When we arrived in Cambodia in mid 2007, as my wife Mona secured a new job in Phnom Penh, I was trying to find something I could do in a new country that would inspire me and would allow me to use my skills. The fact was that by this time I had taken up with great pride the role of 100% stay-at-home dad and my main job was to take care of our small son Mahte. Mahte became my whole life and most of my days went by thinking up new games, composing music, exploring our neighborhood and meeting new people. Mahte had become my "mini-me" attached to me through the "baby jorge."
When we moved to Cambodia I wanted to meet with other parents and nannies so that we could share issues that we were all facing and let the kids play together. When we gathered I would often play the guitar and organize the little ones to draw or dance around. Given that we had an open garage on the ground floor of our house, I quickly decided that I could set up a small playgroup that would provide people with small kids the space to come to and enjoy themselves. As Mahte was the main reason behind setting up the playgroup, we started to refer to it as "Mahte's Playroom." Information about Mahte's Playroom was shared from family to family and soon our house was full of little children each morning. I realized that this was what I wanted to do in my life and I spent a lot of time designing new toys, constantly asking Mahte to test them (to the amusement of my wife). When our son turned 3 years old he started to attend a small pre-school but Mahte's Playroom continued unabated. While I have talked to my family and friends about setting up a formal school for years, the idea started to take shape during the summer of 2010. Encouragement and support from many parents, friends, and family poured in to make it a reality. The time felt just right.
One of the first tasks we had after finding a location was to find a name for our playhouse. We wanted a name that reflected our love for Cambodia as well as our commitment and passion to support the learning of small children. Once again, Mahte came to the rescue and asked that we call it Sambo the Elephant School. See Sambo had become Mahte's favorite elephant here in Phnom Penh. For two years we visited Sambo at Wat Phnom almost every day and often followed her walk home along the river. We learnt more and more about her and our son never failed to be fascinated by her calmness, beauty, and playfulness. It was the perfect idea for our name. We made many variations with Sambo before making the final decision. Sambo's Tots Playhouse and Playschool finally opened its doors on 16 October, 2010. It has been an eventful journey to get here but I do hope that Sambo's Tots Playhouse and Playschool will be a place where more imagination comes to life.