Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Solar power charging station Rwanda

One day after returning to Hong Kong, I joined my colleagues taking another team to come to Rwanda carry out another solar electrical power project.  This valley in Gicaca cell, Gikomero sector looks picturesquely idyllic. One is tempted to imagine living here.  

Firstly, however, the houses are built with mud.  

Secondly, the living conditions here are rather basic.  

Finally, it is hard to imagine living without running water nor electricity. 

Can you imagine walking up a steep and slippery hill carrying a jerry can with 10 kilograms of water on your head.   These kids, less than 10 years old, know exactly how it feels.  I tried once, walking 1.5 kilograms on a relatively flat road with 10 kilograms of water on my head.  I had to stop and relieve my head many times before I could complete the tread.  We couldn’t do much with the eater problem.  But we have been working on the electricity problem.. 

I started this year’s project by visiting a charging station set up in 2016.  Two years ago, we out 12 20-watt solar panels on this house.  The combined 240 watts generated can be used to charge 5 batteries at the same time.  Two years later, the system is till working well. I was told the local youths have been coming to maintain the system.  It is very gratifying to hear that we have been able to pass along the skills to the local community.  These youths live in the community.  Many have completed secondary school but could not find jobs in the city.  Hence they return to the village to farm.  Now they are keeping these solar charging stations running.  

This year we are going to set up 5 more charging stations, and wire up 136 households with batteries, LED lighting, mobile phone chargers, and small radios running on rechargeable batteries.  We hope also to provide more complete training to these youths so that they can continue to wire up more houses, and hopefully, setup more charging stations.  What we need to do then is to raise more funding to buy the equipment and consumables for them. 

These are the gratifying fruits of many years to hard work, of many people from Hong Kong and Rwanda working together.  This is what keeps me from retiring.  I thank God for letting me work on this. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Ohneanghing Community Learning Centre House 2 grand opening

On the last day of our trip to Kampong Speu, House 2 and the playground of our Community Learning Centre were finished.  We invited the kids from the village to a grand opening of the playground.  

What we built for the kids is a STEM playground.  There are games teaching various geometrical shapes.  There is a periscope for teaching optics.   There is a catapult that can be used to teach the theory behind projectiles.  There are seesaws for teaching mechanics as well as sustainability because it is built with recycled tires.  

The kids went crazy with the games.  We had to teach them to take turns, to play safely and how not to interfere with each other.  

The kids stayed until dark, until their parents called them home. 

A beautiful dog was sniffling around with interest.  But it seemed very wary with people.  But it seemed very found of, and in fact crawled all over, one girl little girl, who must have been its owner.  

Even then, a Moogli (Jungle Book, Disney version) - lookalike swinged by herself even after all the kids were gone.  We were wondering why she was able to stay behind while all the others had gone.  Eventually, however, she also disappeared. 

I found a piece of spare wood, and made a shark for the kids.  It wasn’t too difficult to do.  I used a saw to cut out a rough profile, my pocket knife to whittle out the shape, sandpaper to smooth it, and finally painted it.  All in all it took me about 2 hours.   The kids loved it.  

An American students remarked that she would go to a toy store to buy such a thing, and did not expect someone to make it.  I told her that someone has to make it so that she can buy it from the store.  Many of the students said they wanted me to make one for them.  Unfortunately I made this one for the community learning centre, for the kids.  And there were not enough time to make more.  

One kid seemed to be particularly fond of the shark.  Towards the end, he gesticulated to me, pointed to his school house, and said something.   At first, I though he wanted to take the shark to his classroom.  I tried to let him know that I made it for the community learning centre.  Eventually, the local volunteer told me has was concerned that if we left it outside, someone might steal it.  Hence he suggested to store it inside.  I really like this kid and his thinking.  So I told him we will put it inside the community learning center.  So that he can play with it when he comes to the center. 

Inside the center, other than the shark, we have installed specially designed tables with science themes, computers with educational applications loaded.  And more. 

When the sun went down.  We had to leave, reluctantly.  We are hoping that the center, with the STEM playgound, will not only provide a lot of fun to the kids, but also help to stimulate and exercise their interest in science.   We were all exhausted.  But we felt we had had a fulfilling 2 weeks. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Ohneanghing Community Learning Centre House 2 in progress - what is a good teacher?

House 2 and the playground of the Community Learning Centre is in progress, and in fact, nearing completion.  The colourful outside wall murals are getting done.  Solar panels are already on the roof, ready to be installed.  Today the 16 people taking the Teacher Development Course on Service-Learning came to visit.  The 16 came from PolyU, Baptist U, Peking U and May Foundation.  They spoke with the students from PolyU and U of Maryland who are working on the Community Learning Center.  

Furniture designed for STEM lessons are being made, as well as the equipment for the playground,  The rudimentary seesaw has an interesting genesis.  Initially the students found a video on the making of such a seesaw and tried to make one.  Their initially design was not stable.  We gave them some suggestions but they insisted on doing it their way.  When their product proved unstable, I stepped in and insisted that they change to a better design.  Eventually they came up with a much improved design.  As a teacher, how much should we prescribe the design of a project?  How much room should we give the students to experiment with?  When the students struggle and even fail, and eventually learni to do it right, they learn so much more than when they just follow instructions and get everything right.  With service-learning, however, we have to deliver a usable product in a limited amount of time.  How do we balance between these considerations?  It is a learning experience for the teacher as much as the students.  When you strike the right balance, it is particularly gratifying.  But the students’ view is often different from the teachers'.  Sometimes I feel a good teacher is one who can guide the students so subtlety and unobtrusively that the students feel they are learning successfully on their own.  

