Thursday, July 25, 2013
07.25.2013 - 07.25.2013
Today would be our last full day in Pursat at the hotel. We met for breakfast at 7:30 am in the hotel dining room. I ordered something different for breakfast as I needed a change. I ordered what was listed on the menu as dried fish rice. I asked our waitress if the dried fish was salty and she said yes. I hoped that it would be salty fish fried rice. Oh well, I hoped wrong. It was two pieces of deep fried fish with white rice. English is often not fully comprehended in Pursat. People here are very nice but often don't comprehend you and don't always let on that they don't understand. They do try and will often go to get someone who understands more English. It was a bit surprising about the command of English as the hotel has had quite a few tourists since we have been here. Rooms are very cheap and are about $15 a night for a room for two. The rooms are comfortable, clean and if something doesn't work they take care of it right away. I would stay here again should I come to Pursat on my own.
After breakfast we were picked up shortly after 8:30 am and we would be going to visit a family who are located in a village that HOPE has not yet expanded into but plans to do so. Once again we would be travelling by van and the trip took about 1 hour and a half. Many of the roads were new and part of the road was paved and this was only due to the government doing this as the Chinese were leasing land in the area to grow cassava.
The area was quite different from anything we have seen as there is vast amounts of the with cassava plants. Hectares and hectares of it for as far as your eye can see. The Chinese then would hire Cambodians to farm the land and grow the crops. The government is renting the farmland to the Chinese. There were vast spaces where there was no farming and eventually the land would bland e cleared and given to people to settle on. The people would own the land and not pay any tax on it. It would be their responsibility to clear the land themselves before they could build a home and live there. This would be a long and tough job as it would be done by hand. This area used to have land mines but they have been cleared for people to live here about three years ago.
We were going to see a family that HOPE would be providing a well to. They do not let the family know that there is a well forthcoming until it has been approved as they don't want to get anyone's hopes up. A lot of travelling is done
This family was extremely poor. I had never seen poverty like this before. I knew it existed but not to this degree and to see it firsthand really hits you in the gut. The mother wore a larger man's shirt that was very tattered. She is slender and gaunt. She has an air of sadness about her and her face is pinched. She seemed defeated, like life had beaten her and she now just existed. Leah and Piep brought a bag of baguettes along with several cans of condensed milk for them. Often they are hungry. They have chickens which they are looking after for her in-laws. I was told that the people do not eat the eggs as it is better to have the egg grow into a chicken and then eat the chicken. The five chickens belong to the in-laws. We did not ask how they get the feed for the chickens. They were kept in a little hut with thatched palms leaves covering the door and you could hear them clucking inside.
Leah asked them about what they eat. They eat whatever they are able to forage. Today, they were fortunate and had eaten rice porridge so they were fed. When there is nothing to eat, they take ants and put them in water with salt and eat that. This is real poverty, starvation and you just need to survive. There is no obesity in Cambodia. I have seen few overweight people. In Cambodia you walk a lot, ride a bicycle as transportation, work in the fields to earn a living and are constantly on the move. No lying around eating bon bons.
I think most people are slim due to not having enough resources to buy food to eat. As well, you eat mostly whole foods here. Also without access to water you cannot grow crops. When you can grow crops, you become self sustaining. Those crops feed you and you sell your excess crops to earn an income to purchase what you need. This is how people can find hope and do more than just survive.
This family was living in the poverty that I had expected to experience upon my arrival in Cambodia. I had expected that the children at the school we were at would be living in these types of conditions. I had been waiting for Cambodia to affect me, to change my life and it had in small degrees already but today was the day that it would change me profoundly.
The mother was there with her 18 year old daughter. The daughter has never been to school. Although there is a school, it is much too far away and there is no way for her daughter to get to the school. She also had another son and daughter there. They of course have not been to school either. The tragedy for the 18 year old is that she will never go to school now as she is older and won't want to go with the younger children. Her time has passed. She explained that her husband is working in the jungle where he has been currently working for the past two months. In those two months his wages would be $50 US. She also explained that her husband was sick previously and so to help get him medicine they had to borrow money. As collateral, they have had to give their 13 year old son to the lender until the debt is repaid. The son is allowed to come home but it is never for long and not often. The interest they are paying on the loan is set at 20%. She owes $50 US which is equal to 200,000 riel. Riel is the currency of Cambodia and is approximately 4,000 riel to one US dollar. The son is working not that far away which is fortunate. If the family had had to use a daughter for the debt repayment she could have been trafficked into the sex trade never to be seen again. This is not to say that the same fate could not also happen to the son. But with an interest rate of 20% nothing but a miracle could get that son back.
Cambodia is one of several Asian countries where children are held in debt bondage until loans taken out by their parents are paid off. The other countries that I was able to find out about this are the Phillipines, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Siam, Burma and Cambodia. How sickening that this is happening in our modern day society. We should be past this type of behaviour.
