For A Better Cambodia

Out of all the places I’ve visited, in Cambodia I felt the strongest need to be conscientious about how I spend my time and money. While everyone is in need of a living wage there are some wonderful organizations that are working to educate people with valuable life skills. Without marketable skills, children can get sucked in to truly undesirable work at a very young age.
There is a common scam in Cambodia where a child will approach you on the street or while you are seated. Often, you will be seated at a street side restaurant minding your own business. They plead at you, “Please, I don’t want money. I just want milk.” If you bite, they lead you to a shop except rather than a carton of milk they choose a bottle of expensive baby formula. If you make the purchase, they will later return to the shop and get a refund for the milk powder.I was in Siem Reap for a week, and was approached three times by the same young girl carrying a baby. The first incident was rather shocking. I was eating breakfast with Ayca at Le Grand Café when she approached Ayca, who immediately turned her down. She kept at it, and then I jumped in with a louder and firmer denial. She glared at me and said “I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to her.” and went back to working at Ayca.

After several more attempts to tell her we weren’t interested, she got pissed at me. She picked up a salt shaker menacingly and glared at me. “Fuck you. You watch out or I do this. You come outside and I show you. You come outside.” Woah, I definitely have a size advantage but I did not want to get in to an altercation with this kid. She continued to threaten me for a bit and then reached over and pinched my arm as hard as she could and left.

It may be tempting to just give in, because what are a few dollars to an underprivileged kid, but supporting these children is not in their best interest at all. These harsh tactics are rarely the child’s idea, and if they weren’t lucrative the parent might choose instead to send the child to school or have them work on more tangible skills.

A better option is to support the many NGOs that are working hard to provide support, education, and work skills to street kids, orphans, and other underprivileged youth. Eat at HAVEN which not only serves some of the best food in Siem Reap, but provides housing, food, shelter, and service industry training for participants. Watch the Phare Cambodian Circus, which provides free education plus specialized schools for visual and applied arts, music, theater, and circus performance under the banner of PPS.

If you are inclined to donate or volunteer, do your research first. Schools that use Khmer teachers are much more effective at teaching English than those that use an ever-changing selection of foreign volunteers. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t volunteer, but try not to do it in ways that displace locals who are trying to make a wage.

Finally, if you are ever in Cambodia please donate blood! I went to theAngkor Hospital for Children and it was easy and safe. They have a serious shortage of blood and you have a good chance of saving a child’s life for your minimal effort. You will even walk away with a free shirt.

If you are headed to Cambodia and wish to help, ConCERT is a wonderful resource for maximizing your impact. They also run an amazing little cafe that has green smoothies.

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