Archive for the ‘Cambodia News’ Category

In December 2013 and January 2014, Friendship with Cambodia led a 12-day socially responsible study tour to Cambodia for 16 people from the US and Europe.  The trip leader was Don Lyon, FWC board member, professional photographer, and owner/founder of Close-up Expeditions. CLICK HERE for Day 1.  

Day 5, January 4: Siem Reap and Phnom Penh

Bun picking out sticky rice - "road food"

Bun picking out sticky rice – “road food”

We departed at 8am from Frangipani Green Garden in Siem Reap. On the way, we dodged pushcarts, tuk tuks, and perilously overloaded trucks stopping for a snack of sticky rice cooked in bamboo tubes. Bun explained the process and filled us in on many aspects of Khmer daily life, as caught glimpses of rural Cambodia unfold along the highway. Houses are just for shelter and storage; life is lived outside.


Jayavarman VII bridge

Our next stop was at an 800 year old bridge built by Jayavarman VII. Dried fish from Tonle Sap is famously sold along this route. It looked tasty, but we just photographed, as we were headed to lunch.

By 11:30am, we had beaten the crowds to the KMG Prey Pros Restaurant along the shores of Tonle Sap. Bun and I ordered a selection of dishes, including a phahat omelet made with tiny dried fish fermented with chilies. We had selected it especially for Ruthie, but it seemed everyone wanted a bite. We also ordered green mango salad, spring rolls, sweet and sour fish, stir fried vegetables, and fresh pineapple for desert.

Cambodian fiddle player

Cambodian fiddle player

We lounged in hammocks and enjoyed the breeze while waiting for our lunch. An elderly man played the Cambodian fiddle to entertain the travelers.

At the stone carving village, the land was significantly greener, with a new crop of rice growing where small canals

Bun, our guide, and his tarantula

Bun, our guide, and his tarantula

carried water for the rice paddies from the lakeshore. One final stop along the road was at a junction town, where fried tarantulas and various insects seemed to be a popular snack with the bus travelers. No durian fruit was allowed on the bus, but the jackfruit was quite tasty—thanks Bun!

As we approached Phnom Penh, we saw huge garment factories with razor wire fences and security guards, as there were strikes going on for higher wages. Jitneys were loaded with garment workers going home. The strike was slowly being beaten down by private security firms and government inaction. We had been reading about the mass protests in downtown Phnom Penh and knew there had been several deaths. The workers wanted an increase from $90 per month to $150. It all seemed very similar to the early union organizing days in the USA.  The workers were making such modest demands, yet were not able to make much headway against government corruption and private interests.

Royal Palace, Pnom Penh

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

By 5:45pm, we had arrived at the Frangipani Palace, our hotel in Phnom Penh, perfectly located near the palace, the National Museum, and the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, which has been the preeminent place to watch the sun set over the Mekong for 100 years or more.

IMG_0895We had dinner at the Frangipani Palace Hotel at 7pm. There was not much ambience, but we ate a very tasty fish amok and a sour fish soup that were just wonderful. Some members found the rooftop bar, others their beds.



Thanks again to Don Lyon and Close-up Expeditions! Feel free to check out more on the Close-up Expeditions Facebook page. 


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by Shoshana D. Kerewsky

Shoshana in Cambodia

Shoshana in Cambodia

Like many readers, I was deeply moved, and very distressed, when I first read the Cambodian memoir The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam. Mam’s tragic experiences as a trafficked girl inspired me to donate even more to anti-trafficking causes. I assigned her book to my students. It seemed that every new film on trafficking included a segment on Somaly and her foundation. I was inspired by her courage and tenacity. She made me a better donor, educator, and advocate for human rights.

Also like many readers, I was shocked by allegations, soon substantiated, that important parts of her story were untrue. I felt emotionally manipulated and taken advantage of. I had been lied to. Now I questioned where my all of my charitable donations went, and what I was advocating for. My first impulse was to be cynical and disgusted.

