July 02, 2010

Life on ONE level

I am slowly adjusting to life here, which is so different than what I have experienced so far. Here, life has another rhythm, maybe because of the weather, and the fact that the sun sets very early. After 8 pm, the streets are empty and it is a pleasure to ride a moto or a tuk tuk and see the city by night, when the craziness and the chaos is no longer there…
I took the risk to drive a moto a few times, and it’s so fun, but so dangerous, because they don’t have any rules whatsoever here. The rules apply only to expats. When an expat is caught passing on red light, or turning where in theory u’re not supposed to, the police will try to get some money from you, if not they threaten you with jail or expulsion of the country… it’s funny...
So, thinking that I will take it easier with the moto, I bought myself a bike from a friend who is leaving. And yesterday I had to ride it back home, through the rush hour and the biggest boulevard in Phnom Penh. But I survived..after yelling at some moto drivers, not that anyone cares…I had the urge to take everyone and show them how they’re supposed to drive. I think one of the thousands NGO here should try to help the government with designing a traffic law and should help them enforce it.
There are soooo many NGOs here in PP, and they do all sorts of projects. For instance, yesterday I went for lunch in this restaurant which was founded by an NGO. There, they take women who used to work in garment factories and teach them how to cook with a focus on Western food. Because most of the women go and work in the expats’ houses after this. So basically the profits they make from the restaurant there they invest in these cooking classes. I think this is a very nice idea. Similarly to this, there are some NGOs who train women to do craftworks and then they sell it in stores around PP. NGOs here employ many Cambodians, which is a very good way of using local resources. But it also makes you think whether this is sustainable, and what will happen when there will be no more project aid. Especially now with a tendency towards other aid modalities…
The other day I went to one of the poorest areas in Phnom Penh, Chbar Ampouv area (SE of PP on the riverbank). You can see the pics here:
It was impressing to see that community, the huts (houses) were very crowded, the streets were very tight, it was like one huge family. No privacy whatsoever…here I am talking about privacy when the people there barely had food to survive. I was visiting one of our partners NGO –Friends International- program, Mith Samlanh. This program is mainly focused on street children and youth, but they also do a lot of social work for the community. Some of the activities they do are: outreach services, educational services on health issues (STI/HIV), medical consultations, counseling... They also have an education center in Phnom Penh that has primary remedial classes, they offer vocational training classes, like cooking, beauty classes, for boys they have some mechanical classes… they focus on drug users, because this is probably the biggest issue there, and so they offer free syringes so that HIV is not spread (out of 750 people in the community, Friends have identified 150 drug users, but there are many more, as not all disclose this information)
In their office there, they have a team of 8 staff, but they also work with the support of volunteers from the community, who help them with the outreach work.
One of the initiatives that seemed very interesting to me was the Home Based Product program. So, basically they identify the poorest families in the community, and they offer them sewing machines or other kits like that, so that the family is able to manufacture home based products, that they can sell back to the organization. For instance, one of the families I visited was producing with the help of this sewing machine, headbands, purses, and bags. After that they sell it back to the organization (headband – 1$, bag 5$) and then the organization sells these products in a store in central PP, for maybe 4 times the sum they paid for. With the profit they make, they buy the materials for the products that they give back to the families. With the money the family makes, they can send their children to school. If they do not send the children to school and they use the money for other purposes and if they send their children to work, the organization takes back the sewing machine from them.
While I was there, I could not stop thinking why they keep on having children if they don’t have the means to raise them. And I can tell you it was full of children, like in any other developing country. And as much as I love kids, when you see they have no future..it’s sad… it makes me think of what the Chinese did by imposing that families should have only one child…I know this contravenes with all the possible human rights issues and it’s a drastic measure…but it makes u think that it could be one option…even though I think education is the key. They keep on having children because they don’t know there is an alternative. When they are told about reproductive health and contraception, this is how they react:
- “You know, these pills are made in Vietnam. Vietnamese want to eliminate Cambodian people; in that way they can take Angkor temples and other lands. ”
- “Injection makes us lose weight, menstruation doesn’t come regularly, and the old blood containing viruses is not evacuated so that we have black spots on the skin”
Therefore, abortion is very common, and unfortunately it is not safe abortion, because they usually refuse women in public hospitals so they have to do it God knows where. But this is what they think: “With the contraceptive pill we always have problems, bellyaches for two months or more, headaches. Abortion only takes 10 minutes and then that’s over”
They’re afraid that by taking the pill they will get cancer and many many many other excuses like this. So, it is clearly a matter of lack of information and education. And this is what some of the NGOs try to do by their outreach programs. But seeing the number of children, there is still a lot of work to be done…Probably this education should be given in schools, but who has access to education in schools…and so on and on…
We take these things for granted, but clearly they’re not. You think that life in general comes on many levels, but here it is just ONE level, and that is survival.
I could not help thinking when walking through that community, what do these people do? don’t they get bored? no work, nothing to read..some of them had TVs…
and so what they do is eat, or look for food (maybe that’s why they eat everything here – all possible insects) , most of them are garbage collectors ( I don’t know where they drop the collected garbage, because you can see garbage everywhere here…); and other than food, they reproduce, because they don’t know what else to do..

So life here is very simple, no? only ONE level- survival…

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