Bonnie’s Global Cafe on the Road!

First Day in Siem Reap…

Our first day in Siem Reap has stimulated our senses and provoked our thinking in profound ways. We spent the morning with Saren Sok, who was with the World Forum in Rotorua 2 years ago, working with educators, environmentalists, designers and architects to consider designs for a new school in the Samaky community.  It was quite something to see him again, to visit New Hope Cambodia, where he is now principal, visit a government primary school together and then walk through Samaky,  talking with community leaders, parents, and children. Our conversations focused on challenges in creating and sustaining healthy living environments for children and families and supporting children’s rights to education. In the afternoon we were tourists, visiting the market, sitting in a café watching life go on around us, and getting a taste of both rural and urban life here.

Meeting with Global Leaders…

Global Leaders Asia-Pacific Region began their work together with personal stories and country reports.  Mark Elliott, GL Program Coordinator and Sheldon Shaeffer, GL Regional Coordinator facilitated the introductions.  Global Leaders:  Temesia M Tuicaumia, Fiji; Torika Delailoa, Fiji; Jackie Bennett, Australia: Jessica Staines, Australia; Siva Prasad Behera, India; Savy Lach, Cambodia; Shabreen Nazmeen Nisha, Fiji.  Analesia Tuicaumia and Karma Gayleg were there as Global Leaders graduates and cheerleaders and Evelyn Santiago, Executive Director of ARNEC, made a guest appearance.



Asia- Pacific Regional ECD

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen opened the Asia-Pacific Regional ECD Conference with strong support for children’s education and an impassioned highly political remarks on the causes of current problems for people in his country.  You can listen to the Cambodian National Anthem as we heard it this morning:


Prime Minister Rails Against Deaths of Children in US Wars

Global Leaders posed for photos in front of the conference banner—you can tell we are all getting to know and enjoy each other.


We attended the most lavish banquet I’ve ever attended at the invitation of the Minister of Education to ARNEC conference delegates.  Eight courses, beautiful flowers, hours of cultural dance and music performances, lovely service and sweltering temperature.  We posed for photos framed by intricately carved watermelons—that’s a first!  Quite the evening and a grand time for all Global Leaders.


In between conference plenaries and sessions, Roger and I have been scheduling interviews to share with everyone in Bonnie’s Global Café.  We’ve been trying out our equipment and dedicating ourselves to be the most authentic, engaged listeners we can be.  And then, of course, there are the random conversations that just happen. Two men sat down next to me at lunch, and we began talking about the presentation we had just heard about Laying the Foundations for a Healthy and Prosperous Society:  Investing in Early Childhood Development by Professor Frank Oberklaid, University of Melbourne.  “We have none of that here, we have nothing.  The bad times have taken everything away from us,” they shared.  They continued, “The big problem is that parents go away to work in order to make enough money for their families.  They go to Thailand or Philippines or Saudi Arabia, and they don’t see their children for long periods of time.  Children are left in the care of their grandparents.  This is very hard on the grandparents.  The children have no education and they are separated from their parents.  Children can’t study because they are malnourished.”

“I left my family when I was 11 years old and traveled to get an education.  I never saw my parents again.”  He struggled for his education and achieved his pharmaceutical degree.  “I had the choice of joining the military, being a farmer or going to school. To get an education, children need the support of their families and of their communities and they need to want it for themselves.”

“For a whole term I had one single piece of paper and a pencil.  When I finished one lesson on the piece of paper, I erased it so I could use it again.  And sometimes we had a chalk board and a bone.”

“I was 8 when Pol Pot came to power.  My father was killed, my uncle, many many people were killed.  We have had very very hard times.  People live for the present.  People cannot live for the future, that was taken away with the hard times.”

These men, both doctors, have children with strong ambitions and a commitment to education. “I have two children, my son is an engineer and my daughter will be a lawyer.  They didn’t want to be a doctor like me because they saw how hard I worked.  So hard.”

“We need people who can help us.”