In some ways I was lucky. I had already read Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, and I, Rigoberta Menchu, both memoirs alleged to include inaccurate depictions of some events in the authors’ lives. I’d read Three Cups of Tea, and A Million Little Pieces. I’d had time to think about and learn more about these distortions. Now I had an opportunity to reflect on Somaly Mam’s possible motives.

When I’m angry at someone who has behaved like Mam, I tend to start with my negative assumptions—she’s avaricious; she’s power-hungry; she’s self-serving. I might even assume that she thinks of me and other credulous readers and donors with contempt. From there, I could make a quick jump to reducing my donations and voluntarism. It’s natural that we respond to our vulnerability with anger and a sense of betrayal when a person or cause we believe in misrepresents something important to us. Stopping here, however, may lead us to an overgeneralized mistrust that doesn’t help us to support real people with real needs. Stopping here distances us from our best natures.

Instead, we need to consider some of the reasons why memoirists (and organizations and governments) might exaggerate or lie. This helps us to become more informed and sophisticated donors with better skills for separating fact from fiction and evaluating where we want to put our money and time. Yes, some people, and some organizations and governments, lie for their own gain or protection. But not all of them, or even most of them.

It’s also true that disaster and misery sell. I’ve read a lot of memoirs from around the world. Many that are translated into English are about surviving wars, genocides, famines, droughts, and other disasters or extreme adversity. It’s no secret that publishers, and sometimes writers or media producers, may opt for a dramatic narrative over an accurate one. An “escape” that is billed as “harrowing” attracts more readers than a calm departure. To give a domestic example, James Frey first proposed A Million Little Pieces as a novel, not as a memoir. However, true-life stories are more compelling to readers, and the book was repackaged and published as a memoir.

There are other reasons that a life story might be unwittingly or intentionally distorted. A number of disaster memoirists, including Beah, have responded to assertions that they fabricated material by stating that they presented the story as best they could recall it, but that at the time they were trying to stay alive, not memorize or account for every objective fact. This may be particularly true of children giving retrospective accounts. Chun-Won Kang’s memoir The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag includes two contradictory statements about a physically arduous task the child prisoners were forced to engage in. While neither of his versions seems likely, one is simply impossible. I understand this to be an error of memory (or math), not an attempt to deceive the reader. In another story from the Khmer Rouge genocide, a then-child Cambodian memoirist recounts seeing bodies on the ground, frozen and blue, in a locale that online weather records show has never been below 70°. However, I have seen Vietnamese and Cambodian teenagers shivering, sneezing, and miserable in down jackets and mittens at 76°, so I don’t doubt that to a child, this could seem to be “freezing.” This form of unintentional inaccuracy is like me misremembering my third grade teacher’s name. It’s wrong, but unintentional.

Sometimes memoirists condense events to increase the drama or tighten the “plot” for storytelling reasons, but again, not as an attempt to mislead. More experienced writers and more scrupulous editors often include a note stating that the order of events may have been changed, for example, or that some conversations or events depicted are representative but fictional. The intention of this note is to be sure the reader knows that at points, the story takes precedent over the truth.

In the more problematic form of this style of autobiography, however, memoirists sometimes add fictional events in order to tell a “better,” more illustrative story. The intention is not to deceive the reader, but to tell a story that is compelling and representative. The big caveat here, though, is that in postindustrial Western cultures we place a high value on the “reportage” form of truth in which facts are to be accurate and verifiable. This is not always how “truth” is understood cross-culturally. For example, Menchu has acknowledged that she described some events in her life inaccurately because this made her story more persuasive and more characteristic of the experiences of people in her circumstances. In her biography Buddha, Karen Armstrong points out that historically, biographies of religious or political figures were not intended to present factual truth, but to tell iconic or archetypal stories attributed to those figures’ lives. The biography was not meant to report actual life events, but, for example, to teach moral precepts, demonstrate points of doctrine, or show lines of spiritual succession.

