by AA 4th year James Mak, founder and chairperson of Project Little Dream, and author of Of Dreams and Spaces – Stories from Takéo, Cambodia
09 December 2015 Takéo, Cambodia   Takéo is a sleepy town, two hours south of Cambodia's buzzing capital Phnom Penh. Takéo sits quietly in the home of the ancient Angkorian Empire. Back in 2009, a couple of friends and I visited this province in hope of looking for a place that we could volunteer to build a school. [caption id="attachment_4996" align="alignnone" width="360"]Thnouh-Village,-Takeo Thnouh-Village,-Takéo[/caption] With the help of a local NGO, New Futures Organisation, we arrived at a village called Prey Run where we met Thym.  He was teaching English to a group of 120 Khmer students under his stilt-house. [caption id="attachment_4997" align="alignnone" width="360"]Project Little Dream Team Project Little Dream Team[/caption] As far as I remember, watching Thym teach was almost magical. He would orchestrate his students group by group to follow him pronouncing each vowel and eventually words. He encouraged each of them to make a conversation to a foreigner, asking them to tell us about their village lives. [caption id="attachment_4998" align="alignnone" width="360"]Olympic Stadium Phnom Penh Vann Molyvann Olympic Stadium Phnom Penh Vann Molyvann[/caption] Shortly after that first visit, we went back to Hong Kong and founded our charity, Project Little Dream (PLD).  For the past 7 years to date we design, build and run village schools in Takéo, Cambodia. [caption id="attachment_4999" align="alignnone" width="360"]Olympic Stadium Phnom Penh Vann Molyvann Olympic Stadium Phnom Penh Vann Molyvann[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_5002" align="alignnone" width="360"]Thon Mun Community Centre Sanitation Facility Thon Mun Community Centre Sanitation Facility[/caption] Today, we have three teams working in parallel, Architecture, Education and Healthcare, in the four villages where we built in. Perhaps it is why the AA attracted me in the first place, embracing students across disciplines to pursue architecture. I started PLD during my first degree in political geography, so my year-out last year marks a watershed between disciplines, between a geographer and an architect. [caption id="attachment_5001" align="alignnone" width="360"]Thnouh School Thnouh School[/caption] Like all other soul-searching experiences, which I'm sure all of us in the AA are familiar with, instead of taking a ‘proper’ Part 1 internship, I chose to build and write. So, I embarked on a mission to finish our 4th project, Thnouh School, and publish our first book on the work we did in Takéo. [caption id="attachment_5003" align="alignnone" width="360"]Thon Mun Community Centre Thon Mun Community Centre[/caption] To publish a book in this digital age was challenging, especially in Hong Kong, where the publishing and reading culture is despondent. To write and then publish something that deserves a printed form, an artifact, entails a love and determination for a palpable presence in what you create. Luckily we were not alone. [caption id="attachment_5004" align="alignnone" width="360"]Ms Neang, landlady of Khna Rong School Ms Neang, landlady of Khna Rong School[/caption]
We were so grateful to have worked with an extremely encouraging local publisher, MCCM Creations, who understood our work. It took us half a year to turn our thoughts into words and another half a year to make it legible. Against all odds, Of Dreams and Spaces was published a few months ago and I have to thank all the friends who have helped along the way.   Of Dreams and Spaces has two main threads. First, we took the opportunity to share our thoughts in the (re-)construction of post-conflict Cambodia through vernacular architecture. Practicing in the developing region, it was important for us to respond to the Framptonian pursuit and write about the architects or regionalists who we consider critical. [caption id="attachment_5005" align="alignnone" width="360"]The of dreams and spaces book Of Dreams and Spaces[/caption] Our work is very much influenced by the Khmer modernist architect, Vann Molyvann, who is a true master in channeling a latent Khmer energy in his spaces. For us, the project is to realize such regional potential and nurture the stories within architecture. [caption id="attachment_5006" align="alignnone" width="360"]of_dreams_and_spaces_07-copy Inside the Of Dreams and Spaces book[/caption] Therefore, in parallel, the second and main part of the book is a collection of six years of thoughts and stories nurtured by designing, building and running village schools in Takéo, Cambodia. [caption id="attachment_5007" align="alignnone" width="360"]Inside the of dreams and spaces book Inside the Of Dreams and Spaces book[/caption] It is a conversation about differences — in values and cultures, of needs and visions, between “us” and “them” — and a conversation about connections. Through the many faces, voices, touches and traces encountered in Cambodia, we have made our way from indifference and unfamiliarity to similarity and family. [caption id="attachment_5008" align="alignnone" width="360"]Inside the of dreams and spaces book Inside the Of Dreams and Spaces book[/caption] Today, over five hundred children are studying English in four schools: in Prey Run Village, Khna Rong Village, Thon Mun Village and Thnouh Village. This book is a narrative journey woven by our experiences.   For more information:   Project Little Dream Project Little Dream Facebook Page Video - A Bit of Architecture Video - A Conversation in Education James Mak's Website The book is now available in Eslite HK, Open Quote PMQ, AA Bookshop. To buy online, please visit MCCM Creations