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Poverty in Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 25 January 2009 | Views [4239]

There are approximately 14,000 to 24,000 street children living in Cambodia. In Phnom Penh alone there are between 10,000 and 20,000 living and working on the streets.

They sell bracelets, guide books, fruit, key rings, postcards, sunglasses, necklaces...the list goes on. They approach you on the beach, sitting outside restaurants, walking along the street, in internet cafes and anywhere else you might be. Their eyes are sad and their clothes are worn. Sometimes they have tattered shoes clinging to their filthy feet, other times they have none at all. Sometimes they are quiet and move from person to person without uttering a word. Other times they shout in shrill voices about what they have for sale.

I've read that it is best not to buy from the children because it only teaches them to be dependent on tourists for survival and discourages them from attending school or getting help from the numerous organisations slowly being set up around the country.
But Lonely Planet and some other guide books say you should buy from the kids because you're getting something you need and helping a child at the same time.

I am torn between not being able to CONSTANTLY refuse children (especially the ones in Sihanoukville who WILL NOT leave you alone until you buy something) and my desire to not want to be part of the problem. It's very hard to say no to a small child.

I know that it must be hard for the kids getting thrown into the "work force" sometimes as young as three or four. I want to help them. I want them to get to school and grow up knowing about the world and being happy. Not spending their lives wandering the streets selling plastic nic-knacks to fat, lazy tourists.

I've given to or bought things from some kids and I feel bad for doing so but I would have felt bad if I didn't. I also buy presents for people back home from little shops that claim to be part of organisations that give a percentage of the money they make to street children.
I wonder what is better? I know that 99% of the money that the street kids make directly, doesn't even affect them. They give it to their parents or who ever looks after them. I wonder what parent could send their children out to work when surely they could make enough money in a place with HUNDREDS of tourists to sell to.

I've spoken to kids who tell me that everyone in their family works. One little girl who was eight years of age told me she has seven brothers and sister who all work. The youngest being four. They all go to Khmer school in the morning, work during the day and go to English school in the evening. I asked her if her parents work and she said her Dad does.

Maybe these families need the money from all the kids as well as the money from the parents. Then they can get to school.

I've met other kids who have told me they learn all the English they know from tourists. I wonder who taught them to say "The dingo stole my baby!!" when I tell them I'm Australian.

In Phnom Penh there are clusters of families that sleep on the streets. Usually single mothers with anywhere from one to five small children and babies. They do not sleep in corners or doorways or parks. They sleep on the side of busy streets, day and night.
I want to cry when I see them. It's a cruel world that lets babies sleep naked on the streets without so much as a nappy. And they say it's best NOT to give to them. I don't know what to do. I know that if I was to give to all of them I'd have no money left. But then I look into their eyes and I want to give them all the money in my wallet. I've seen poverty before but I don't think I've ever seen anything like the desperate poverty of Cambodia.

The smaller towns in the country of Cambodia are filthy. Waste flows directly into the small canals along the side of the road and there is rubbish everywhere. Naked toddlers play in ditches with muddy plastic bags and old styrofoam containers. But the older children cycle to school and the people along the streets smile because they are surviving. There are no people sleeping on the streets in the country. To live out there you have to be at least able to survive.

Really bad poverty is attracted to cities where people might have a chance of making some money from passing tourists. In Phnom Penn the streets might be cleaner but poverty is rife.

On the bus into Phnom Penn we drove past what can only be described as a 'shanty town'. Right in the city - a block of brown dusty land littered with tiny shacks made from anything possible. Tarpaulins, rusted sheets of corrugated iron, old wooden doors...all nailed together to make a tiny living space for an entire family, or more. There would be no sewerage or clean water. There would be no locking doors or windows. It wouldn't be safe from anything. The rain would come in and so would the bugs and diseases.

I have never seen anything like it before except on television...and when you're confronted with it face to face it's quite different.  

It's always the children that get to me the most. To know how privileged we are in a country like Australia and then to see such things here in Cambodia. It really is heartbreaking.


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