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Cambodia: A Country Still In Turmoil

Cambodia: A Country Still In Turmoil

by Alison M. Brown

Amidst the bustling streets, dusty roads, whistles, horns, and panic resulting from disorganized traffic lays the multifaceted city of Phnom Penh. The capital of Cambodia integrates an interesting combination of culture, tourism and poverty, along with a strange sense of western influence.

At first glimpse, it doesn’t seem that Cambodia escapes the stereotype of being just another backpacker friendly Southeast Asian country, but this facade is easily defeated after visiting the notorious Killing Fields or Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum that brings the grueling images of Cambodia’s recent past to the surface. Over the last thirty years, the country suffered immensely while battling unfathomable atrocities such as mass starvation, genocide, and war.

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A BRUTAL HISTORY REVISITED During my short travel stint throughout the country, all of its problems were made very aware to me and it often felt as if I were on an emotional rollercoaster. I came to Cambodia with basic knowledge of the Khmer Rouge regime that devastated the country primarily from 1975 to 1979, though its influence can still be seen today.

This extremist government, influenced by elements of Marxist-Leninism and Maoism, ravaged the nation with the goal of creating a total agrarian society that would be obedient and produce wealth by exporting substantial amounts of rice to China. The Khmer Rouge murdered and tortured millions of innocent people, mainly intellectuals and political dissenters, and caused thousands more to die of starvation and exhaustion in the rice fields.

The atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge during its reign have left scars that are still overwhelmingly apparent. Approximately thirty three percent of Cambodia’s current population is under the age of 15, many of which are orphaned or severely impoverished. Small children sprawl the streets day and night in hopes of finding a Westerner to buy their books and trinkets or to buy them food.

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EFFORTS TO SAVE THE CHILDREN Even though there are a number of Non-Government Organizations in Cambodia, it is difficult to see large scale improvement when there is so much work to be done. I spent five days volunteering at the Save Poor Children in Asia Organization (S.C.A.O.), located just ten kilometers outside Phnom Penh. The director, Sath Samith, helped found the organization only 16 short months ago.

The facility houses and cares for 17 children with the goal of sending each child to school ($300 per year for primary school and $470 for high school), raising them in a loving environment and enabling them to learn basic life skills such as hygiene, cooking food, or how to use a computer. Samith plans to start several other projects such as Motorcycle Apprenticeship and Farming Development Project that will teach the children basic knowledge of motorcycle and farming practices and provide them with trade skills for future professions. Unfortunately, S.C.A.O. has not been able to acquire steady funding and relies mainly on donations from passing travelers and volunteers.

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WHAT CAN BE DONE Why Cambodia has not received more international attention in regards to human rights is questionable. It can perhaps be attributed to the publicity surrounding Vietnam War. Since the unpopular war between America and Vietnam ended 1975, the same time the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia came into power, much interest was positioned on the Vietnamese frontier.

Unfortunately, the war in Vietnam did not only affect the Vietnamese. In fact, old landmines and unexploded ordinances scattered by American troops in attempt to weed out the Viet Cong are still one of the largest problems Cambodia faces. The country does not have the funds to resurrect all of these landmines and may take many decades to completely rid the country of them.

But despite all the trials and tribulations, there is also much to be appreciated. The marvelous lush countryside, the magical and ancient Angkor temples, and its kind people have instilled a sense of optimism in Cambodia. Though the Cambodian people remain hopeful, their struggles will forever remain embedded in the spirit of every citizen, both now and in the future. It is a country that is still in dire need of healing and it is essential that more attention is paid to this part of the world.

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Through education, financial support, and continued support of volunteer’s world wide, Cambodia can be given the means to properly recover. If there is enough international awareness, the remedial processes can be expedited by pressuring those who have the power to enact change. Then, all the people of Cambodia will once again be given a chance to provide their children with a promising future.

For more information on how to help, please visit Manager: Mr. Sath Samith | Tel.012336501 | E-mail: or

Human Rights Watch Cambodia: Click Here


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