Here we are in Cambodia, a country with such a tragic history, in our lifetime, also home to the wonderful temples of Siem Reap, such an Angkor Wat. These seem to be what the country is best known for.
As we dig deeper below the surface,, we find so much more. We learn of the communist insurgents, known as the Khmer Rouge, who overthrew the military dictator, Lon Nol, shortly after the end of the Vietnam war. Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge during this dreadful time in Cambodia history. They killed 2-3 million Cambodians, 1/4 of the nation's population in 3 1/2 years of being in power. 80% of all teachers were killed, 95% of the doctors, also engineers, scientists and countless others who were educated. Many women and children were murdered. The country was essentially returned to year zero.
The mission of this tyrannical group was to reconstruct Cambodia into agrarian socialism. The population was to be forced to work as labourers in one huge federation of collective farms. All political and civil rights were abolished. Religion was banned. All leading monks were killed. Many temples were destroyed. Cities were evacuated. People were shot for knowing a foreign language or even for wearing glasses.
In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and eventually overthrew the Khmer Rouge. The story of the genocide was really not known in many parts of the world. In US, the memory of the Vietnam war was fresh in their memories, they really wanted nothing more to do with Southeast Asia. Those who escaped from the Khmer Rouge fled to Thailand refugee camps. The stories of these camps is almost impossible to believe. Atrocities abounded, starvation and disease was prevalent.
To compound these disasters, the Khmer Rouge placed landmines throughout the country during this time. It is estimated that there are 40,000 amputees in Cambodia, the highest rate in the world. 20% of all villages to this day are still contaminated by landmines. This impacts access to agricultural land.
The country struggles to get past all this. In the villages, many have no electricity. They cook on fires outside their home. Some have solar energy which may light their homes for a few hours each evening. many live off the land, working hard in rice paddies, eating fish, rice and vegetables that they grow.
Our projects here in Cambodia are called Banyan Learning Tree Schools. We work to sustain our schools here. At this time, we have 520 children in our schools. We encourage the children to wear the uniforms that they wear to the government schools (that they attend for the other half of the day). If they do not wear the uniform, this is a clue to us that perhaps they are not attending the government school. We then pursue that and try to make that happen. Also, if they cannot afford a uniform, we provide one for them.
Our volunteers on the ground are 100% volunteers, paying their own airfare, accommodation and meals at all times so that all money raised goes to the cause. Lisa McCoy hails from Gravenhurst, ON and Pauline Johns hails from Australia. None of our projects could happen without the care and custody of these two incredible ladies who work tirelessly to help those less fortunate. Pauline is on the far right and Lisa is next to her. Leslie Cadeau is my travel companion on the far left.
We also have a weaving centre where we employ women so that they can have a livelihood and we market and sell their handiwork so that soon this centre will become self-sufficient.
Our wonderful volunteers also work with other projects surrounding landmine victims, providing bicycles for children in remote areas. This is funded by other groups. Our projects also help to educate landmine victims so that they re-train for other occupations and become self-sufficient, e.g. they become chicken farmers or barbers in their villages.
Our next project is to try to open a family health clinic in a remote village area. There is much research still to be done on this and it will not happen overnight but our goals are becoming more focused now. We plan to work with pregnant mothers and newborn infants 0-2 years old, in an attempt to decrease infant mortality.
Here I am teaching dental hygiene to a class. We take lots of printouts to the schools to help them with their vocabulary. We take toothbrushes and toothpaste for all, pens and pencils, arithmetic problems for them to solve and then we play games with them. So much fun and we feel it is important for them to hear English spoken by westerners.
Patti Lee and I are holding our Cambodia fundraiser on Friday May 1st this year at 5 Glen Park Ave. (Habonim Synagogue) From 9.30-11.30 am, John Rayner will teach a hands-on bridge class. John is a first-rate teacher and player. He owns a bridge club in Mississauga and you will so nejoy learning from him. After that, lunch will be served and then Patti will show pictures of Cambodia and provide an update. A bridge game will follow all and extra master points will be awarded.
To reserve a space at this event, please send your donation (with a cheque made out to
A MINE FREE WORLD (note change in name because this is the organization that will now be issuing our receipts from now on) to
220 Lawrence Ave East,
Toronto ON M4N 1T2
If you are unable to attend, we would still be thrilled to receive your donation and we promise that every penny will go to the cause. There are no administration fees.
Please be sure to include your name, tel no, postal address (for the tax receipt) and email address.
Thank you for caring and listening. Patti and I are so grateful for your support.
Sincere best wishes,