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Category: Cambodia

Mission Trip 2010: Reaching Out & Giving Aid

The harsh realities of Cambodia stares me in the face. My second trip to this desolate country in a month has left an indelible mark in my throve of memories….

The harsh realities of Cambodia stares me in the face. My second trip to this desolate country in a month has left an indelible mark in my throve of memories. Touching down in Siem Reap, we travelled four hours on a local bus to Battambang. Packed with over 40kgs of old clothes, medical supplies and a vague sense of what to expect, our team of a doctor and four medical students, 10 professionals and a little girl (Vanora) and set out to make medical aid possible for the rural village folk.

We met up with Pastor Sam of Legacy of Hope, an English language institute that offers quality education to children and youth. He brings us around the school, a few simple blocks of tiny classrooms with ceilings low enough to make you feel claustrophobic. Students stare at us intently offering welcoming smiles and respectful bows as we peeked in.

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Prior to our arrival, Pastor Sam had organized the purchase of medicines and prepared a group of local translators to help us with the medical camp. We spent the rest of the day sorting, counting, packing and labelling medicines into the wee hours of the morning.

The next day, many questions still hung in the air as we travelled another hour into interiors of the country side– ‘How many people will come?’, ‘How will the response be?’, ‘What will we encounter?’, ‘Will we be able to cope with the numbers?’… To add to the sea of questions, it was the first time a medical team has visited this particular village.

A multitude of people were found waiting at the entrance of the school, the temporary ‘hospital’ for the next 2 days. Along the way as our van approached, groups of people were seen walking towards the school, some pulling wooden carts to ferry their children, others dragging their little ones by the finger in hope to get some medicines for their ailing bodies.

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Children walked around with torn clothes, some half-naked and most of them without any shoes or slippers. Their hair streaked with a light tinge of blonde not from hair dye but as a result of severe malnutrition. Old women and men offer a smile to welcome us and I’m overcome by the sight of decaying and charcoal black teeth. I returned a smile with my best effort trying to hide the feelings that overcome me – feelings of empathy and despair.

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In a place like Cambodia, cleanliness and hygiene is a concept hard to grasp or even understand. These people have so little to survive much less spare a few dollars to buy toothpaste or soap for bathing. They live on bare minimum, a shade above their head and enough to fill their stomachs. Finger nails packed with dirt are trimmed manually by biting on it. Water is a precious natural resource since it rains for 6 months and not even a drop for the next half of the year. And in those dry seasons, water is used for cooking rather than washing or cleaning.

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Yet despite the poverty stricken conditions, nothing comes free. Parents still need to pay for their children’s education and medical aid is not covered by insurance or even subsidized by the government. In order to put food on the table, one has to work hard plowing and tilling their land in harsh weather conditions. Meat is a complete luxury for these rural folk since it costs USD12 for 1kg of chicken!

On the first day of the medical camp, we saw over 350 patients. Setting up stations to test their blood pressure, glucose level and finally meeting a doctor – we dispensed thousands of tablets, cleaned wounds, gave out vitamins and extended our hearts to these people. Children walked into the ‘hospital’ without parents, farmers miss a day of work just to get a basic medical health check, families streamed in and the hall was filled. The doctors didn’t have a minute to rest and the pharmacy buzzed with activity.

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PEPY Tours In Cambodia

What better way to explore a country than on two wheels with a saddlebag packed to last for 2 – 3 weeks. It’s all about local travel – taking in…

What better way to explore a country than on two wheels with a saddlebag packed to last for 2 – 3 weeks. It’s all about local travel – taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a destination. The satisfaction of exploring the nook and cranny of a road less travelled and forging friendships with local people – that’s exactly what PEPY Tours offer to their travelers.

PEPY (“Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself”) Tours was established in 2005 by Daniela Papi and her friends, who traveled to Cambodia and realized the sheer education deprivation in the country. Moved and inspired by the experience, they set out to raise funds to build the first-ever secondary school in Chanleas Dai Commune, about 45 minutes from Siem Reap. At the same time, they planned subsequent bicycle tours around Cambodia as a means of raising funds. Since then, PEPY has evolved from being a small informal group to a legal organization with over 30 Cambodian staff working in the rural parts of Cambodia to reach children and youth through education and leadership programmes.

The unique characteristic of PEPY’s tours lie not only in the authenticity of its travel but also in the educational aspect. PEPY seeks to create sustainable changes within an individual, resulting in long term effects even after the traveler leaves. They do so by engaging travelers in insightful and thought stimulating activities to help travellers learn and understand social and environmental issues surrounding tourism. Their goal is for travellers to leave Cambodia with a transformed view and attitude of how they live, travel and give.

During our 4-day visit to PEPY, we heard numerous stories of lives being empowered and changed because of the PEPY’s efforts. Youth from the rural parts of Cambodia are given the opportunity to study, fulfil their dreams and reach their highest potential. PEPY is in the business of empowering individuals in hope that they will change the hue of the future in their country. “If we can help our employees reach their full potential, then naturally the organization will inevitably reach its best,” Daniela shares.

*PEPY organizes bicycle tours and education & experiential non-biking tours.

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Cambodia At First Sight

Where old world and new world collide – Siem Reap to me is a country battling to find her identity. A mix of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, this mesh of…

Cambodia (1)

Where old world and new world collide – Siem Reap to me is a country battling to find her identity. A mix of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, this mesh of culture, tradition and lifestyle intrigues me. Travelers flocking to Cambodia has ‘visiting the ruins’ as top on the list of must do’s , then maybe sparing some time to volunteer at one of the many hundreds of NGOs polka dotted across the country, then comes the food and perhaps cultural centers showcasing Apsara dancers.

Indeed Cambodia has successfully preserved their national heritage of craggy temples, the famous Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon being the most visited. Throngs of tourist stream into these ancient landmarks photographing at every angle. Perpetual hand and footprints have left its mark on these stones turning them into a darkish grey. The structures are mesmerizing with century old stories to tell. Towering soft wood trees anchor themselves on these structures providing shade against the sweltering heat.

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Modern day Cambodia is a representation of the old trying to embrace the new, yet not there yet. Struggling to find a foot in development, Cambodia is still very rural and laid back in my opinion. Development visited only when foreign trade and intervention infiltrated the land. Many NGOs set up in the country is established for the fact that the local economy desperately needs help. Hopefully Cambodia will one day be able to stand on its own feet and thrive.

The streets still lined with food vendors, tuk tuk drivers calling “tuk tuk lady” the minute they see a foreigner, make shift fish spas set up to lure tourists, touts continue to tail you just to get one dollar for a stack of postcards. Tourism is big here. But how far can this stretch? That remains a big concern.

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