Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Phnom Penh City Dump

Alex and I made two trips to the Phnom Penh City Dump as part of a project organised by a man named David Fletcher. Five years ago David began taking a truck up to the dump every 2-3 days to provide bread and fruit for the people who live here. There are between 400-500 families who live at the Dump, with an estimated 1400 children. Adults, teenagers and older children spend their days scavenging the dump trucks for valuables. This involves standing dangerously near to the dump trucks as they open up and drop waste, and six months ago a 15 year old girl was killed in an accident when this happened.

Several NGO's have set up Schools at the dump to educate the Children, but no one provides any food or medical assistance (including of course the government) and this is where David comes in. David own's a bar called "bogie and bacalls" near the riverside in PP. I liked him, he's a big friendly guy who doesn't suffer b-shit gladly, in his words, this project is the only one providing any real help for these people. The cost of each trip is roughly $150, and everyone who volunteers to help out is expected to pay. It is mostly backpackers who get involved, donating roughly about $20 each, although Alex and I paid considerably more than this.

We set off in the hired truck and went to the wholesale market and bought oranges, bananas, mango's, and pineapples plus 400 baguettes. As we entered the dump there were only a few children as in David's words “they aren't expecting us”, however these few soon turned into hundreds. (Each trip feeds about 400-450 people) David and his crew require the children to form 2 orderly lines, male and female. No one is allowed to queue jump, and the tiniest tot and baby get an equal share of food as the adults.

For the first part of the visit I helped to monitor the line. The children all smile, they held my hand and many of them spoke to me and I chatted with them. They appreciate all the attention they get, and you can tell this immediately. I then spent time at the front of the queue assisting with the hand out, passing a portion of food to the next person in line. Anyone caught queue jumping or surging is reprimanded, a necessary tactic to maintain order and ensure no one is hurt, especially the little ones.

Alex spent time at the medical area and watched children with injuries being attended to. It was mostly just cuts and scrapes though on both visits a couple of children had more serious infections under the skin from their cuts. They were thoroughly cleaned and cream and plasters / pads were then used to cover them. There were also several clear cases of nits and scabies, for which they were given a bar of lice soap. Unfortunately these things are just a side effect of living in such terrible conditions and there is little that can be done.

Then, the food ran out. There were some poor souls who were left with nothing. We then spent time talking to the children, I gave many hugs and smiled and chatted with the kids. We then had a “tour” of the dump, witnessing adults and even some older children scavenging straight from the rubbish trucks as they tipped the waste. It is incredibly dangerous and no wonder that a young girl died recently from an accident.

After each trip David publishes on his website each specific donation made, and also exactly what was bought and at what cost. The whole trip is incredibly simple and transparent. We were informed that the excess from our trip would go to pay towards the next trip. Any excess money is also used to pay for medical supplies and situations where the children require medical assistance at Hospital.

Second Trip

As we arrived it became clear that things were not normal as many trucks were all lined up backed down through the road leading to the dump. We were not allowed to pass through into the dump and the place they normally hand the food out because they were changing the location for the dumptrucks to empty their loads. This meant we ended up handing out the food at the beginning of the dump, next to the School. The atmosphere was different, perhaps because of the change in location, and to start with young groups of boys charged at the van and it was much more intense than previously. However as soon as we were able to stop and get the volunteers off the bus David had the situation in control and the Children in lines.

This time I spent most of my time monitoring the lines which allowed me the opportunity to talk with the Children and interact with them. There were less people here today as most of the adults were unable to get through (from their job scavenging the rubbish) so we did end up feeding some children a couple of times. However, from what I understood from Isaac and Richard (friends of David's who regularly help out with First Aid) this was the first time this had happened.

The children are very warm and affectionate, one little girl named Janette kept asking for hugs and was glued to me for about 45 minutes, literally until we left. It is heartbreaking to see such lovely children living in what can only be described as a terrible living environment. I only wish there was more that I could do for her and all the rest of them.


DDSP (short for Disability Development Services Pursat) is a project which MSAVLC has recently provided some funding for, it is based in Pursat province which is about 4 hours bus ride North-west from Phnom Penh. Or in our case a 2 hour taxi ride! We missed the last bus of the day (at 1pm?!) due to being busy in the morning so had to taxi it, with the most terrifying taxi driver I have ever experienced! Through major rain storms he still maintained about 90 mph causing me and Alex to look at each other in alarm, but fortunately we survived along with all the poor moto drivers in our way…

As soon as we arrived I phoned the Director, Samnang, to arrange a time to meet the following morning. To my surprise he offered to come straight away and go for dinner , which proved to be very enjoyable but also allowed us extra time to ask questions about DDSP. DDSP was actually founded by a young English guy named Steve Harknett, in 2003. He had been working out in Cambodia for a different NGO and then started Up DDSP. I have met him a couple of times in London so I felt like I knew a bit of the background which was good. Interestingly he left DDSP a couple years ago, which is what I really like about DDSP - it is very much for Cambodians and now completely run by Cambodians - extremely rare for an NGO out here!

