The first time we came to Cambodia, we met a teenage boy working in the guesthouse where we stayed in Siem Reap. He had a big smile and very little English. This was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. He had a dream to go to university but coming from a poor rural village, sleeping on the floor in the guesthouse, and earning around $2 per day (average wage), this was never likely to happen. JH and I decided to give him a hand with his dream. First he had to learn English because university is taught in English in Cambodia. Then he had to continue working full time (long hours, six to seven days per week) and go to classes at night. This year he finishes his degree.
Through this friendship we’ve come to know and love his extended family and his village. His family are subsistence farmers, like an estimated 80% of Cambodians. They grow rice, depending on the whims of the weather, supplemented with freshwater fish from Tonle Sap lake (where they go to fish in the off season) and small dams they dig by hand. They grow a bit of fruit and try to grow vegetables but the soil is poor, there’s a shortage of seeds, water collection, transport, storage, knowledge and skills.
Rice can be stored for a long time and fish that’s dried in the sun can last up to three months. This is pretty important when there’s no refrigeration. In fact, there’s no electricity at all. JH was on a mission to bring some solar lights to the village. First, he had to find somewhere to buy them here (without speaking any Khmer) and then work out how to put them up. The lights came without poles, so it was quite an adventure (with a bit of help from friends) to get some made.
It’s very hard for Cambodians to make money. With little opportunity for education, often the only way is to tap into the tourist dollar. Trip Advisor is the holy grail. Many Cambodian men and women go to Thailand to work illegally in construction. They can earn $3 or $4 per day there but it’s backbreaking and risky.
As part of a strategy to earn an income, our Cambodian family are hoping to build a business that includes a tuk tuk trip to the village for tourists. Here’s the website I set up (if you happen to be in Siem Reap) Fabulous Tuk Tuk Trips and Tours
We took a few friends from Australia and the UK on a test run to the village and to help with the solar lights. It was a very hot but truly wonderful day. We travelled in a convoy of tuk tuks and stopped at the district farmers market on the way to buy supplies.
Our lovely friends took gifts, including books and pencils for the children. Something so small can bring so much joy.
Everyone pitched in and cooked up a Khmer feast for lunch. Rice is so versatile! It was pounded by hand into a paste, then forced through a tin can sieve into boiling water to make noodles.
Meanwhile, JH was sorting out the solar lights.
With much male bonding and consultation via arm waving…
Tada! And then there was light. Everyone was so excited!
We are really hoping to be able to buy a battery and a solar panel to run fans and charge things like mobile phones. A basic power system like this would make a huge difference. If anyone is able to contribute a few dollars towards this it would totally make my day! Just comment or send me a message and I’ll let you know how.
Although money is scarce and there is often not enough to eat, the people here are so happy and positive. They have a strong sense of community and share what they have. I feel so lucky to be a small part of it.