We’re leaving for Cambodia tomorrow. I haven’t written much about the move on this blog, but I suspect the transition will bring new life to my posts here.
We’re going to further develop our work with Project Friends. Here is a video that we made to publicize Project Friends for potential participants. We made it in Japanese, but I’ve added subtitles to this version.
Let the adventures begin!
Last September I went to Cambodia with a group of Japanese volunteers, and during our time at Wat Opot I made this short movie. All the actors are kids, mostly orphaned by AIDS (having lost one or both parents).
It’s a movie about friendship and living with HIV. There is a worldwide fear of HIV, but that fear is intensified in cultures with relatively little formal education or medical awareness. When Cambodians were dying by the thousands of AIDS, their own families cast them out, hospitals wouldn’t receive them, and even crematoriums were afraid to burn their bodies for fear that workers might be infected by the smoke.
That was three years ago. Not surprisingly, people living with HIV are still stigmatized in Cambodia.
About 20 percent of the kids at Wat Opot are living with HIV. They have worked hard with the surrounding community to dispel their fears. All the kids at Wat Opot attend the nearby public schools, and they interact freely with kids in the community. That isn’t to say all the fears and stigmas have gone away, but the situation is much better than before. The director wrote the short story that this movie is based …
I’m spending Christmas this year with my family at an orphanage in Cambodia. It’s a decent place run with genuine love on a very low budget (much lower than the linked article). They care for kids living with HIV, who are rejected by most orphanages. And they could use some money, if you’re looking to give, because they run on a shoestring.
That being said; I hope for a future without orphanages. I’d like to see orphaned kids being raised by their extended families, because the majority of “orphans” in the world have relatives who could take them in. Heck, a lot of them have at least one parent alive (the definition of “orphan” in Cambodia is that at least one parent has died). Often the relatives are very poor, so they think an orphanage would be better for the child, but a small subsidy would help them accept the responsibility.
Here’s an excellent article from the New York Times that makes a case for supporting families rather than starting more and more orphanages.
Today I submitted some photos for photo contest hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Club in Thailand (here). After all the work I did to re-work them, I wanted to post them here. Here’s one that I entered as an individual feature photo. I was walking through Phnom Penh returning to my hotel when I saw a small factory, so I veered in. They were very friendly, and I’d love to go back some day and learn some of the workers’ stories. Most of them wandered in looking for work, or came at the invitation of a friend, and just started carving. If they could do it, they got hired. There’s no training program, but I assume they work very slowly for the first few weeks or months.
Did you know more than 300,000 children will likely die of AIDS this year, and more than 2 million will be infected? Most of the deaths will be in Africa. The most important task ahead is to stop new infections, which is much more cheaply done than treating existing ones. Now some would argue that treatment is simply too expensive, relative to prevention which is still lacking (implying that we should let tens of millions of infected poor people die and spend the money on prevention instead). Although I get this in economic terms, I know too many specific children and adults who would probably die if that were the case. I also think the money spent on overhead (doctors, clinics, developing and delivering medicine, etc.) will have many lasting benefits that need to be taken into account.
Tuol Sleng, a.k.a. S-21, was a prison and torture facility used by the Khmer Rouge. Approximately 17,000 people were interred there with only 7 known survivors. If you are ever in Phnom Penh don’t miss it. It is a reminder of the reality of evil that we all share.
The woman on the far wall was the wife of leader in the Khmer Rouge. He fell out of favor, so he was purged along with his entire family. The baby was taken from the mother shortly after the photo was taken and killed. If you look closely you can see the extreme shock on her face, like all the hope had just been sucked out of her. She walked in the halls of power then sat in the victim’s chair. The security we build in life is such an illusion isn’t it?
This boy was a Khmer Rouge cadre. Most of those held at Tuol Sleng were Khmer Rouge soldiers or peasants themselves. Perhaps his entire unit was purged because the comander belonged to the wrong faction, or just him for some reason. The tag says “1” because he was the first prisoner admited that day.
The second photo is …