Jeeven visited Cambodia to see, learn and increase his understanding of how World Vision works.
From the window of the plane, I was mesmerised by the lush green land sprawling before me, littered with countless rivers twirling like ribbons. From afar, it was hard to tell that decades ago the same land and water was stained with the blood of millions of innocent people slaughtered mercilessly by the Khmer Rouge.
Cambodia has endured many tough decades. Pol Pot’s rule is long gone but its legacy remains. Poverty impacts many locals; the country’s people have an average income of US$2.60 a day – a fifth of Thailand’s figure.
Poverty has a home in urban shantytowns and city slums right around the world. Suddenly I saw it in the flesh. I visited families living on a dumpsite. Makeshift homes built on top of the rubbish and animals scavenging around, competing for food.
I wanted to learn
For me, being part of a World Vision Australia Global One trip to Cambodia was an opportunity to see, learn and enhance my understanding of how aid is delivered on the ground.
I wanted to bring those stories back and share them with the young Australians I work with on a daily basis to empower them with leadership, storytelling and fundraising tools.
The trip turned out to be an opportunity to forge lasting life-changing connections, to truly immerse myself in the lived experience of poverty and to believe in the power of hope.
Our team of staff and volunteers – eight Australians, two New Zealanders and three Cambodians – travelled together to visit two Area Development Programs (ADPs): one in urban Phnom Penh, another in a rural Rukh Kiri.
I discovered more about Cambodia’s troubled history on my first day in the country’s capital Phnom Penh. I visited the S21 Tuol Seng Genocide Museum, a former school turned prison, and the Choung Ek killing fields, where the mass graves of up to 9,000 people have been uncovered.
I discovered how people are empowered
In Phnom Penh, the locals were tackling the challenge of poverty with strategies and an ADP was leading the way in shaping work to address urban poverty globally.
I saw how women have been able to start their own businesses, how youth groups have taken a lead role in clean-up days around the neighbourhood and how community leaders have been empowered with advocacy skills so they can negotiate eviction notices on behalf of local government authorities.
One of my highlights was seeing a little informal school conducted by a volunteer teacher who, with the support of World Vision, has undergone training to educate local children.
I went off the beaten track
I explored the beautiful countryside of Rukh Kiri and spent a few nights living with World Vision staff at the rural ADP office, where the office has become their home.
I was moved by their tireless work in the region to improve conditions in local informal and outdoor schools for children. Many of these schools were so remote I could only visit them by jumping in the back of a ute.
I met pregnant women who are benefiting from a plan to transition away from a reliance on traditional midwives to a medical maternity clinic. This clinic was a room in the back of a small shop.
I loved watching the after-school youth-led activities aimed at teaching children and their parents about proper hand washing and hygiene.
It has inspired me
What I saw in those two weeks sparked an even stronger determination in me to dedicate my efforts to address the unnecessary and unjust situation that millions of people find themselves in each day, particularly young people.
I was surprised to form such a strong connection with some of the people I met in such a short time. The youth volunteers inspired me as they shared with me the dreams and ambitions they have for not just their own future, but that of their community.
A teacher who earns just US$20 a month, well below the poverty line, said to me that we had inspired her to become more dedicated to teaching.
What was it about these strangers that made them seem like friends? For me, it was all answered in a very common phrase used throughout Cambodia, in the markets and written on billboards: same same but different.
We are truly alike and the human face of poverty was imprinted in my mind, making me realise there is so much more that unites us. The call to action has never been clearer in my mind and the feeling of hope has never been stronger.
First published in ANUReporter Vol 46. No.1, p 22-25