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A SHELTER FOR AN BINH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

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Phnom Voar (Vine Mountain) is a small range of mountains in southern Cambodia. The mountain range is located in Damnak Chang'eaur District of Kep (Khmer-“saddle of the horse”), near the border of Kampot Province. This relatively isolated range was notorious as a battleground during the Cambodian Civil War, when it was a base for communist insurgent forces and the target of significant bombing by B-52s and other air strikes.

The main North-South railway line between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville runs along the base of the mountain. National Road 33 between Kampong Trach and Kampot also runs nearby. However, there are few roads or paths within the mountains and only two permanent communities: Chamkar Bei and Rones villages.

Tucked into the crook of the hills is a piece of estate over 8 hectares in size. This beautiful land is brimming with potential for agriculture and development. Presently, Sister Mary Ange is the sole person in charge of harnessing this little piece of Eden. The estate does not have electricity, sanitation or even a septic tank. Rainwater is collected in huge barrels for human consumption and use. There is only an open sheltered atrium built attached to a single room. This is used as the kindergarten and teaching centre for the village kids. These kids are sometimes ‘collected’ by Sister MJ on a motorcycle, if their parents could not send them. Lessons are conducted in the later afternoon and evenings.

A few of us visited Phnom Voar, Kep in June this year in a recce trip to understand and explore the possibilities there are and we came away excited with the potential of a modest cottage enterprise for jam making. The realm of chutneys, relishes, pickles, jam, jellies and conserves reeled in our heads. Of course in such a ‘primitive-like ’ organic environment sans modern kitchen assistance and equipment, it is more a dream. But with ACTS we dare to dream, and hope to put Phnom Voar on our map for little sweet preserves.

Currently, Sister Mary Ange works the land with 2 families from the local village and they have successfully planted plots of thriving Kampot pepper vines, Dragon Fruit, Papaya trees, Mango trees, Jackfruit trees and Banana trees. They are hopeful and motivated to grow more variety seeing our excitement. The latest additions are winter-melons, sweet potatoes, coconuts, rambutans, durians and corn. One can appreciate the hours of labour and toil; watering, weeding, pruning, fertilizing and trans-planting. The natives are doing an excellent job - the trees are healthy with little weeds choking the undergrowth. Everything is eco-friendly complete with a composting heap.  

So when the fruits are harvested, those not sold at weekend market or consumed by the school, gets turned into jam to preserve the fruits and eliminate any wastage. As there is no proper kitchen on site, these fruits are brought down to the Don Bosco Technical School to be cooked and bottled in their kitchen. Sister Mary Ange is also the resident culinary instructor here for the students in the Hospitality course.

 

Photos of Phnom Voar and jam making

 

Making Jam is EASY!  The artisanal and traditional way begins with the harvest of a bumper or choice fruits.  After the fruit is cleaned and cut to desired size, sugar is added then the mixture is cooked. While the jam is cooking, sterilization of the jars and lids in boiling water takes place. The completed jam is ladled into hot and freshly sterilized jars one by one. Next there is the tedious job of removing any trapped air bubbles with a spatula as any trapped air will enable growth of bacteria and mold later. Then we top the bottle with the jar lid before returning the very jars to boiling water for a further 10 minutes to ensure jar lids have been properly sealed. Finally we remove jars to cool before labeling and packing for distribution.

We conducted 2 basic sessions for jam flavoring with the culinary students at Kep. And we brought home 60 bottles of a combination of the following

•    Pineapple Kampot Pepper with White Rum
•    Mango Pineapple, Lime Orange w Ginger
•    Mango Ginger with Chilli
•    Mango, Lime, Orange with Ginger
•    Jackfruit & Lime Jam with White Rum
•    Jackfruit & Orange Marmalade

These were sold out at the first session of ACTS Mission Admin. Sister Mary Ange was so inspired by our support that now she is planning to make jellies and chillies! Thank you ACTS delegates!

If any of you have an interest to help develop this fantastic little community, please drop me a note at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I will be most happy to discuss and share with you what we can do for Phnom Voar Valley.

 

- Trixie Yap