast Asia, for example, explores cinematic representations of trauma and memory.

"We spend three weeks engaging with the period of Khmer Rouge and genocide through not only the study of the Cambodian-American diaspora but also the study of cultural production from within the country of Cambodia," Harvey said.

"One of the more potent forms or genres that has emerged in terms of dealing or engaging with this trauma has been horror so I've screened some Cambodian horror films that deal with that narrative," she furthered.

Screening Southeast Asia is not the only class where Harvey employs her specialties; she also screens Southeast Asian films in her other classes, and in those same classes is notably knowledgeable about all types of film on a global level. Her classes are both popular and accessible.

Spencer Tilger '14, a current student of Harvey's World Cinema After 1945 class, has only positive things to say about the professor. "She's really smart and engaging, and good at placing films in a historical, cultural and societal context," Tilger said.
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Chinese language schools mushrooming in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- A Cambodia's senior education official said Wednesday that Chinese language schools have been mushrooming throughout Cambodia and the language becomes the second most popular foreign one in the country after English.

"I observe that more and more Cambodian children flock to study Chinese language nowadays," Chey Chab, secretary of state for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, said Wednesday during the inauguration of the Beijing International Academy (BIA) in Phnom Penh.

"I see that Chinese language has been broadly used internationally now and it looks more important, especially among business communities," he said.

Chab said that in Cambodia, the language has gradually been gaining popularity as China is the country's largest investor and a leading trade partner with Cambodia.

According to the Chinese Association in Cambodia, there are 56 Chinese schools with more than 30,000 students throughout Cambodia. The figure does not include local private schools that offer part- time Chinese language courses.

Diana Liu, the BIA's director, said the BIA was the first academy in Cambodia that offered Chinese and English programs with complete combined programs including arts, cultures, sciences, music, dance and martial arts.

"We are committed to building an excellent quality of Chinese and English education in the country," she said. "Our presence here will also help the government of Cambodia to develop human resources."
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