January 2005 Newsletter

Happy (Chinese) New Year to all you friends of Starfish. I hope that 2005 has got off to a good start for you all.

2004 has been our busiest year so far. Thanks to you all we received donations of $20,816.27 last year which enabled us to complete 391 projects. In other words, we have been able to make a difference to the lives of 391 people and their families, at an average project cost of $46.29. In the last year, the Starfish Project has built or repaired 62 houses, started 35 businesses and funded medical treatment for 294 clients.

A special thank you must go to our rowing hero Louis, whose awe-inspiring efforts have stirred sponsors to an equally awe-inspiring amount of money.
Thanks also to those tourists who visited as part of their Intrepid Tour and the group leaders who led you here. Your donations will make a huge difference, especially since Intrepid have so kindly matched the combined amount!
This year we’ve also been inspired by the village of Hopton in England, whose craft sales and yard sales have raised major funds for our projects, and the Santa Monica Social Concerns Committee, Moraga, California.

And of course a huge thank you to all of you who have made personal donations and bought Starfish t-shirts and supported the Project by visiting the Starfish Bakery Café.

Many of our café customers have been kindly donating toiletries collected from various hotel bathrooms across South East Asia. Thank you to all of you and also to all those hotel proprietors who literally don’t know how kind they are!

Over 180 of these tooth-brushes were recently taken for distribution at Sihanoukville prison, as part of ongoing work carried out by our fieldworker, Meng. The prison occupants currently include several pregnant ladies, who we have been supporting with vital vitamins and clothes of increasing size, as the prison regime does not provide for such needs. All prisoners were given meals of sweet porridge to raise their reportedly awfully low blood sugar levels. Meng will continue to visit the prison to work with the governor to ensure the well-being of the prisoners.

An issue that has frequently come to our attention over the last year is that of land disputes. In Cambodia there is a law which gives rights of ownership to anyone who has occupied a plot of land for a minimum of five years.

However, a number of clients have come to us having been evicted from their homes by long-absent landlords who are returning to take advantage of soaring land prices in Sihanoukville town. The current boom in development has also heavily influenced the cost of building materials locally. We carried out some research and found that for the cost of purchasing a small plot in town and building a home there, it is possible to buy a large plot in the countryside, build a house, plant the surrounding land with vegetables and still have enough left over to buy a pig! This might not seem like a ground-breaking revelation, but it has certainly been a life-changing step for those clients whom we have supported in their decision to make the move. Not only are they secure in their new home but they are so much more self-sufficient then town life could ever allow them to be.

For a long time now we have been inundated with horror stories surrounding the corruption and poor quality of care in place at the local public hospital. For this reason we have chosen to use private clinics for medical projects. Meng has become increasingly concerned that the trend of relying on private medical care will only exacerbate the problem of corruption amongst underpaid public doctors, reduce the resources available to improve quality of care in the public health service and further remove quality medical care from the reach of underprivileged Cambodians. Thanks to Meng and Erika’s determination to find some way to resolve this predicament, we have found a like-minded ‘accomplice’ working at the public hospital. We are now coming close to making a formal agreement with this Doctor to assure us of his accountability for good quality care of our clients and for formally structured pricing for their treatment.
This will be a huge breakthrough for Starfish clients. As Meng points out, how can we ever expect the public services to improve when all the good doctors are forced to go private to earn a living. Rather than giving up on the public services, it is better that we demand change. We may work on a small scale, but that is what Starfish is all about, and we are getting somewhere!

One of our main focuses in the last month has been well-building to provide healthier lives for those rapidly-expanding communities living without access to fresh water. So far this year we have built 8 wells to provide fresh water for a total of 240 households in 6 neighborhoods, at an average cost of less than $45. Just a beginning!

Last year saw some big changes in the Starfish Bakery Café. Congratulations and best wishes to Srey Tuit who was married last year and left us to focus on family life. We are very happy to welcome Sophea as our new chief brownie, cookie, scone, you-name-it maker. She has proved to be yet another diamond and we all love the fun she brings to the café.

Sala Santa Pheap, our new massage venture, has been steadily adding dedicated members to its client list. It has been a slow start but the word is starting to get around about the healing hands of Chandara and Kim Leap. Kim Leap has welcomed a new addition to his family, a beautiful little girl called Sophea. Congratulations to him and good luck to his lovely wife who is home alone while Leap further improves his massage skills with a training course in Japan!

Once again, thank you for your interest and all those kind donations of not only money and materials, but also time, energy and ideas. Starfish really can make a difference, thanks to you. Have a wonderful 2005.