To summarise, they provide support for people with varying disabilities. An example of only some of their projects:

Community Rehabilitation Project (CBR) this provides an incredible range of support for 26 villages across the province. DDSP’s selection process for target villages are those which are poor, remote, lack basic services and projects from other NGO’s, and have a large number of disabled people.

The CBR project focus is in 4 main areas:

Basic needs – disabled people’s health, hygiene, nutrition, housing and emergency needs. Rehabilitation needs – e.g. home-based therapy and rehabilitation equipment, and need for referral to rehabilitation services outside of the community.
Social needs - e.g. psycho-social counselling, confidence and empowerment, education and vocational training.
Economic needs – e.g. access to micro-credit and capital for income generation.

Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Project: this provides support for the 43 people in the province who have been injured in this way. Support ranges from equipment supply to physiotherapy to transporting young people to school, as well as helping them find ways to make an income.

Mlob Mith Komar (MMK) meaning “Children’s Friends Shade”Launched in 2004 for children with severe disabilities . A room at Pursat Hospital has been donated to the project, allowing children to attend. As well as centre-based activities staff carry out home follow up, to provide on-going training and encouragement to carers and where necessary to provide emergency support and help with health care and nutrition.

The next morning bright and early at 7.30am Samnang came to collect Alex and I to travel to a village 2 hours away, one of the furthest they deal with. We met with the VDPC ( Village Disabled Peoples Committee) and to say we were in awe at our reception upon arrival would be a vast understatement! It was a glorious hot, sunny day and we were met by probably about 25-30 people from babies to old Ladies and Men. The Deputy Chair of the VDPC gave us a presentation about their Committee and the Village and we then had the opportunity to ask questions. I could go on here for hours but I won’t, I will just say that they seemed a very respectable and respectful group of people, and it is clear DDSP has provided them with a lot of help they would never have received elsewhere. We met two youngsters with Cerebal Palsy whilst there, who both seemed very loved and well cared for; and also found out there are 46 people in the village with a disability of some kind.

There are no social services in Cambodia and without each other and DDSP they would have nothing, no support whatsoever.After answering a few questions ourseleves (some related to MSAVLC), the funniest being what was our marital status (!) we went on to visit a Battery charging project. DDSP paid a small group of disabled villagers to install an electricity generator so that they can charge other people home batteries, a lucrative business it turns out. Following that we visited the DDSP vegetable fields, filled with lush looking watermelon, cucumbers and peanuts for the villagers to sell and eat. We even managed to get some cucumbers for ourselves! Organic dahling.

Upon our return to Pursat we hoovered up some more delicious food (it is such a delight to be with an actual Khmer person and order interesting things!) we then met with two people supported by their PQR project. The first was a 19 year old girl named Srei-mom, who has not had the use of her legs since she was very young. Srei-mom was truly inspiring, she had a lovely smily nature and spoke very good English, we chatted for a while at her family home. DDSP pays for her to be transported to School and for extra lessons in english and computing (as well as initially providing health support). It was really nice chatting with her, she was very bubbly and positive – the next time I find myself moaning about something which I invariably do about 50 times a day please punch me! – because life obviously is not easy for Srei-mom.

We then met with a young man who had fallen from a tree two years earlier and lost all movement from the neck down. The saddness permeating him was obvious as soon as we arrived, we both felt terrible for him. He lives with his wife and two young Sons, and his parents. DDSP provides him with regular physiotherapy and has also supplied Chickens for him to earn an income. As we spoke with him it was apparent things were very hard, there is no one else to earn money and the chickens do not make enough to support all of them. What can you say? DDSP do as much as they can, it is awful knowing he is unlikely to receive much more in the way of aid but there is nothing I can do about it. I asked if he ever had visits from Doctors or the Hospital, or any government aid, and he said No, nothing. Thank god DDSP exists is all I can say!

