Cambodia’s Real Story – The People

by brian on November 25, 2008

One thing about Cambodia is that much of the world has not touched it.

That includes Black people! Me, if you didn’t know already…

It is hilarious. When I went about an hour and a half outside of Siem Reap to see a small river with a waterfall, I was out in the countryside with folks who rarely, if ever it seems, saw a black person.

Stares of wonderment is the only phrase I can use. Not anger or malice, but “Wow! Where are the rest of you?”

I think I might have nearly caused a few accidents. I was in an open tuk-tuk the entire time, so anyone on the roadside could see me.

After a while I started waving and yelling “Hello!”. Most waved back and yelled. One girl’s jaw dropped as she pointed.

The people I talked to said they rarely see people of my complexion and features. I’m only a shade or two darker than most Cambodians so I am “fascinating” to them.

The other thing about Cambodia that strikes you is the poverty and the disconnect many tourists can have from seeing the temples and tourist areas vs. how the average Cambodian lives.

If you come to Cambodia, you must have one thing:
A strong heart to be able to look people in the eye and say, “No.” Because you can’t help everyone.

It’s not uncommon for someone to approach you and ask for money, with one or two limbs missing, either from birth defects or a remnant of the many land mines still in the fields of Cambodia.

It’s not uncommon for a mother to approach you with a half-naked child cradled in her arms, begging for money.

It’s not uncommon for a child with no shirt on to come up to you at a restaurant and point at his mouth. I was sitting at dinner last night with 3 other people and we gave him a plate of rice and some meat. He ate everything off the plate. Before he could finish, the wait staff ran out, ready to shoo him away. We assured the waiter it was OK. We gave the little boy some money and he left, his stomach full for the time being, but what about tomorrow? The next day?

I did not take pictures of people begging for money. Or kids half naked. I felt uncomfortable doing it. Someone’s misery should not be put on display on the Internet…at least not by me.

Seeing all of this I decided to do something…anything.

I asked my tuk-tuk driver to take me to the nearest orphanage. I went to Sunrise Children’s Village in Siem Reap yesterday. I met with Robert, the Manager of the center. I was hoping to work with some kids, but he said too many perverts come in and take advantage of the poverty of the children so they limit outsiders to donations of money or food or school supplies.

So I made a monetary donation. A drop in the bucket, but a few drops over time will fill any bucket.

The kids in Cambodia will sell anything and everything. Be prepared for that. Books, trinkets, postcards, hand fans, batteries, bottles of water. If you’ve been to Brazil, Egypt, anyplace that has a large amount of tourists with poverty prevalent, you know what I’m talking about.

But I admire these kids because they are relentless, they don’t take no for an answer and when you reject them, they go the next person. Hunger is a powerful motivator.

“One dollar, sir, good deal for you.”
“Please, you buy when you come back, right?”
“If I tell you the NEXT President of the United States and can name the capital of New York, will you buy my book?”

I heard this over and over.

Future CEOs and Billionaires

 Cambodias Real Story   The People
 Cambodias Real Story   The People

I wish these children and their country a bright future. They just need a chance and hopefully they will get it.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bathabile November 25, 2008 at 12:30 PM

Wow. Brian, thank you for letting us know and for giving us concrete information about ways to help. Yes, you can’t help everyone but it sure is hard not to try. Meanwhile, it looks like you got out of Bangkok at just the right time.

Apparently part of the airport was shut down for a time.


Chris November 25, 2008 at 6:01 PM

I was in Siem Reap at the end of October and second all your observations. I decided to help by donating monthly to a charity that supplies artificial limbs to Cambodian amputees. There is so much that needs to be done: the life expectancy for men is 53 and for women 56. Education, better health care, and sustainable jobs are what Cambodia needs.


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