For me as a contemporary North American raised with an expectation of verifiable, supportable, evidence-based “truth” in personal accounts, this is hard to accept. Ultimately, wrestling with this concept opens me to the idea of different forms of truth as the storyteller understands it and uses it to make her argument or tell her story. It gives me a way to recognize my own values and storytelling preferences, as well as to recognize that the memoirist may have good intentions and may have a world view different from my own. For me, this is not just about cultural proficiency, but about compassion for and valuing of people who may not think and believe the way I do.

Knowing why a memoirist may, with all sincerity, misrepresent her story helps increase our understanding and broaden our perspective, but it doesn’t answer the question of what we should do in response. Fortunately, the same processes and tools that we use when first deciding to donate are useful for responding to this dilemma as well.

Performers with Disabilities, Cambodia

Performers with Disabilities, Cambodia

Starting from the emotional end, it’s important to be aware that showing a picture and a presenting a brief life story are effective techniques for soliciting donations. They associate a face with a need. This is a reasonable and humanizing fundraising approach, but as a donor, you need use your research skills as well as your heart in order to be sure that the organization is honest. When you hear a moving or inspiring story, make your preliminary decision about donating based on the representativeness of the story, not the particular, individual memoirist or poster child. Learning that the story is typical of a group of people, and that the general circumstances are reported accurately, you can feel confident that your donation responds to the verifiable needs of a real group of people. Work through reputable organizations, using online tools such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar to have a better understanding of the organization’s mission, accountability and transparency, and use of funds. A good rule of thumb is to look for organizations that have both in-country and international oversight and governance, with periodic visits to evaluate the agency’s work and legal/ethical compliance. Keep yourself up to date on the work and reputation of NGOs, governments, and spokespersons. This can be as simple as reading The New York Times or going to BBC online, or setting Google alerts for topics of interest.

To summarize: by all means be moved, and also, do your research.

Has Somaly Mam told her story for her own gain, to help others, or for some combination of these goals? I don’t know, though I hope to know more in time. What I do know is that while The Road of Lost Innocence includes some elements that are not true of Mam’s life, they are representative of the brutal experiences some girls and women have in Cambodia and the world. Trafficking is real. Coerced sex and labor are real. People’s suffering is real.

My privilege and resources are also real. I strongly encourage you be an informed and sophisticated donor. Make a difference to respond to big needs and big truths, not to the details of one person’s story.

Shoshana Kerewsky is a former Board President of Friendship with Cambodia and is Director of the Family and Human Services program at University of Oregon. 

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On Tonle Sap – Copyright 2014 Don Lyon

In December 2013 and January 2014, Friendship with Cambodia led a 12-day socially responsible study tour to Cambodia for 16 people from the US and Europe.  The trip leader was Don Lyon, FWC board member, professional photographer, and owner/founder of Close-up Expeditions. CLICK HERE for Day 1.  

Day 4, January 3: Siem Reap and Tonle Sap

Bride and father

Bride and father

We were greeted on the morning of Day 4 with a great noisy commotion. Joyce investigated and found a wedding ceremony in full swing.

Leaving the hotel at 8:30am, we drove SE of Siem Reap for almost an hour in our huge bus on the narrow dirt roadway to reach the stilt village of Kompong Khleang. At this time of year Tonle Sap was beginning to recede, so the houses were high and dry, ten feet above the lake’s waters.


Stilt village of Kompong Khleang

At the height of monsoon season, though, the water regularly rises up to the floorboards. The journey through the village, with each house tethered to the road, was very interesting. As the water levels were dropping fast, many houseboats were being towed to deeper water, where their residents could fish and tend their fishponds more easily.