Finally we briefly met with some of the staff members at the DDSP office. The whole visit had incorporated so much more than I had expected and sadly we already had bus tickets back to Phnom Penh on the last bus, and so had to rush off. If I had had any idea how much time of his Samnang would have given us I would have stayed longer, but I didn’t… regrets regrets eh…So we arrived at the bus stop just before the bus left when I realised… I had forgotten my bag at the office! Which only contained all my money, passport, laptop…. I have never done anything so stupid in all my life! Fortunately one of Samnang's staff raced over to us on her moto, just as the bus driver was threatening to leave and all the passengers were glaring at us through the windows…I am so grateful to Samnang for all his help, and if anyone is thinking of making any donations any time soon I can vouch for DDSP without question!

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh has been a bit of a functional city this time round as we have arrived three different times. The first couple of nights we stayed we were pretty tired from travelling so simply wandered about and got some food… I like Phnom Penh, it is a busy place full of decaying French architecture, fantastic old Colonial buildings with balconies spilling out over the roads. It is not a polished city, but it has odd bits of green space and although it can be scary crossing the roads it is manageable! Even for moi. We spent one evening sampling the nightlife and managed to down a few cocktails in glasses shaped like a naked woman- very jean paul gaultierre! There is definitely a seedier side to Phnom Penh than a lot of other places I have been and there are a lot more “girly”bars it seems than normal ones. Oh well –we’re not easily shocked! As I have been to many of the tourist sites before I did not go and repeat the same things, with the exception of Teul Sleng Prison. It was one of the main prisons during the Khmer Rouge where they think around 20,000 people were killed. Apparently there were only 7 survivors. I wanted to revisit it as it is a good source of information about the Khmer Rouge and the people that died ( a quarter of the population). As depressing as it sounds it didn’t seem right to spend time in Phnom Penh and not visit at least one site like this again. I don’t understand why it is not talked about more in the West or taught in Schools- it bldy should be! Hopefully history will never repeat itself like this again.One more place I did revisit however which was a little more uplifting was Romyda Keth’s shop! Keth is a French/Khmer Fashion designer with a lovely collection of clothes in central Phnom Penh… needless to say I have converted Alex too!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Aye Aye Captain

On our second to last day in Sihanoukville we decided to be the tourists we truly are and spend a day on a boat... having once had a nightmare day in Greece on what was supposed to be a delightful sailboat but was more like an oil freighter I was slightly skeptical.

But both Alex and I were pleasantly surprised at our bizarre boat "the sun".

We sailed to two different islands and spent time swimming and languishing in Cambodian paradise. Of course this being us two we were also overjoyed at the delicious spread of grub on the boat.

We spent the rest of our time in snooky by the pool and wandering up and down the beach, you know how it is on a beach holiday.....you just take it all very easy and chill...perfect preparation for the next few days....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Snoozing in Sihanoukville...

Leaving Siem Reap was a bit of a blur due to the guy at my hostel not telling us the correct time the bus was leaving so we ran a little late.... fortunately made it on time and hit the road to Phnom Penh!

More about the Penh later though as we only stayed for one night before heading South to the beach and Sihanoukville... (although I will say that during that one night alex and I had to share the tiniest double bed I have ever seen, it may have been a single, which caused much laughter in the early hours)

I came to Sihanouvkille 5 years ago and I remembered it as an idyllic week where Wilx and I spent sleepy days hanging out on the beach with hardly a soul around.

Things it seems have changed!!

5 years has brought lots of development so there are many many new beach bars, hotels, and ... people! We arrived on the Kings Birthday which is a national holiday and hundreds of Khmer people were out in force swimming, partying and bbqing... I was surprised at the difference (duh!).

The negatives to all this development is that there is a LOT of rubbish lining the beach and also some suspiciously brown water at one end...hmm. It is sad really, I hope in time it gets better because it won't be long before the guidebooks are saying "don't go!" if they aren't already...

Still, saying that it has been really nice coming here for the week. And don't get me wrong, parts of it are still really beautiful.

The first night we got a bit trigger happy on cocktails and the excitement of the bars which caused us to spend a lot of the next day feeling rather undertheweather but since then we have been having a really good and chilled time, as you can imagine...

As everyone knows, you come to the beach and the first couple days feel like they go slowly and then before you know it time speeds up and the days start to roll into one long memory of swimming, sun, sea and... delicious squid bbq!

Note: Alex and I have so far tried and tested from beach hawkers: lobster, fresh spring rolls, doughnuts, pedicures, and squid... so at least we have made up for the 10,000 bracelets we've refused. Adam you will win the competition methinks!