I just wanted to share with you a little piece I wrote recently for The Weekly News about my wonderful friend and fellow writer Sue Guiney and the amazing work she has been doing in Cambodia.
You can find out much more on Sue's website here.
Here's what I wrote.
The plight of street children in Cambodia might seem a long way from the life of a novelist living in the UK. But when Sue Guiney decided to set her novel ‘A Clash Of Innocents’ in a children’s home in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, she couldn’t help getting involved.
Now, her fight to improve the lives of these children runs though all her work and for the last four years she’s been visiting Cambodia and working with local schools and NGOs to help them.
Sue spent February and March this year running writing workshops for the young people of Anjali House, a shelter in Siem Reap in the north of the country, and the Children of the Mekong Centre in the small Cambodian country town of Banteay Chhmar.
In a trip that took in the chance to watch the kids from Anjali House winning a football match in a local league, a Cambodian book launch for Sue’s latest novel ‘Out Of The Ruins’ in Phnom Penh, and an appearance in Siem Reap’s annual Giant Puppet Parade with a monkey made by the children, she definitely experienced Cambodia to the full.
But, of course, the main focus of the visit was the writing workshops. Sue used the theme of ‘change’ to inspire the Anjali House workshops, encouraging the children to listen to David Bowie’s well-known hit ‘Changes’ and use the lyrics to prompt their own thinking and writing.
Since Sue’s first visit to Anjali House there have been big changes. For one thing the shelter has moved premises and now occupies what would have originally been the luxurious home of a wealthy Siem Reap family. With its carved wooden doors, high ceilings and gallery it offers much more space for the children than their original school.
But the changes the children have seen in their immediate surroundings are also reflected in Cambodia’s political situation. Change was the catch-word that took the people of Phnom Penh onto the streets to demonstrate after the elections of 2013, and the children are living in unstable times where anything could happen.
As well as giving the children an opportunity to practise their creative writing skills, both in English and in their own language of Khmer, the workshops gave them a safe place to talk about what they saw happening around them in Cambodia. Political change, upheaval and the scars of corruption and war were all discussed as they reflected on the power of words.
Highlights of the trip were events at both Anjali House and The Children of the Mekong Centre where the young writing students got the opportunity to read out their work. For Sue, this was what the trip was all about! It wasn’t just the writing, but the chance for the youngsters to stand up, take pride in their work and be rewarded with a sense of self-worth and achievement.
Every time Sue goes back to Cambodia, she finds herself falling in love all over again with the children, with the adults she works alongside, and with Cambodia itself.
Sue’s work has snowballed since her earlier visits and this time around, when a student from Anjali House asked if she would soon be teaching all the children in Cambodia, the only answer she could possibly give was, ‘Why not?’
If you want to find out more about Anjali House and even make a donation to the wonderful work they do, you can go to their website. http://anjali-house.com/
Sue’s latest novel ‘Out Of The Ruins’, the second in her Cambodian trilogy, is out now.