ARNEC finished with celebration and many delegates shared plans to join us for 2017 World Forum! We returned our attention to Global Leaders for a final meeting and dinner together.  As we shared impressions about the week, I was struck by the pride expressed by several Global Leaders in the work happening for children and families in their countries.  It’s a great thing to own the good and to be proud of our individual countries. Savy Lach made an impassioned appeal for supporting the teachers who implement research yet continue to be tragically underpaid.  Jessica Staines drew attention to the danger of losing the child in the statistics. Savy chose a restaurant outdoors with traditional Khmer food and entertainment.  And we said our goodbyes until 2017 World Forum in Auckland.


Up early to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, we met Chan Roeurt (introduced to us by Kirsten Haugen) at 4:45 AM —Mark Elliott, Patti Smit, Shabreen Nazmeen Nisha.  At the visitors’ center where you buy your ticket there was quite the crowd, but Chan was proud of his plan for avoiding crowds, choosing time of day for best light and temperature, and taking breaks so we didn’t get “templed out.”  So we sat on the bank of the moat, waiting for the sun.  As the light grew, we enjoyed the waterlilies, the fish and birds, and the music from the nearby monastery.  All of a sudden, you could see the red ball coming up behind the pineapple towers and the world begins to light up.  It rises so quickly you feel like you can see it move.  And it gets high enough so there is its reflection in the water of the moat, so there are two red balls.  And then somehow there is another reflection in the ripples of the water, and there are three suns.

After the sunrise, we drove to Angkor Thom and walked around Bayon temple to see the base relief in the wall of the temple that tell the story of the Khmer people, as well as the towers with smiling faces of the Buddha. Approaching the Temple, we walked across the bridge lines with huge faces—on one side demons and on the other smiling faces.  The sun was still rising over the river.  It was beautiful.  Chan gets so excited at every arrival that we are outwitting the tour buses and the other guides.  His knowledge is a gift to us, as is his enthusiasm for sharing these places and his country, which he loves.

Chan was born en route to Thailand, his parents fleeing as refugees.  His mother gave birth and they floated him in a basket across the river.  When his mother was 11, she was with her family fleeing in helicopters.  Somehow she got separated from them at the last second.  She turned and an American ? bazooka blew up the helicopter.  She was all alone.  Recently she was reunited with an uncle who believed she had died with the others.  He and Saren met in university, but both spent childhoods in refugee camps in Thailand.

After breakfast it was a 35 minute drive through the countryside, passing small villages and markets and stands of produce, skinny cows, rice and sugar cane fields.  Banteay Srey, the Lady Temple is made of pink sandstone that is intricately carved.  It’s spectacular.  Monkey gods, bird gods, paisley-like elaborate, detailed designs.

Back to Angkor Wat to see inside the Temple this visit.  Climbing to the third level was quite the challenge, but the view was something—old stone and trees.  The builders of the temples carved their history into the walls, messages that can be read over a thousand years later.

Ta Prohm Temple, the Jungle Temple, was the finale.  Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Piles of stones, banyon trees, primal.  There is a tiny room where you stand on a stone, pound your chest three times and make a wish.  You can hear the pounding echoed in the space.


We arrived in Kathmandu late at night to the smiling faces of dear friends Kishor Shrestha and Bishnu Bhatta. Dhirendra Lamsal surprised us at the hotel with more smiles and a beautiful bouquet.  The morning brought Dhirendra and Mukunda Kshetree for a day visiting schools, meeting teachers, playing with children and learning about the work of ICRI-Nepal at Early Childhood Development Centers in Shree Chandi and Tri-Padma School. “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” seems to be known everywhere and is one of our favorite jokes to share with children as we go faster and faster and end up laughing together, whether we share language or not.  We had a long conversation with Ishwar P. Pokharel, Headmaster of Shree Chandi about the importance of children as the foundation of society.  Deepak Raj Sopkota informed us of the work of Karuna Foundation, dedicated to preventing disabilities and serving children who are disabled and their families. Learn more about their amazing work at Deepak and Dhirendra took us on shattered dirt roads to a vista of the city for sunset. We were near tigers and leopards, but didn’t encounter any.  Probably a good thing, but still a bit disappointing.  Deepak invited us to his home for dinner with his family, wife Neelu, daughter Spandan and son Deeptak.