Many of the children, for whom we are building the learning centre and the playground, are helping to sand the furniture, level the ground, and anything we let them help with.  I hope they feel they have a hand in building their own learning and fun space.  

It seems they are enjoying it as much as we do. 

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Ohneanghing Community Learning Centre - House 2

We are back in Kampong Speu province, Cambodia, to continue the work on the Community Learning Centre at Ohneanghing.  Last year, 2017, we built a house for the Community Learning Centre out of a used cargo container., to the right of the primary school house at Ohneanghing.  This year we are constructing another house out of a “mobile house” constructed like a cargo container, and placed it to the right of House 1 that was built in 2017. 

When we arrived at the site yesterday afternoon, the village folks have already contracted a concrete platform for house 2.  The mobile house that we bought was delivered and set on the platform yesterday morning, just in time for our arrival.  For house 1, we had installed a water collection system, a solar panel electrical power generation systems, lights, fans, books and computers. 

This year, for house 2, we plan to to install another solar panel system for electricity, purpose-designed educational furniture, computers and educational applications.  We also plan to construct a playground in front of the 2 houses.  While our students are 
painting house 2, making the furniture, and doing other preparations, the playground is being built.  Firstly, the boundaries of the playground are laid out.  

We bought stones and sand and cement, and the villagers, including the kids, helped us construct the platform for the playgound.  Big stones are laid down as the base. 

Sand is filled in.  

Cement is then poured. 

More cement is being applied to make a level platform. 

In the mean time, our students are painting the insides and outsides of House 2. 

The local kids are enthusiastically helping us sand down wooden planks to make specially-designed tables for the classroom in House 2.  They are helping to create their own classroom and playground.  

Based on what we have seen, a playground is a rarity in Cambodian primary schools.  We  hope the kids enjoy it.  They certainly enjoy helping to build it.  It is gratifying to see so many people from such diverse background working together to make it happen, and to see it coming together.  I hope to be able to report further progress in the coming days. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

June 4 Candlelight Vigil

It is June 4 again.  Again a candlelight vigil is held in Victoria Park in Hong Kong.  Unfortunately, I could not attend as I am in Cambodia at the moment.  Many people in the establishment camp are saying that we should move forward, that the country has developed further since then, etc., as excuses for not attending the vigil, for not taking a stand to demand a re-classification of the June 4 massacre.  Some are even saying that it never happened, despite all the evidence and the numerous witnesses.  

It is precisely because of the people denying the reality of the massacre or trying to forget that it happened that we should remember it.  I feel bad that I cannot be there this evening.  But I vow to be there in spirit and to do my best to remember it.  God is just and will one day vindicate those who made the sacrifice.  

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Cambodia, Here we come, again!

We are back at Thmor Da, our favourite restaurant in Phnom Penh - judging by how many times do we come here. As usual, we come here straight from the airport, before even going to the hotel.  And we come for 2 things:  baguette with sausages and pickles, and Phnom Penh noodles.  This is comfort food for us.  

We are in Cambodia, of course, for service-learning.  Arriving today, there is a team from PolyU and a team from U of Maryland.  Together we are going to build a community learning centre out of a used cargo container. There is another team of journalists, composed of students from PolyU and Brown U, who will document the projects here and a couple other countries.  

Yesterday, a team led by electrical engineers has already arrived from PolyU, who will be building a micro-power grid using solar panels.  Before that, a team of students only had arrived and gone, having installed solar panels for a very small village school run by a brother and sister team of volunteers.  

A team led by nursing instructors will arrive to do health promotion.  A team led by English instructors will teach English at a primary school at the old garbage dump.  A team led by General Education instructors will work in a village.  A team led by building service teachers will be doing a water filtration project.  A team of staff from PolyU, Baptist  U and Peking U will arrive soon to take a staff development course from us.  

We will be joined by 100 students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Human Resource Development Institute (a local community college) and some other organizations.  Together ~250 people are working together in our Summer School on Service-Learning and Leadership Development.  Most of them are here for the first time. We are going to enjoy working and learning together, while doing something useful and meaningful for the community.  

Join us next time if you wish. You will surely remember it for the rest of your life. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hong Kong and British Colonialism

The Hong Kong Island skyline really is quite stunning, particularly on a sunny day.  It is very hot on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.  I was running by and just snapped a few photos without stopping.   Hong Kong Island is just one big rock.  Yet so many high rises have been built on the edge of the water.  Many of them are actually sitting on reclaimed land, which means they are standing in what was part of the harbour.  Yet so many of them break the silhouette of the rock.  

All these, the buildings, the reclamation, the city, the people, the wealth, the relatively inclusive and open political institutions and economic system, the many companies, the schools, the universities, the hospitals, …, would not have happened without the Opium War, without the British occupying Hong Kong for more then 150 years.  

Yes, many would argue that it has been the millions of Chinese who worked so hard to build Hong Kong.  But without the British making Hong Kong a colony ruled, more or less, by law, would it have attracted so many to come to do business, to live, to escape from the many turmoils in China, to build, to teach, to make Hong Kong great?  

Certainly the British imperialists did it for their own benefit, not for ours.  But we enjoy the side-benefits nevertheless.  Dare I ask the question: shall we be grateful if the benefits are un-intended?  Mind you, some of them British would claim that the benefits are intended.