While I have full confidence in the Cambodian people, and I think that the answer to their problems must largely lie in their own efforts if people are to have ownership over their progress, I do think that there are things that the outside world can do to help. Journey’s Within, with its smaller scope and consequently more personal operation, does a good job of this. For example, there is a squatter village a short walk from the Bed and Breakfast that is the pinnacle of what a third world village is: corrugated tin and straw make up the shacks people live in, green water is what the children drink, and a field next to the village is the collective toilet. It is no wonder that one in five children die within a few years of entering the world. In this village there are, I believe, 12 wells built by Journey’s Within that pump clean water. This is a direct way to help the Cambodian people without diverting any funds to middle men.
There are also many micro-financing projects in the village. This is where JWOC gives a $100 loan to someone who wants to start of expand a business. The best example that I saw of this was a woman who received a loan to buy a new sewing machine. Before the loan, because of the sewing machine she had, she could only make alterations to clothes, and therefore her profit was limited to just enough to buy food for her family during the day. She used her loan to buy a different type of sewing machine that could be used to actually make clothes. She could make substantially more moneymaking clothes that by just doing alterations. Therefore, after the loan, she made enough everyday that she could save money. With the money she saved, she started small kiosk selling food products and other items. Now she has even more money to save and invest in new projects.
Later on, as we continued our walk, I saw a group of small boys, playing by the water. It is the rainy season, and water is everywhere, after all. I held up by camera and motioned for them to get together, and they all smiled and waved and were happy to practice the few words of English they had learned. After snapping a couple classic pictures, they all circled around me and I showed them the picture on my cool, sleek digital camera. I do not think they had ever been shown a picture in a camera like that before. It is small incidents like that where I think of money in terms of what a Cambodian makes in a year- my $300 digital camera cost a year’s wages for the average Cambodian. A bag of tortilla chips cost what they might make in a days. A movie ticket plus a drink is what they make in a week. For me, this is one way I put things into perspective. I will add some of the pictures I took on the village tour when I can.
As for the temples, I have always wanted to go, and I was thrilled to finally find myself on the other side of the world, a short drive away from them. I can happily check Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm off of my ‘Places to Go’ list. At many of my favorite temples, the jungle is slowly taking back what is his. Huge trees crawl over temple walls, and roots strangle stone with the patience of an enemy whose victory is certain. They lend to the temples the faded magnificence of an empire that was once and is no more. As with all the dead empires that stretched from sea to sea, there was the palpable presence of a melancholic air that drifted around as I climbed piles of old temple walls and pulled myself up on vines and roots. This old glory adds another dimension to the tragedy and unfolding history of Cambodia.
During the week, we volunteer teaching English from 1 to 6 PM. We each have about 3 classes: Steve and I teach at Wat Tamay. Since corruption extends well into the public school system, kids are pretty enthusiastic about free English classes. This enthusiasm is furthered by the fact that English is such a useful language in the tourism industry. Many of the kids stay for more than one class, and our classes range form kids to middle aged adults. They are very good students- none of the idleness or complacency that I have seen in some American students. Today, instead of teaching like we usually do, we are sanding and varnishing the desks and sweeping out the school. The school itself is one large room with a roof, nothing extravagant. It is in a complex of buildings, set in the midst of a temple and a monastery. I always think about how the U.S. had one-room schoolhouses somewhere around 200 years ago. Is Cambodia that far behind us? Surely, with modern advances in technology and medicine, that time gap can be shortened. The day is often brightened by the entrance of a kitten or a pair of puppies into the classroom that belong to the monks that live in the area. One day a kitten that looked like it was starving came in and we took it in for the day, buying it chicken at a nearby road stall and letting it fall asleep in our laps.
As we prepare to leave
This past weekend we all went to
The thing that has surprised me and continues to do so is how far