Our drive to rural areas near the city was challenged by dust, potholes, horns and traffic “rules” we could not understand.  Kishor Shrestha and Bishnu Bhatta joined us in being silly with beautiful boys who live in Samaj Kalyan Orphanage operated by PSD-Nepal in rural Nepal. These boys raise huge cabbages and potatoes, have some cool dance moves, and, of course, go to school.  We met two very personable young men who will soon be attending University.  We talked about Mud Day, because this is one of the places where it began, and of the ongoing connection between Bishnu and Gillian McAuliffe.  Every year 8-10 families from Gillian’s program visit the orphanage to work on garden and be with boys.

Our next stop was the Pipaltar Integrated Project and the 87 houses Bishnu’s team is building with Habitat for Humanities funding.  The houses are replacing 87 houses destroyed by the earthquake. The project got delayed when India blocked the border so supplies could not come into the country.  We met one of the families moving in.

We then drove down the mountain nearly avoiding 3,000 accidents, stopping on the way to eat at Dhulilchel Lodge’s beautiful hotel/cafe – with a great view of Himalayas — which was blocked by the pollution.  Then back in the city we met with Mr. Hari Khanal, Deputy Director and Head of ECD Section at the Department of Education.  We talked about how ece is provided, monitored and supported in Nepal.  He attended the ARNEC meeting in Cambodia, so we compared notes on that and ureged him to attend 2017 WF.

Next we toured Bhaktapur, the cultural center of Nepal with many temples,  a royal palace (without royalty) and lots and lots of tiny shops.

Finally we had dinner with Bishnu, Dhirendra along with his daughter Anusha, and his wife Susan Risal, CEO Nagarik Aawaz for Peace at a restaurant where servers are hearing and speech impaired


Occluded skies meant no flight to see Mt Everest, so Dhirendra took us to Pashupatinath, a holy Hindu site for cremations, meditation and marking milestones.  Monkeys would pop in now and then.  Agatha Thapa, founder of Seto Gurans organized a meeting of Movers and Shakers at her office.  Members of Parliament and the Early Childhood Caucus, Representatives from UNICEF, SAVE, and ICRI, as well as old friends who have created a strong community of World Forum family in Kathmandu.  A quick walk with Agatha through Patan Durbar Square, lunch at the Red Mud Cafe, then off to UNICEF for a meeting with Dr. Rownak Khan and Dr. Dipu, United Nations Children’s Fund, sharing the work of the World Forum and the work of UNICEF, Kishor and Bishnu in Nepal.  We walked through Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square where we caught a glimpse of the Living Goddess, did an interview with Mahen Shrestha, Global Family Village-Nepal, a bit of a race to see the view from Shoyambhu Stupa (Monkey Temple), and then a fine evening to reflect on this visit, the future, and life with Nepalese food and dancing at Bhojan Griha.  It struck me during all of these meetings, that when we are with people we are always talking and thinking about children, which brings visibility to children and to the advocates who work with and for. These precious conversations are filling us up.



Airline snarls gifted us an extra day in Kathmandu and a morning visit with Agatha Thapa.  We celebrated International Women’s Day together, even though it was the day after because we just wanted to—we are women, after all, and women drive the world!  Agatha shared her story of a lifelong commitment to bring attention and care to disadvantaged children in Nepal, her work founding Seto Gurans. Mukunda Kshetree of ICRI came to say goodbye and Dhirendra picked us up for the drive to Junkiri.  The path to the home and school was steep and windy and offered panoramic views of the countryside.  From quite a distance we could hear the sounds of children.  When we reached the top we were greeted by beautiful children gifting us flowers of welcome to Junkiri (firefly) Children’s Home, a residential program for children whose mothers are in prison.  It enables them to go to school and to experience love and home and community.  Our camera was handed over to Krishna Rana who recorded our visit.  We spent time talking and playing and drinking tea together, met with teachers, sampled dinner, visited goats and most of all just enjoyed being with the children.  See his photo story of life (in the gallery below!).  Back to Kathmandu through villages rebuilding from the earthquake . . . piles of bricks and building debris, dust, dirt, hard labor. . .in such a beautiful natural setting.  Dinner with Agatha, Shashi, Manu, Dhirendra began with a puppet farewell — fyi no children were at the table. And finally, a short introduction to Indira Ranamagar and her powerful work, Prisoners Assistance Nepal, which includes the program we visited today.

