Going to Cambodia has been a dream that I’ve cherished for five years. I’ve been very fascinated by the country from western distance, and last week my dream finally came true. After signing the forms to quit my former job as a software developer for Flattr and breaking up with my girlfriend I booked my flight from Stockholm to Phnom Penh through Frankfurt and Seoul.
The first wave of my cultural chock hit very hard when I had to pass through approximately 200 begging locals populating the airport exit. After way too long traveling with very limited sleep my only intentions were to get in the cab which I had arranged with the hotel that I had booked and lay down in a bed and try to let everything just sink in. It turned out that the driver had let me down and I couldn’t get the phone number provided to work. After passing the local horde a third time I simply picked a random taxi and asked him to take me to the first cheap hotel that he knew of.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries on this planet. WHO has reported that 81% of the around 13.4 million people in 2008 live in rural areas. A very large portion of the population survives on solely $1 USD a day. The traces of the Pol Pot regime killing about one third of the population in the 70s are very obvious around here. Everybody that I’ve met is somehow still suffering from the wounds from the Maoist Khmer rouge.
Judging by my own personal experience, the statistics of the extreme poverty is very hard to grasp. Seeing pictures and video footage from distance was completely different to physically arriving and witnessing the misery. UNICEF has estimated that Cambodia is the third most landmined country in the world. Even though the civil war has ended, you still have to worry about its traces. The jungle will literally eat you if you don’t watch your step.
One day I visited the Cheong Ek killing field in Phnom Penh. Seeing the genocide center itself was very heartbreaking, but the worst part of it all was realizing that the two children in the picture above live and grow up just a couple of meters outside of the killing field with their home separated by a fence. I won’t lie. Seeing the conditions that they are growing up in probably changed me more than I am currently conscious of.
The following day a moto driver that I had befriended did me the honor of driving me to a village called Phnom Sruoch. It was just about an hour drive from Phnom Penh, but it’s not a place where tourists normally go. Many villagers that I met had never seen a foreigner before.
On my way there I bought 30 writing books and 30 pencils for $12.5. As a comparison I’ve received around $30 from volunteer donations to this blog through Flattr. Thank you. This one is for all of you guys who think some of the stuff that I publish here is worth paying for.
But $12.50 is a lot less than the $30 that you’ve flattred me for. I wouldn’t want to let you down. Yesterday I bought a 50 kg sack rice for $45 and donated it to the Light House orphanage on lakeside Phnom Penh, which is currently the home of 108 children. Consider it a bonus.
Don’t rely on charity organizations to do the work for you. If you truly want to help the world and improve the living conditions of people suffering: then do. You don’t have to come and visit the third world and risk your life for direct action. Many orphanages have donations through systems like PayPal, you just have to find them. There are many good people in the world that may help you without taking a cut like big organizations do. Don’t expect the world to change because you’re funding an organization. If you want action to be taken then please, take action.