A few weeks ago I went on a field trip to interview and take photos of some of the beneficiaries of the NGO I am volunteering for. I love going on these trips, because it offers a fantastic opportunity to get to know rural Cambodia outside of the tourist hubs, and also speak to people about their concerns, achievements and hopes for the future. I always come back really energized and inspired, but these trips can also be quite hard and emotional at times as well.
Because of the Khmer Rouge reign and the civil war that followed, Cambodia still faces economic challenges with a third of the population living on less than $2 a day. It is hard to imagine how people can survive on that amount of money, and speaking to people first hand you really understand the hardships some people go through. I spoke with one woman for example who is currently looking after her granddaughter, because her granddaughter’s parents both had to migrate to Thailand to find a job. They haven’t seen their daughter since she was born and they are not sure when they will see her next.
I also met a woman who told me that she has 8 children, but that she thinks that one of them is dead, as she hadn’t heard from him for 6 years now. He also migrated to Thailand to find work and could have ended up in forced labor somewhere in the fishing industry. There are many more sad stories I heard, but they are too sensitive to talk about here.
On the plus side I also heard many wonderful and inspiring stories of how people are fighting their way out of poverty through pure dedication. I met a girl who was part of our university scholarship program. She is one of 10 children in her family and the only one in her family and the entire village who goes to university. She is studying accountancy and after uni she would like to work for an NGO so she can help her country. Needless to say her family and the entire village is really proud of her. She is a real role model for the younger children in her community who are now all eager to finish school, so that they can be like her one day.
And then there are of course the many cute and cheeky children I get to meet on these field trips. At first they are usually shocked to see such a white woman (the villages I visit tend to be rather remote and so a lot of people would have never seen a foreigner). But after a while they usually warm to me. In fact throughout an entire interview with a village resident, which lasted about 20 minutes, I was holding hands with three girls. They wouldn’t let go of me and found it hilarious to touch my pale arm. They found it even more hilarious when I took pictures of them and then showed the pictures to them.
No matter how hard some peoples’ lives are, I am to this day amazed how people in rural Cambodia manage to have the most heartfelt smiles in the whole wide world. It is moments like this when I love my job in international development. Work doesn’t get much more rewarding than this.