Norfolk Steve's 6000-mile floating school mission
A Norfolk man, who admits he is rubbish at DIY, has travelled 6,000 miles to help build a desperately needed floating school in Cambodia. Jenny Seal reports.
Steve Gaskin, from Taverham, recently took time off from his Norfolk team building events company to complete his eighth overseas short-term mission, spending two weeks in Cambodia building a floating school for 240 children, despite describing himself as the ‘World’s Worst at DIY’
Steve, 61, runs Right Angle Events, with his wife Kate, daughter Lizzy and a close team of 10 other employees. Steve, who is a former Scotland Yard detective and trained secondary teacher, has repeatedly chosen to travel outside of his comfort zone to volunteer on a short-term mission project that serves an overseas community.
He has worked on projects in Latvia, at a children’s orphanage in Bulgaria and, for the past two years, built a school in Uganda. In November, Steve travelled to Cambodia for two weeks with the charity Mission Direct to build a floating school.
Steve and a team of 11 other volunteers, who varied in age, profession, background and belief, were overseen by a building expert from America and three professional Vietnamese builders. Describing the site when they arrived, Steve said: “There was a load of rafters and bamboo poles and I looked at it and I said: “There is no way we are going to build a school in two weeks!”
The project was a partnership between Mission Direct, the local Galilee Church, which floats on an adjoining raft to the new school, and an education charity called Serve Cambodia. The school will serve a displaced community of Vietnamese people, who have few resources, no rights and face Government persecution for being Christians.
Steve said: “We walked into the most abject poverty I’ve ever seen and I’ve been exposed to different things here in the UK, Bulgaria, Latvia and recently Uganda. The raft was on the Mekong Delta and you really couldn’t afford to fall into that, because all sorts of materials go in there untreated.”
The working conditions posed some challenges. Steve said: “We got to the project at about 8 o’clock. By half past 11 it was just too hot to continue working.”
“We had to bundle 180 of these bamboo logs to start off the foundation. It looks like fun sitting, working on the floating poles but they weren’t bolted down so one false move and you’d be in the water, which you really, really don’t want to be.” He continues: “The roof only took us a couple of hours to put up – no health and safety whatsoever.”
As Steve sits at the desk of his busy Taverham office he points out: “The thing is I’m the world’s worst at DIY. Kate and I have this standing joke. She says: ‘How come you can go 6,000 miles to do some DIY, but I ask you to paint the bedroom and you can’t do it?’”
The trip did utilise some of the skills Steve, a member of Norwich Central Baptist Church and a black belt in taekwondo, considers more within his skillset. With another member of the team, a retired primary school teacher, he was able to lead a training course for the teachers of the new school. He also got to preach, lead Bible talks for children and young people and run martial arts activities.
“I’ve been equipped with skills to teach,” he said, “and I’ve been equipped with skills to hopefully get the Gospel over, which to me is the only reason why I do it, and I do get a fantastic sense of achievement through the Lord. I do believe strongly that the Lord has said to me, ‘this is what I want you to do’.”
In the afternoons, when it was too hot to work, the team visited communities and sites of interest. Some of their adventures included stepping through a disused minefield, visiting a Buddhist temple, seeing Cambodia’s Killing Fields and buying litres of shampoo to treat lice in the hair of local children.
They also met and heard the story of Sokreaksa Himm, a victim of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime, who has written a book, ‘The Tears of My Soul,’ about his journey to forgiveness towards those who killed his family in front of his eyes. Sokreaksa now runs a Christian conference centre and school where the team led an evening youth event at which Steve was given the opportunity to lead martial arts, deliver a short talk and give the teenagers a keyring each, displaying their own fingerprint.
Despite Steve’s initial doubts, the team were able to complete the build of the floating school in the allotted time. From its building site, it was towed back with the church, a couple of miles along the Siem Reap River where it will now serve the community. Talking about seeing the school in situ for the first time, Steve said: “That was one of the most joyous occasions of my life.”
In celebration, a short service was held in the school where the pastor dedicated the facility open for anyone, of any faith, at any time. Despite their extreme poverty the community then treated the team to what Steve describes as a ‘sumptuous lunch’.
The school opened for its first term in January 2018. It welcomes 60 children in each of the two classrooms in the morning and then, following a lunch break, a further 60 children in each during the afternoon.
It cost £15,000 to build, which the team of volunteers raised as part of their costs. Steve said: “We were also able to do some teacher training and we left £5,500 to the school for wages and ongoing costs. We paid off a debt for our driver and we also left some money for the church as well.”
Steve raised his contribution from a variety of sources including support from Norwich Central Baptist Church. He said: “We raised £500 from one sale of muffins. That’s really generous. And when you look at what that £500 can do for fellow Christians 6,000 miles away, it is quite awesome. That will pay for teachers for months and months. It will provide resources and most importantly, allow them to stand on their own two feet.”
Steve is keen to return and has been asked by Serve Cambodia to go back for a month to raise the level of mathematics, English teaching and learning in one of its schools in addition to running a martial arts course and getting involved in the praise and worship. “If it wasn’t for Kate”, Steve said, “I couldn’t go on these missions. She looks after me, she prays for me and she keeps the company running.”
With characteristic passion, Steve is enthusiastic about encouraging other people to give short term mission a try. He said: “It can sometimes be quite frightening going with people that you don’t know, to a part of the world that you don’t know, to do work that you don’t know. But, what I would say is that, you get a huge amount of support. And you will come back with a really good sense of fulfilment.”
He says, with a big smile: “I will continue to do mission abroad until such time as I’m too infirm.”
If you are considering short term mission and would like to chat to Steve Gaskin about his experience, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictured is Norfolk man Steve Gaskin out in?Cambodia where he helped to build a floating school (below) and tell the children Bible stories (top).