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Galway siblings help Cambodian village to build new school

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“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela.

Last year, my brother Christopher and I traveled to Cambodia for the first time, where we volunteered with Children with Hope for Development (CHD), a grassroots NGO that is bringing a high standard of education to over 200 children living in one of the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged regions, Takeo Province.

BY ASHLEY McDONNELL

Despite their lack of funding, CHD was running three English classes a day as well as a French class and a Maths class for students aged between four and 12. In addition, the school, consisting of four Cambodian teachers and on average between two to four volunteers at a time, was attempting to aid the region’s bright and enthusiastic children in breaking out of the continuous cycle of poverty that they have been born into.

On arrival in Po Village, Christopher and I assisted in launching their first IT class which also attracted older students, giving them a first opportunity to become familiar with a computer, a vital skill in progressing to university or in securing a job in more developed areas of Cambodia.

The IT class was taught on second hand computers in a dark shed with no lights or even a fan, amplifying the average temperature of 30 degrees in Takeo. The conditions were overwhelmingly basic, with lizards and other creatures constantly disrupting teachings.

In 2014, our fundraising efforts in our local community of Craughwell were extremely successful thanks to generous friends and family. ieDepot.ie matched our original total of $3,000 in order to bring our final donation to $6,000, the sum needed to completely finance the school’s first concrete building.

A fortnight ago, I had the chance to travel back to Takeo for the opening ceremony of the two new classrooms, an incredible event in which the students, parents, teachers, volunteers, village leaders and local monks attended.

Ashley McDonnell (right) pictured outside the new school she fundraised for in Cambodia.

Ashley McDonnell (right) pictured outside the new school she fundraised for in Cambodia.

Everyone celebrated together, eating, drinking and dancing for hours. I don’t think I have ever experienced such happiness amongst a group of people in one day, with every child smiling and dancing until it was time to go home.

The new building was blessed and everyone said thank you for their great fortune, as the new classrooms are something that most could never have possibly imagined being built in their local community, where the majority of houses are yet to have running water or electricity.

The future is bright for CHD and their growing number of students, as the children’s level of English is improving dramatically and their eyes are being opened to a life outside of the rice fields where people have enough money to eat three meals a day, to have more than one set of clothing and to have showers with hot water.

Furthermore, the organisation now has a big plan in order to become sustainable, so that they no longer need to rely on donations from around the world.

They are going to build accommodation for the volunteers to stay in, which not only means there will no longer be a need for volunteers to cycle 20km a day in the blistering heat, but also that the income generated from food and board will go towards covering all of the NGO’s costs.

CHD also plans to start a small farm, selling eggs and other products in the local village. The transition from an organisation that relies on others for support to a social enterprise will give CHD the freedom to grow and expand at a much faster rate, with the hope that they will someday have the standard of education that we are fortunate to benefit from in Ireland.

If you’d like to make a donation to CHD to help them reach sustainability, you can do so online: http://goo.gl/Yas3Hj or at  www.iedepot.ie and see blog/category/cambodia-school-building-appeal.

For anyone interested in volunteering with CHD in the future, send an email to ashleymcdonnell@live.com and I’d be more than happy to answer any questions.

CITY TRIBUNE

Sting on Galway City taxi drivers refusing card payment

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – More than 20 taxi drivers in the city were issued on-the-spot fines last week during an operation to nab those not accepting card payments.

The ‘sting’ was conducted by the National Transport Authority (NTA), the Taxi Regulation Office and the Gardaí over the course of several days last week.

It stemmed from complaints that several taxis in Galway City were not accepting card payments – legislation was introduced last September obliging taxi drivers to accept credit and debit cards.

Many drivers sought cash payments while telling customers that their card machines were either not working or that the terminal could not get a signal.

A senior source close to the Taxi Regulation Office told the Galway City Tribune that they had received “quite a number of complaints” from customers stating that drivers were not accepting payments by card.

The source said that members of the public were engaged to use the taxi services as part of the operation and some of them reported that the drivers had indicated from the outset that they would only accept cash payment.

“Since the beginning of the year, the taxi fares in Galway City have received an increase and the drivers are required to provide an in-car system of payment for customers.”
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the June 2 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism and buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Activist wants ‘reasoned discussion’ on asylum seeker plans

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A well-known community activist in the east of the city has appealed for reasoned discussions about plans to accommodate over 300 male asylum seekers in Ballybrit.

Former local election candidate Michael Tully, who is based in Ballybane, said the debate around the proposal to house 302 people in empty office blocks in Ballybrit Business Park was happening at two extremes, while many people living locally were “somewhere in the middle”.

“There were protests organised up there this week by radicals,” said Mr Tully of demonstrations which have been orchestrated by known members of the far right.

“But there are people that think it is unsuitable because they’re putting 300 men in basically a warehouse that’s surrounded by high fences with CCTV cameras all around it. It’s like a prison or an army barracks – where’s the humanity in that? These are people we are talking about.

“There are genuine concerns about it being 300 men, because that’s unhealthy, in the same way it would be unhealthy if it was 300 women. There will be people in there that have families and would be better off mixed with them,” he said.

Media debates about the centres rarely featured nuanced opinions that were based in genuine concern, he said, and tended to favour more radical voices.

“Listen to any of the radio debates or TV discussions and it’s always the two sides shouting each other down. On one side, they’re calling people terrorists and on the other, everyone who has any concern is labelled right wing.”

Mr Tully, who is involved with several community projects locally including the Merlin Allotments and setting up an orienteering group, said there should be a more concerted effort to integrate asylum seekers in the community ahead of moving them into an area.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the June 2 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism and buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Council talks fail to avert water strike action

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – City-wide water outages are expected next week as local authority staff down tools in a dispute over allowances.

Water Services staff in Galway City Council and Galway County Council are due to strike on Wednesday.

Trade union SIPTU predicted the industrial action will cause widespread outages and disruption to the water supply to businesses and homes across Galway. A boil water notice may also be issued.

It’s understood emergency cover and supply to hospitals may be maintained but secondary schools could be impacted on the day the Leaving Cert starts.

Union representatives met with management yesterday (Thursday) but no deal was reached. Pickets are planned for Terryland Waterworks, City Hall on College Road and the Council depot at Sandy Road.

“The City Council has no contingency plan,” said David Samuels, Assistant Industrial Organiser with SIPTU.

(Photo: Terryland waterworks)
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the June 2 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism and buy a digital edition HERE.

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