Krishna Photos




At 6 AM the general strike over the Constitution began in Kathmandu; we left early for the airport, so Dhirendra could return home in safety. And then, in spite of many challenges we arrived in Paro, Bhutan, and were welcomed by Karma Gayleg and the traditional white scarves of welcome.

The drive to Thimpu wound around the mountains dotted with pine trees, the river roaring below. Karma’s wife Jigme greeted us with white scarves, home brewed wine, and a traditional lunch.

We met with Rudolf Schwenk and Sangay Jamtsho from UNICEF about unifying services among government agenciesand NGOs and requested support from UNICEF for the Global Leaders program.

Our last meeting of the day, with Karma Tshering, Director General, Department of School Education and Sherab Phuntshok, focused on the King’s commitment to providing early childhood services to every village in Bhutan by 2028. We shared perspectives on the impact of Karma Gayleg in creating the Early Childhood initiative in Bhutan and the impact his being a Global Leader has had on Karma and therefore Bhutan and, of course, all of us involved in the World Forum.

Bhutanese tea around the fire-burning stove with Karma, Jigme, and son Tila and dinner at a traditional restaurant—with, of course, some karaoke, finished off an amazing day. Zamen, Karma’s daughter was there to wish us good night.









SNOW!  We awoke to a winter wonderland and nature’s gift of a holiday (it hasn’t snowed like this in Bhutan since 2012).  So the plan for visiting programs just didn’t happen.  Instead we had snow ball fights, snow angels in the plaza in front of the world’s largest Buddha at Shakyamuni, bought vegetables in the market, and again, sat around the wood stove talking and drinking tea.  Late afternoon we drove with a leaking tire around boulders to Paro, picked up cousins Tenzi and Jimmy  and arrived at Namsay Choling Resort.  The electricity was out so it was VERY cold.  Dinner in the restaurant was by candlelight and we slept in our clothes and under at least four quilts.




Today was our day to see Tsatsang Monestery, the Tiger’s Nest, but it didn’t happen.  Too much snow and ice and chilly slop made such an adventure foolhardy, so instead Karma took us to the end of the road, Drukgyen.  We did see Tsatsang at great distance, tucked precariously to the snowy mountainside.  And the view from Drukgyen was beautiful.  Tila took us on a walk around Paro while the tire was being repaired.  Then all of us went to Karma’s sister’s home for butter tea and rice snacks.  We walked through the dormant rice fields to meet his parents who live in their traditional Bhutanese farm house.  He showed us how they all lived in the house growing up and how they enjoy it when they arrive with children for times together.  It was a great honor to meet Karma’s parents and to be given this window into rural farm life.  Karma’s sister made lunch for us, several members of the family gathered, the cousins whooped it up—and we got to be part of it all.  We celebrated the sunshine, the return of electricity, and warmth.





Time to leave. Karma’s car wouldn’t start. He tried for 45 minutes and then we had to rush by taxi to the airport, and leave Tila and Karma to sort the car. At immigration the officer challenged me because my passport and visa numbers didn’t match! And then we were flying over the Himalayas, one range shadowing into the next.

Our Bhutan wasn’t the Bhutan of tourist posters, monasteries and peaks, or trekking. It was the Bhutan of family life and daily pleasures and challenges. We spent many hours sitting on mats on the living area floor, circling the wood stove. We played Rats and talked about our lives, adults and children—getting hot on one side and then turning to take in the warmth. A big kettle on the stove heated water for baths, kept our cups of tea warm, and humidified the air.  Tila and Zamen talked about school, dancing for the King, sports and they asked questions: Where do you live? How did you meet? What do you do in your day? Karma talked about the farm where he grew up, about teaching in a remote area and creating the Red Panda Festival.  Jigme talked about being principal of her school and growing up in a village of weavers. Every now and then people would turn to their phones or iPads for updates. We ate several meals sitting this way as well—rice from each of their villages, greens, rotis delivered to the door, dal, curries, mushrooms and cheese.


Dinner with Vashima Goyal was the finale of our adventures.  We had a grand time talking, eating, appreciating this city that she loves so much.  Our conversation was authentic, honest, and reinforced what such conversations mean for friendship and work.




Full Picture Gallery:

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