I asked Leah to ask the mother many questions. I know that it could not have been easy for the mother to answer but I needed to know. When we first found out that she had to send her son away as collateral for a debt I needed to know how old the son was. I also asked how much the debt was. Because I have two sons and love them more than anything in the world, I couldn't stand by and see this mother not get her son back. My heart ached for this mother and I wanted to help fix her situation immediately.
Questions were over and a picture was taken of the family. I told Leah I wanted to speak to her in private and it wasn't in private in the end as it didn't matter as the family did not speak any English. I told her that I wanted to pay the debt to get the son back. I asked Leah to please tell the mother now. I didn't want the mother to go another second without her son. Leah told her that I was going to pay the debt so that the mom could get her son back. The mother started to cry and kept saying thank you. Tears were running down my face and I couldn't stop crying. All I could think of was if it was my son how would I feel. I had Leah also tell the mom that I have two sons.
Leah was able to lend me the 200,000 Riel to give to the mother and I paid Leah back with $50 US. The price to have a child returned. The same amount of money we would spend to go out for a nice meal. Hardly makes sense does it?
I went to hug the mother, I didn't care that it is an act of being too familiar perhaps but I just wanted to hug her. One mom to another mom. It was that simple.
I don't know yet if the mother has been reunited with her son. She will have to talk to the person who has her son and I believe that there may be some assistance from a HOPE staff member. Getting her son back will make her happy but it won't solve the problem of food and I could understand her leaving her son in debt bondage and using the money for food as it would last quite a long time. I can only hope that she does what I think is the right thing and how does one decide?
This experience was very emotional and it took a lot out of me. I was so happy to have been able to do something that makes so big a difference in someone's life. We have so much in Canada and they have so little here. We are lucky beyond words.
By the way, Pursat Province in Cambodia is made up of five districts. In each district there are seven communes. Each commune has seven villages so that makes it 245 villages in Pursat Province alone. HOPE builds about 2 to 3 schools a year. Little bit by little bit they help to improve lives, that is how Leah puts it.
After we went to a family who had just received a biosand filter which was not yet set up. We watched as Nary, who works with HOPE and is in charge of their biosand water filters and water wells set up a new biosand water filter with our assistance. Sacks containing washed rocks of two different sizes were added to the bottom of the empty biosand water filter, next some sand was added which had already been washed. Three capfuls of chlorine bleach was added to the biosand water filter. More sand was added and then the biosand filter only had space for the metal filter. It looks like the filter was made of aluminum and is about the size of a dutch oven. Water would be poured into the filter continously and you wouldn't drink the water until you had been filtering water for about a day. At the front of the biosand water filter was a hose through which water poured out of the filter into a waiting receptacle. We were told by the lady that she frequently had had stomach aches due to water not being clean. We were showed the water that she usually drinks and it is murky and had a couple of tadpoles swimming in it. She could boil the water and did sometimes but most of the time she was too busy to do that.
We then went to see another family who also had a biosand water filter and we were shown how clean the water is and told that they had had a biosand filter for six months now. Life had improved for them greatly since receiving the biosand water filter which cost is $75 US.
We learned that the way that water is located in the ground in Cambodia is by divining rods and that people whose properties have water, have the ability to obtain a well, whereas like the two families above, their land was not suitable for one reason or another. It was most interesting to hear that this is their method of finding water.
We later went to see a school that Rainbow had helped to build back in 2010 and also went to visit the mother who was the cook at the time. She and her family lived just a short distance from the school. Her husband had been a carpenter at the school and we also learned that she had just had a new baby. The baby was only nine days old and a few of us (me of course) really enjoyed carrying this beautiful little girl. The parents already had 5 sons, two of whom are a set of twins.
I forgot to mention that all this travel, after the biosand water filters, was in the back of the HOPE pick up truck. Lots of fun sitting out in the fresh air. Another thing that I have not done for a very long time. Not quite so safe back home.
We were then taken to another part of the area to see the sun set but due to too many clouds in the sky, this did not pan out.
After that we went back to our hotel and were going to be picked up at 7:00 pm to go to Leah and Piep's for dinner. Dinner was on their large veranda and we all sat in a circle on large woven mats. We had taro spring rolls, cold shrimp with wonderful seasonings and a cold noodle dish. Dessert was fresh fruit as well as some dried mango rolled in sesame seeds. It was our best meal in Cambodia so far. No mama noodles were involved.
Before we had dinner though we got to meet six of their seven dogs. The mom was inside as she wasn't so fond of people. Two of the little puppies were new and just nine weeks old, a brother and sister. The puppies even got to sit on our laps and we enjoyed cuddle time.
Before we knew it it was time to head back to the hotel and off to bed. It had been a very busy and full day.