I woke up before the sparrows again today, so I thought I might take the opportunity to introduce our dynamic team to our readers.

I should perhaps start with myself, principal of the Helen O'Grady Academy in Malta and president of the Drama Outreach Project (DOP) NGO. My duties here are numerous and include meetings with key players and project partners.

But when it comes to the children, I handle the warm-ups and intro activities while teaching new vocabulary. In O'Grady spiel, I set the energy level of our classes.

Next in line is my right-arm, Chiara Hyzler, vice president and co-founder of the NGO, a marketing queen but also a drama teacher by profession. Besides partaking in all our meetings, she also handles choreography which the kids LOVE. Her quirky somewhat effervescent personality is infectious.

Katherine Brown is up next. Teacher extraordinaire and the creator of our tailor-made lesson plans, Katherine teaches high energy snippets and oversees arts & crafts. Katherine also has an inherent talent to think on her feet and improvise and react to whatever situation the children throw at her.

Gaby Montanaro is mother to the group and the go-to person for anything requiring logistical planning. She's also my rock! Besides the tireless running around and sorting out details, Gaby also assists in the TEFL classes with Emma Gatt who is a qualified TEFL teacher.

A quick aside about Emma who has just confirmed her sponsorship of 11-year old Meng from the Sfoda orphanage. We all assumed that someone as smart and polite as Meng was already sponsored so Emma is doubly thrilled to be supporting this amazing young man who is determined to become a doctor.

Next up is Petra Sant who, back home, heads our fund raising committee. Petra teaches our speech segment and that is no mean feat when you are faced with street children who have never attended a lesson of anything in their lives - let alone a foreign language.

Martina Zammit is our videographer and is documenting our journey here in Cambodia so that we may raise awareness to the plight of the children we work with in a way that photographs can't.

Two days ago, Martina had her mobile phone snatched out of her hand by a passing motorbike and had to file a report at the police-station. Now, if we thought bureaucracy was a problem in Malta, over here it is an art-form.

Martina and Gaby were taken to one police-station where the barefoot policeman (who couldn't speak a word of English) pushed a form towards them, then took Martina's passport and left the building to make a copy of it leaving the girls to man the branch for a good few minutes.

On his return he instructed the tuk-tuk driver to take them to a second police station where a smiling policeman assured them that absolutely nothing will be done to find their phone.

He then proceeded to pass on the same form she had previously filled in at the first branch. At the end of the process, he asked her to pay for his time and the photocopies and ink used. This gives a new meaning to the saying Only In Malta.

Last and certainly not least is our resident doctor, Alexandra Camilleri Warne. Alex has a double function here in Cambodia: first of all she assists Petra in speech and is crucial at maintaining the focus of the class, but as a doctor specialising in pediatrics, she is also routinely checking the children and administering care where necessary.

Yesterday, for instance, she treated the big toe of a young boy who, due to a severe fungal infection, is in danger of losing his nail.

Alex has already taken the management of the two organisations we work with through the substantial amount of medicines and equipment that we brought with us from Malta, explaining and marking which is for what and what dosage.

This will come in extremely useful in the battle against all-too-common infections brought about when living in squalor.


It's now later on in the evening and we've just returned from an exhilarating afternoon at Sfoda. This is my third year coming to work at the orphanage and I can't tell you what a massive leap in standards we have witnessed this year, compared to just 12 months ago when they were evicted from their original premises and had to set up in a new space in a very short time (no idea what the hurry was because the old SFODA today lies empty and abandoned).

Of course another reason for the improvements and positive atmosphere is the sponsorships we have managed to sign up through DO Cambodia. These improvements mean the children are now happier and happiness is a great basis for learning.

Today, the children surprised us with an impromptu concert of traditional Khmer instruments and dance. We had no idea they could even play the pien paret (or at least that's what I think it's called), and it was great to see all the kids enjoying the performances. Well done, Sfoda!

Also today and in order to take full advantage of her profession, Dr Alex sat the children down both at LRDE and Sfodato take them through some basic first aid, hammering in the importance of personal hygiene, keeping wounds clean, and not picking at those scabby sores. Using children as volunteers for the various treatments was genius and her audience were as mesmerised as we were.

In conclusion, I've had a few messages asking me why I insist on wearing a scarf when temperatures here are in the mid 30's by 7am with humidity levels rising to 94 per cent by the afternoon.

It's not because I'm particularly fashion conscious in Cambodia (though as a drama teacher I do like a bit of colour), and I'm not trying to come across as mildly eccentric at all. It's because of moob sweat. That's right, for the first time in my life, I am developing wet patches beneath my non-existent man boobs. The scarf serves a double function of concealment and lightening-speed surreptitious wipes.

And with that happy image... enjoy your breakfast!

Alan Montanaro


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