Tour group on the Tonle Sap

The lad piloting our 30 foot riverboat tied up to a tree and cut the engines, while Bun and I explained the fascinating eco-system of the Tonle Sap. This lake fills up each rainy season with the backwater of the Mekong River then drains slowly until reduced to a third of its former size. It is estimated that nearly 80% of the protein consumed in Cambodia comes from this lake and that fish up and down the Mekong all the way to China are born and nurtured here. Unfortunately, both Vietnam and China plan to dam the Mekong, destroying this timeless natural phenomenon so crucial to Cambodia.


“Every dollar makes a difference”

By 11:30am, we were back on dry land. As we tried to extricate our full-size coach from this tiny crowded space, everyone was so good-natured about the inconveniences we caused. We were back in Siem Reap at about 12:30pm, and we lunched at Common Grounds, which provides training and supports various community welfare projects, including an orphanage. We spoke with Matt, a pleasant young man from Atlanta who came over to Cambodia for his wife’s senior project. The couple stayed on to manage the restaurant and oversee the projects.

Silk to be spun

Silk to be spun

He was a fount of information about current situations, and we could have talked all day, but Artisan’s d’Angkor and their hungry silk worms were waiting.

Turning silk into thread

Our guide at Artisan’s d’Angkor walked us through every stage of working with silk from growing the mulberry leaves to raising the worms to dying and weaving the silk threads. The organization trains and employs people in a craft that was all but wiped out by the Khmer Rouge.

By 4:30pm, we were back at our hotel, and everyone headed in separate directions to explore, shop, and dine on their own. Connie and I went down to the Old Market for some browsing before having a pedicure by hungry but gentle fish—ooh, that tickles!

Thanks again to Don Lyon and Close-up Expeditions! Feel free to check out more on the Close-up Expeditions Facebook page. 

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c. 2014 Don Lyon

Angkor Wat, west entrance – All photos c. 2014 Don Lyon

In December 2013 and January 2014, Friendship with Cambodia led a 12-day socially responsible study tour to Cambodia for 16 people from the US and Europe.  The trip leader was Don Lyon, FWC board member, professional photographer, and owner/founder of Close-up Expeditions. CLICK HERE for Day 1.  


Day 2, January 1: New Year’s Day at Angkor Temples and Ruins


We had breakfast at 6:30am then departed at 7:30am for Ta Prohm. Our timing was perfect. Bun led us into the South entrance of Ta Prohm. It was delightfully empty so that we really felt like explorers, embracing the huge tree roots that seemed to ooze among the carved stones.

Sharon reflects at Ta Nei

Sharon reflects at Ta Nei

We went through the labyrinth to exit at the East Entrance. We then drove to the small and well-hidden Ta Nei Temple from 9:45 to 10:45am. The quiet, remote site brought to mind Henri Mouhot, who is credited with bringing Angkor to the attention of Europe. He published a book of beautiful, detailed drawings of the temples in 1863.

Khmer Boy at Banteay Kdei

Khmer Boy at Banteay Kdei

Then we headed to the lesser-visited and very atmospheric Banteay Kdei. Lunch was at the excellent, friendly, and efficient Joe to Go, also a training restaurant operated by Global Child. From 1:30 to 3:30pm, we were on our own to explore or rest. This early in January, the weather is relatively cool and pleasant. At 3:30pm, we left for Angkor Wat, the best known of all the temples. We stopped first for an overview of the main entrance. Then we drove around to the backside. Sharon read her poem about her experience at Ta Prohm, as well as several Haikus that captured the spell of Angkor. Bun provided background info.

Bun telling about the reliefs

Our guide Bun telling stories in Angkor’s bas reliefs

We learned that Angkor Wat was never abandoned. It was thriving monastery when Henri Mouholt visited. We examined the southeast section of bas-reliefs which depict the 32 stages of hell. Then we headed to the east section to see the stupendous bas-reliefs of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, the story of creation and how the gods achieved immortality. We climbed increasingly higher levels in the stone towers which represent the sacred mountains surrounding Mt. Meru (the tallest tower). At the Middle Level, we stood at the center of Angkor Wat, which symbolizes the center of the universe. We also saw bas-reliefs of the Ramayana story of the Battle of Lanka, where the monkey troops help Rama defeat the 20 armed Ravana and rescue Sita.

