Cambodia – seeing beyond Indiana Jones


Aged fourteen and on a ferry to France I was upgraded to Club Class to ensure this unaccompanied minor didn’t get up to any mischief. Instead of mischief, I sat with my complementary papers and cup of tea and read about the funeral pyre for Pol Pot splashed on the front page.

Now I want to travel to see the country, hear from the people and learn how you and I can make a difference.

That ferry journey was when I first heard of Cambodia. I later learnt of the Vietnam conflict which spilled across borders and read accounts of the killing fields, where grass was turned red as up to two million of Pol Pot’s countrymen were killed under the command of Brother One. Twenty three years prior to his death his Khmer Rouge fighters took Phnom Penh to, as the Chicago Tribune described, turn his ideology into bloody reality.

And nearly two decades on in a country with an economy growing, the poor are being left behind.

Pol Pot dreamt of recreating the glory days of Angkor Wat and the Khmer empire of the twelfth century, instead he left a country crippled by civil war, a population haunted by poverty and a nation that nobody noticed. Twenty years after the start of his atrocities his death brought the country back to the front pages for those like me to hear of for the first time, and after a brief flirtation with the public interest it faded from view again.

Apart from the occasional photos from a friend’s travels through south-east Asia, usually posed before the stunning temples from an era belonging more to Indiana Jones than the present population, Cambodia remains an enigma. One of those places far away where dreadful things happened by one of the last great dictators of a twentieth century haunted with a litany of figures robbing humanity of their own.

The present is further away than the past.

The past can be accounted for, it can be condemned and it can be denounced, it can be labelled an aberration when man killed man for nothing but a misplaced sense of national glory. The present is with us. It is a mother left caring for children when a father dies. It is an eldest daughter looking after her siblings when HIV robs a family of its parents. It is poverty ingrained in community life, a norm that should be anything but. A status quo which must be questioned, condemned and dealt with, denounced with as much force and far more action than the slaughter of innocents decades before.

It is something you must do and I must too.

The effects of poverty, the lack of clean water, the unceasing hunger, the paucity of education that stumps development at its root. It can all seem too much. It can stun us into inaction, blinded by complexity, blinkered by politics, blanked out by poverty so vast it seems almost normal. The tyranny of grand problems block us from acting even when the step we can take is small and very achievable. It doesn’t take much but it takes something.

The coffee I drunk as I wrote this is all it costs to support their work each month. If you gave £3 to Tearfund each month it would enable them to work with local churches and community organisations. By doing this communities are able to support themselves, help feed each other, access resources and help put families beyond the reach of poverty that rips families apart and takes lives without care for the cost.

I am going to travel the thousands of miles across continents to see how the help helps. To see the work work. And to see what your support would support. To see the lives that Tearfund are already helping transform, and those it could affect with the cost of your coffee each month.

I am not a fundraiser, I am not a particularly good at self promotion. I even stopped blogging for the past few months. But I have my words, and I want to hear the stories from Cambodia and tell them to you. I want to bring them to life so that you can help Tearfund sustain life in places where it too often hangs by too thin a thread.

*  *  *

I’m thrilled to have been chosen by Tearfund to travel to Cambodia in March as part of their bloggers’ trip. Along with Anita Mathias and Rich Wells, I’ll be telling stories of what we see on the ground and the work that Tearfund are doing to give a helping hand up out of poverty. Stay tuned for more!


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