You can’t say Cambodia without also uttering in the same breath: Angkor Wat. Yes, it is the symbol of Cambodia, but it is really the symbol of some other Cambodia – a glorious kingdom eclipsed long ago and also a symbol of foreign tourists enjoying their awe filled, colorful, delicious, and inexpensive vacation. Most Cambodians have never seen those magnificent temples up close, even if they live right around the corner in the very same villages their long ago ancestors, had inhabited a thousand years ago. They have no tuning water, sewers or electricity. They are too busy eking out their living, working long hard hours as rice farmers, fishermen, or construction workers to visit ancient temples.
Most tourists will never meet these hard working men and women, the backbone of Cambodia. You would this last week, if you travelled with our small all–woman group of donors/volunteers on a mission to make a difference – traveling with purpose.
While we did manage to marvel at the colossal architecture, admire the magnificent sculpture and savor the taste of the best Khmer cuisine, we spent the majority of our time out in the countryside visiting the villages where the organisation I have been volunteering for nearly a decade, works.
Through the years some changes have come to the villages closest to the city, most notably electricity reaching nearly all the way to the schools where we have been introducing English and computer classes. Well, those have been working on solar panels and still do. But take a few steps further into the countryside on bumpy dusty roads that turn to mud when monsoon rains arrive and you will find life as it was in the old kingdom. People living in houses with thatched roofs, climbing up the palm trees barefoot to collect sap and cook it down into palm sugar or spending hours and days weaving baskets at $1.50 each.To bring more protein into the local diet and business opportunity to local women we recently introduced a new program, Piggy Heaven, initiated by a 12 year old girl from California. Tabi, who came on the trip with her mom, raises and shows pigs for her 4H club. Last year she sold her first pig and donated all the proceeds ($1500) to buy the first piglets for the program. Many of her friends joined her and we now have 160 pigs and growing. The first piglet litters are on their way and from each of those two piglets will be given forward to new families. Most of the people are rice farmers and they have no technology to help. Buffalos plow the fields and rice is planted and tended to all by hand – backbreaking labor.
We hope to help the parents ensure a better future for their children. With good education, especially with some knowledge of English and computers there are good opportunities for work in the city nearby. As children come to Khmer school in morning and afternoon shifts, they have half a day available to learn more; besides English and computers they can also play sports and read in our libraries.We know that early childhood education is important so we introduced preschools in the community. It was hard at first to persuade the parents that play can be great learning. They still expect the littlest ones to quickly learn and recite their ABCs and 1,2,3s. But we try to bring some new methods to the largely rote learning in all classes.It certainly isn’t easy when you teach 53 kids in a hot classroom. Yup, 53, you can count them! The one saving grace is that the students are the most disciplined, best behaved in the world. They love coming to school! Even more for the supplementary classes we offer. In our schools they also come on time because they get free protein rich breakfast in the morning. Everyone pitches in with the clean up.
There are no janitors so the kids clean up the campus, too. There is not much time for play for Cambodian children, they work at home, too, from an early age. They might forage for frogs or little fish in mud. The food is always scarce and many families subsist on rice and vegetables.If you have no sibling to take care of you, you fend for yourself, while your mom works the land. We tried planting some morning glory seeds and it was hard hot work. Bringing fresh water to the families is the first step towards a better, healthier life. To date we have built over 1,300 water wells, donated by our friends and supporters all around the world. Meeting the family of your sponsored water well is the highlight of any visit. Philanthropy and volunteering changes everyone’s lives!
Blessings to all who make this world a better place by sharing a smile, planting a tree, or extending a helping hand!
Cambodian Community Dream Organization