Buddha face in tree

After a quick break at the hotel, we drove to La Noria hotel to watch a cultural program. It was presented by orphans and deaf students from the NGO Krousar Thmey, one of FWC’s partner organizations with excellent programs all over Cambodia.

Both the dinner and performance presented by this small, socially responsible hotel were excellent.~


Thanks again to Don Lyon and Close-up Expeditions! Feel free to check out more on the Close-up Expeditions Facebook page. 

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In Siem Reap, we visited the Trailblazer Foundation (http://www.thetrailblazerfoundation.org), which builds and installs inexpensive bio-sand water filters. This is not only a great organization, but an internship possibility for students in the Oregon University System through the IE3 Global Internship Program (http://ie3global.ous.edu).  

Two students share their observations of the Trailblazer Foundation below:

Colleen Lawler: Trailblazer Foundation builds water filtration systems for villages in Cambodia so the people can get fresh water. Before going, I was curious how a water filtration organization was connected to human services. When we first arrived, Scott (the co-founder) described how they make the water filter and how families’ lives are improved just by having fresh water. Scott filled us in on how many families have been helped by the Trailblazer Foundation. So many people die each year because of diseases or health issues due to unfiltered water. Once filters are installed in the villages, the indicators demonstrating quality of life rise dramatically.


Water filter in village

Trailblazer not only builds water filtration systems, but also helps with water systems for gardens so that families can have fresh food. They help construct wells, provide food from food banks for needy families, bring flip-flops to children in the villages, and teach families how to grow gardens and harvest their own food.  They have even built schools and libraries. This organization has seen direct, positive results from the work they are doing.  

We were taken to one of the villages, where we met the chief and many other families whose lives have improved due to their water filtration system. When people are not concerned with how to get fresh water or food on any given day, they are able to focus on improving their lives and the lives of their families in other ways.  Scott was a wonderful host while we were at his organization, and this organization far exceeded my expectations. One of the best parts was that, through our small donation, three families were helped with a water filter that they can now buy into for under $3 and have installed on their land.

Darian Finley-Garcia: I absolutely loved the village we visited. It was very eye-opening to see another culture’s way of life, especially outside of the urban environments that we have experienced thus far. Thinking about how these people live off of minimal supplies and very little money made me realize a little about my lifestyle and how I live. I did not feel a sense of guilt, but I did feel a very strong sense of compassion and privilege. It showed me a whole new way of life that I had only previously seen in the media. In a way, this experience solidified the fact that there actually are people living in such harsh conditions and to see it with my own eyes made me take a mental step back. I was truly moved by the village and Trailblazer. It showed me that even though people talk a big game about wanting to help others in need, there are some people who actually do things to help. One water pump or filter can go a long way. “Move pebbles, not mountains.”


Mushroom farming at Trailblazer

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The following transcript is a speech given by Sophia Sturtevant during Hardy Girls Healthy Women’s celebration of  International Day of the Girl Child.  This day seeks to bring global awareness to the often difficult plight of girls in developing countries, advocate for girls’ rights, and push for greater gender equality for voiceless girls the world over.

Sophia was adopted from the Happy Family Orphanage in Cambodia.  She now works to raise funds for the orphanage.  Friendship with Cambodia also supports the Happy Family Orphanage.

We would like to thank Sophia for sharing her story with us.

Sophia Sturtevant (far right) at the Day of the Girl celebration. Photo courtesy of Hardy Girls Healthy Women.

Thank you, Megan. Thank you, Mayor Brennan. I’d like to thank Hardy Girls Healthy Women for the opportunity to speak to you all today.

As Megan said, my name is Sophia. I am 13 years old, and I live in Yarmouth, Maine. I’ve been involved with Hardy Girls Healthy Women since I was 8, beginning as an Adventure Girl. I was born in Cambodia and adopted when I was 6 months old. I am home schooled; I am a musician, singer, dancer, and artist.

