I am struggling with a moral dilemma. I work for some of the richest people in the world but in my down time I tend to hang with some of the world’s poorest. Everyday I see people living well below the poverty line and it just breaks my heart. I wish that I could play modern day Robin Hood and force the rich to give a shit about the less fortunate.
For three weeks in Cambodia I was lucky enough to get involved with a charity that I feel strongly about.
Please check out their website http://www.daughtersofcambodia.org
Teaching people who have such a strong desire to learn is truly rewarding. Helping people who can never repay you, even more so. The young women at Daughters have had such horrific lives and the more you get to know them the worse the stories get. Everyday I heard accounts of their families being tortured by Khmer Rouge, husbands beating them but the worst by far for me, were the recounts of how their families sold them into the sex industry as children.
Every person that I met in Cambodia had more than one harrowing tale to tell. In a country of almost 15 million over 23% of the population live below the International Standard’s of Poverty Line, living on less than $1.25 USD per day. Speaking English vastly improves their chances of a higher income with a steady rise in tourism but for now Cambodia is too far off the beaten track for most.
I befriended some local girls on the beach in Sihanoukville while they were selling threading, massage and beaded bracelets. After chatting to them for over an hour it became apparent that there is a huge disparity when it comes to education and its affordability. Jandi, 11 years old, was unable to learn English at school because her family couldn’t afford it and only attended for two hours per day. I also met a Tuktuk driver Vuthy, who at 22 was still struggling to finish high school because of the lack of money to attend due to family debts. Another huge problem for locals is the passing on of debts to children and relatives.
I get very angry when people tell me that I’m lucky to travel and I’m lucky for this or that. My reasoning has always been that I work hard, and continue to work hard to pursue my dreams. Nothing is ever handed to me. I realise now that I was lucky to be born into a country with free education and a reasonably stable government. I was lucky that my parents cared enough about me to encourage me to stay on in high school and then seek higher education. Who will encourage these girls? If they can make enough money to get by from selling trinkets on the beach or in the market then why bother going to school?
It’s not all bad…
I have been lucky enough to work for some truly generous individuals who donate millions to charities that they are passionate about. I met some very special people on my journey through the country who are willing to give and give and give, time, money, resources, anything that they can to help. Every little bit helps, as the saying goes. Remember those girls from the beach? Well just $45USD brought all three of them new school uniforms and the day off work to visit a local waterfall with me. The look on their faces was absolutely priceless and will be with me forever. They told me that I will be very rich and lucky in my next life for all my good deeds. I wish that they could understand just how rich and lucky I am in this one. I only hope that they can end up living out their modest dreams, just as I have.
If you would like to know more about Cambodia’s recent bloody history then I highly recommend reading bestselling biography by Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.
You can also watch 1984’s ‘The Killing Fields’ here:
The following link shows photographs of families in different countries in their world with their weekly grocery shop. Some are pretty obvious but others are really saddening. No wonder people are dying from malnutrition in African nations when all they have to last a week is a few simple grains and zero variety. A reminder of how lucky we are. I have to call bullshit on the France and Italy pictures though, one bottle of wine? Who are you kidding?
The following NGO’s are doing a world of good in Cambodia for locals as well as providing top rated mutually beneficial services for tourists. Some of the best meals I had were at these places, you can taste the love in the food.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
— Nelson Mandela