Many of you will have heard the sad news of the death of Nic Sommer on 12 March, after five weeks in hospital.
Nic was born into a family of musicians and, himself, wanted to be pianist. But his life took another direction and he became a journalist. As a key member of the communications team at the ICRC, he travelled the globe, often finding himself in very difficult situations. Everything he wrote was crafted with finesse and his reports were rigorously documented and often accompanied with photographs from the ICRC archives taken by his friend Chamrong LO.
A long-time friend of Pam Walsh OBE, founder of our association, and of Chamrong LO, founder of our school in Cambodia, Nic was always close to Don du Choeur. In 2009, that engagement led him to bring his journalistic experience to bear in editing Don du Choeur’s newsletter and website. For ten years he offered his advice and input with modesty and elegance, but also with limitless humour and generosity.
We have lost a friend and counsellor and a reference point in the humanitarian domain, who has made his own very special mark on our association.
Our thoughts are with Nic and his family,
and all the friends of Don du Choeur
What’s happening in Cambodia? How are the 600 young people of Ta Pen coping? Here, we reply to some of the questions you have been asking.
The situation in Cambodia
The rapid spread of COVID-19 affects us all and has not spared Cambodia, which has closed its borders. Although the number of confirmed cases is, according to official figures, still very small (122 cases as of 16 April, 30 of which were French tourists travelling in the region of Ta Pen!), constraints have been firmly placed on the movement of the population. Schools have been closed since 16 March. The celebration of the Khmer New Year has been cancelled by the authorities and travel restricted at provincial level.
Impact on the Ta Pen school
All the children have stopped their studies and returned to working in the fields to help their parents. We do not know for how long. Before the school closed, the primary and secondary pupils received training from our partner, Bandos Komar, on COVID-19 and the precautions to be taken to protect themselves (and their families) and stop the spread of the virus.
For the moment, all our Cambodian colleagues, friends and pupils are in good health. Many of you have been asking about them and they are extremely touched by your sense of solidarity. The school’s employees and teachers are being paid in full for the moment. We will reconsider the wage policy of Don du Choeur at the beginning of May in line with the current situation.
Impact on the “postgrad” students
Our students studying at the high school in Bakong and those following professional training at Siem Reap have all returned home to their parents in Ta Pen after having successfully completed their first semester. We congratulate them all!
During this period, we will no longer finance their schooling but will keep their lodgings in town so they can pick up their studies again as soon as the schools reopen.
Impact on families
As you know, the standard of living of rural families in Ta Pen still remains very low, even though it has increased significantly over the last few years thanks, to a large extent, to the presence of the school. The demand for agricultural products (in particular mangoes, which are cultivated everywhere in Ta Pen) has taken a big hit because of the closure of hotels and restaurants. Tourism has ceased. If this crisis is prolonged, Ta Pen risks falling into a survival economy.
In this difficult situation, we wish to stay close to our most vulnerable families. We are distributing produce from the school vegetable garden to them to supplement the rice being offered by the State. We will also assist families whose children have to be hospitalized.
The Ta Pen school plays an important supporting role for families in difficulty and is helping to prepare for a careful lifting of restrictions … whenever that might be.
Mexico is in lock-down. Schools are closed. Covid-19 is approaching Oaxaca, threatening in particular the shanty-town of Vicente Guerrero, which sits at the edge of the local refuse tip, and where Don du Choeur is financing and extending a music school.
In the current situation, the directive to Stay at Home is vital to avoid spreading the virus. But this is difficult for many who are living hand to mouth and who have to go out in order to feed their families.
With your support, we want to help and protect the most needy families connected to our school by buying them hygiene safety products, food and drinking water – and, if possible, telephone credit for music lessons online. So many things have become inaccessible!
Order embroidered face-masks* (10 Swiss francs each, plus postage) at email@example.com and be part of this wonderful chain of solidarity between Geneva and Oaxaca!
* Choice of model respected within the limits of stock available.