In 2007 when I was 8, my parents and I had the opportunity to go back to Cambodia and visit the orphanage where I lived as a baby, and to meet the woman who runs the orphanage and some of the girls who helped take care of me.

In 2011 when I was 11 1/2, we were planning our second trip to Cambodia. One month before we left, I told my mom I wanted to fund raise for the orphanage and raise money to buy schools supplies, food, and school uniforms. So, I wrote a letter to all my friends and family and asked for their support.

My goal was to raise $200 dollars, but I ended up raising $1200 dollars. With that money we were able to buy: 200 notebooks, 100 pencils, 50 pens, markers, rulers, pencil sharpeners, a basketball, rubber balls, soccer balls, 34 school uniforms, food, shampoo, and bug spray for the orphanage.

The school uniforms were very important to the girls especially, because without them they couldn’t go to school. It meant a lot to me because I could help the kids who were living in the same orphanage I lived in when I was a baby.

This year my moms and I are sponsoring a Cambodian girl to go to college. Her name is Kimleang, and she is one of the girls who helped care for me as a baby. For just $500 dollars a year, my family and I can make sure that she has a safe future.

By 2015, females will make up 64% of the world’s adult population who cannot read. Only 30% of girls in the world are enrolled in high school. By celebrating the Day of the Girl, we can call attention to the importance of girls access to education in Cambodia, and all around the world.

While I was getting ready for today, my mom and I saw that there are two villages in Cambodia who are also recognizing Day of the Girl. One of those villages is where I was born. My hope is for a world where everyone knows about Day of the Girl and joins us in celebrating it, where all girls and women have equal access to education and a future free of violence, sex trafficking, and inequality.

Thank you.

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Friendship with Cambodia is excited to share the newest update from our partner Tabitha Cambodia:

Founder Janne Ritskes reports, “In early June the miracle of our first 1 million dollars was realized…with the first one million dollars in the bank, we selected a contractor and the building of the hospital can begin.  They have begun land preparation and in two years, September 2014, the building will be complete.” (www.nokor-tep.net)

Friendship with Cambodia contributed $4,000 to the construction of the Nokor Tep Women’s Hospital that was matched by the DeGroot Foundation.  We are very happy to help provide free health care to Cambodian women who cannot afford to go to the doctor.

Currently, less than 7% of the rural population has access to medical care. It estimated that 90% of the women in Cambodia suffer from long-term infections of various kinds.  The Nokor Tep Women’s Hospital will provide much-needed affordable medical care to women in Cambodia.  “Nokor Tep Women’s Hospital’s mission is to become a leading health care service provider for women throughout Cambodia. Operating with a dedicated and specifically trained team working in our head facility as well with our mobile clinics, we aim at offering access to modern, international-standard, effective and affordable health services that are commonly not available to the most vulnerable in our community.” (www.nokor-tep.net)

In addition to providing care to Cambodian women, the hospital will contain an Education and Prevention Unit.  This component includes mobile units of trained staff who will travel to rural communities.  They will distribute educational materials, conduct screenings, and treat minor illnesses for women who do not have the resources to seek medical attention.  It also allows staff to transport women with serious illnesses to the hospital.

The Nokor Tep Women’s Hospital also plans to include Research and Training Units.  After the building is completed, there will be a full year of staff training to ensure that the hospital runs efficiently and that patients receive the highest standard of medical care.

The hospital is a project of the Tabitha Foundation which raises funds to support community development efforts, including a savings program, house-building, digging water wells, and building schools.  Friendship with Cambodia has partnered with Tabitha for many years and is excited to support the next phase of the Nokor Tep Women’s Hospital project.  The estimated cost of the hospital is $5.5 million.   To make a donation to the hospital through Friendship with Cambodia go to www.friendshipwithcambodia.org

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