Trip to Tomnup

My Trip to SCCFA Primary School in Pailin – Seda Douglas

1In April 2013, when SCCFA committee members asked me if I wanted to go and see the school that they were building in Tomnup village in Pailin. I said to myself ‘hey ….. well, I get to see Pailin’.

That night I tossed and turned in my bed, switching between a nightmare and a surreal awakening, but most of the time I dreamed that I was in a Sin Sisamuth song, acting out the words that he sang about Pailin, how the local girls in Boryaka town, walking with their colourful umbrellas fully extended to cover themselves from the simmering sun, and occasionally I imagine Sin Sisamuth, and may be Ros Sereisothea, would come up to me and serenade me with all of my favourite songs.

To make a long story short, when we arrived in Pailin, I fell in love with the place instantly, despite the fact it is a former Khmer Rouge stronghold. The province is surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges. On the horizon I could see the green mountains, which the local people call “Phnom Khiev” or “Blue Mountain”.

As far as the eyes can see the region is covered by plantations of many varieties; bananas, rambutan, durian, jack fruit and Kolongkong-yep (I do not know what it is called in English, either). I was able to visit a few of them. Starting with the Sao Mao plantation (rambutan plantation) owned by Ieng Sary’s son.

Yes, again one is reminded of the past and the enormity of cruel history that is a part of this region. But, I believe, if you look far enough into the future there is great beauty to be had.

My wife and I had a beautiful time relaxing in the rain, taking photos with the jack fruits and the rumbutan in our hands, smiling like all the other tourists who seek to enjoy a different kind of environment from city life.

We were driven by the people who work at the Ministry of Education in Pailin, on a 4X4 Toyota Land Cruiser. They knew the place, so they made sure we did not run into other tourists and people from Battambang and Phnom Penh city. We were able to go to Phnom Yat and took photos in the rain with Lauk Yai Yat (Grandma Yat) statue smiling down at us.


Yes, Pailin has been described to me as a dusty town riddled with pot holes, and the visitors are welcomed by noisy trucks and cars, very much like other provincial cities in Cambodia.

In fact, it was not very different from Phnom Penh city when I first arrived in Cambodia two decades ago on my very first assignment as a cadet sound recorder and camera assistant, to cover the 1993 Cambodia election for SBS TV Australia.

Then, as now, I rediscovered what it is to be Cambodian. We are forever the people of the land of a thousand smiles.

No amount of concrete building will be able to diminish our simple and graceful lifestyle. We are simple but not simplistic, our ambitions are grand and our endeavours are noble…. oops, I forgot to write about the school building project.

Tomnup village, like all the villages in this region, is enveloped by mountains, although it is not the famous “Blue Mountain” in Australia, but it sure looks blue.

Maybe not as majestic as ‘Blue Mountain’, but it still has that same effect on me, inspiring, mystical, and distant.
We were greeted by the Tomnup village children, with both zeal and warmth. I had always thought that building the school would not amount to much.

How wrong was I? This school means so much to the children and to this community. I am confident that my contribution to SCCFA has benefited the life of this community.


Imagine your child walking 15 kms to school in a mountainous region. A region that is still littered with land mines and, at times, wild animals still roam the paths to their school.

I was told by a school teacher, and parents of the students, that some of the children could not come to meet me today, because today was Sunday and that some of them live around 35 kms away.

35 kms away from school, I was astonished by this information, in fact I was humbled and felt that I , somehow, have to help other human beings to lighten their load in life, by simply turning up to the concert that SCCFA do every year, and pay my $70. The children make me a better person for I can see in their eyes and in their shy smiles, saying ‘I, too, want to make the world a better place’.

I took out my video camera and I started to film the children.

My initial hesitation that they might not talk to me too kindly for making them turn up to school on a Sunday, with only a few days notice, eroded.  I was so wrong.

They love telling SCCFA, and people in the Cambodian-Australian community, how much they love the school and how much they appreciate the gift that we have given them. I, now, know that you do not need to do a lot, to do good things in life.

You just need to give a little bit of what you have…but, you have to give it for the right cause, for your gift to make a child’s world becomes better. I plan to give a little bit more this year to SCCFA, for I know SCCFA will make things a little bit better for the children of Tomnup village.


Seda Douglas

Chair Person

Save Cambodian Children Fund Australia (SCCFA)


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