I had the opportunity to travel with Mujin from the Douglas A. Campbell Foundation to some remote regions in the northwest of Cambodia. Mujin was going there to check up on 5 water wells they financed the previous year through an organization called Lotus Outreach Cambodia (LOCAM).
I had never been in this part of the country and the scenery was beautiful and so different than the rice paddy fields I am used to.
It took us about 3 hours to get to the town of Pursat and then another 2 hours to drive to the first well. It took a little longer because of the cattle roadblocks and difficult roads…
At one point we drove through water that would have been up to my waist!
After ditching the car because the road was becoming impossible,
we started out on foot.
In the first village we went to, all the people who have access to the well were present. For each well, every family who uses the well must pay a one time fee of 10,000 Khmer riel, ($2.50 USD) and then 500 Khmer riel (about .12 USD) a month for upkeep of the well. Each well supports up to 30 families.
We visited 4 more wells each in very remote areas except for one.
The villages are made up of IDP’s or Internally displaced people. These are people the government displaced because they wanted the land the families were living on. They uprooted families (some of them had been living in areas for generations) and placed them in mismatched units in land formerly un-occupied. Land that is beautiful and lush during the rainy season, but 6 months out of the year, they will not have water nearby, thus the need for a well.
It's unfortunate that the people who need the most assistance are the ones that live so far away from the main stream. I live in a rural area, but I'm only 1 and a half hours from the capital city and only 10 minutes from the main highway to get there.
It's ironic that I absolutely LOVE mountains and oceans, but was born and raised in Kansas, the 7th flattest state in the US and now reside in a relatively flat land surrounded by rice fields. My short stints in coastal Spain,
mountainous Austria, (and that's a real photo, not some cheesy backdrop!)
and on the river in Belize sustained my environmental ascetic pleasure...
But to really get to the people in need, you must be prepared to trek down the roads less traveled and plan to stay for a long while. None of this fly by night NGO do gooders who want to write home about "all the help they are giving the poor helpless people". I do not live in an area where people commonly die from lack of water or from common dirty water related diseases.
Traveling to these areas gave me a microscopic glimpse into poverty, depression, displacement and feelings of utter helplessness from people who do not have many choices in life. But it also gave me a small glimpse of the appreciation for things (albeit few) that the people do have and the happiness and joy they do experience living with what they have.
Mujin and I talked about the difference between poverty and miserable poverty. You can be very poor and lead a happy life. But to be very poor and miserable is another factor all together. The people we saw were poor, but not miserable. They definitely benefited from the wells their villages were given - and they will really be appreciative during the 6 months when they will have no other water source, but in general (frustration over their inability to secure land rights aside) they were not in miserable poverty.
How would I handle personally being involved in the lives of those who are experiencing miserable poverty?
That's a good question.