|Just outside Choeung Ek – The Killing Fields
Sitting, having lunch today with our Tuk-Tuk driver Leo, we were attempting to explain one of the reasons why we had come to Phnom Penh. I sponsor a child through World Vision(Cambodia). The organization will arrange a visit with the child and their family as well as a tour of the community they are helping to build. We were in a restaurant that offered free Wifi so Tony used Google Translate. What a great way to help communicate. Five minutes of attempted communication reduced to mere seconds. Leo’s younger sister goes to school and he is fully aware of the cost of education and understood the impact of our monthly donation.
It is embarrassing to think about how great an impact a mere $39 a month has elsewhere. What I do not think twice about spending on a Sunday brunch with the girls (complete with mimosa and latte) can send a child to school and help feed the family as well as purchase clothing.
Cambodia is the only place I have been that can draw out all emotions in me in five minutes. It is really a love-hate relationship I have with this place. I love the happy children coming home from school holding hands, hugging each other. Wearing their white and blue uniforms, they see us in the Tuk-Tuk and break out in big smiles and waves with cheerful ‘Hellos’. A young girl on a bicycle coming past and looked up at me with her beautiful smile and holds her hand out and I shake it. This brings tears to my eyes and I comment that this is one of the things I love about here. The next thing I see is land with a skinny cow, a wall less shanty, some chickens, a hammock and garbage.
I have never encountered such extremes between wealth and poverty as here. In the city Landrovers and other expensive cars are everywhere. There are at least three times the number of four wheeled vehicles on the streets since I was here in 2009. As we drove to Choeung Ek today, I could see that the average Khmer is still not seeing the wealth that appears to have made its way to Phnom Penh since my last visit. Speaking to my Khmer friend over dinner last night, she tells me that people on average are still only making $50 a month and that the vast wealth is likely due to graft and corruption.
This is a country that is still in its infancy rebuilding itself from the horrors that the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent civil war inflicted. It appears that capitalism is rising from the socialist ashes but I fear it is in the Russian form of extreme capitalism combined with corruption that will take over. In the meantime I will continue to contribute monthly to help build a community and encourage education and retain my sense of gratitude for what I have – for what I work for as well as what seems to come to me merely for having been born a Canadian.