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Stone Broke

March 27, 2014

Today our group visited a Vietnamese worker's village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The village itself was comprised of makeshift shacks of thin plywood and recycled tarps not dignified enough to be called houses. There weren't even doors to the shacks for privacy! As I stepped off the group van, I was hit with a sudden feeling of anguish and despair. If I ever found myself in a refugee camp, this is what it must be like. In a way, these people are refugees who will never to find solace, safety, or freedom. They are generations of displaced Vietnamese people trapped in impoverished limbo. 

 

Rows of fancy condos line the main street while in the back, these people live in a dire state. 

Cluttered, crowded, and filthy. This panoramic view does not capture the deprived condition of this village. 

The ladies of the village welcome us as we unload our van. We brought each family on this stretch of "houses" a large bag of rice and lucky money to welcome the new year.

For people who have very little, they appreciate the smallest of gestures. 

A typical shack looks like this. Kitchen, bathroom, bedroom mixed all in one space. 

 

Vietnamese people are largely discriminated against in Cambodia. For the most part, they are withheld the right to citizenship, to vote, even to go to school. This discrimination is rooted in the history of these  two neighbouring countries ever since the 1650's when Cambodia lost its territory to Vietnam. the anti-Vietnamese sentiment reached its peak during the 1970s when 300,000 ethnic Vietnamese were killed by the notorious Khmer Rouge militia. Today, old grudges over losing land to Vietnam have become new ones. Ethnic Vietnamese people cannot leave Cambodia to seek refuge in their root country, because again, they have no papers. They have no identity. They have no rights. They have no home. 

 

Visiting the Vietnamese worker's village showed me the blatant racism towards my people in Cambodia. Without education, most of the workers fish or do construction. A person earns approximately 10,000 riel (about $2 USD) from fishing and $15 USD per day from construction. This is not a lot considering each family has at least two children. I asked a woman from the Village why she uprooted from her home town Hu Luong to this area and she said that here, the conditions are better! Here, her husband earns $15 USD per day from construction compared to $5 USD in their rural village fishing. It took all of my conscious energy to hold in my tears. 

 

The living conditions were far beyond terrible. Each family shares a shack smaller than my bedroom. Elevated off the ground, piles on piles of garbage and bodily waste flooded beneath the shanties. The foul smellwas three-times intensified by the festering heat. I saw a small boy poop on his front steps, right next to where his mother was washing bean sprouts for dinner! Children run wild up and down the narrow alley muddied with gravel that separated the homes. None had shoes. Some didn't even have clothes. The women here do casual work in the village during the day while their husbands work at a nearby construction site. 

 

I've never experienced poverty on this level. I have never felt so heartbroken. I have never felt so hopeless. Before OBV, I was naive to the fact that parents sell their children to slave traders, whether it be for labour or for sex. How could they be so ruthless? It is here in this village that I began to sympathize with these "monsters" of parents who sell their children. Some of our OBV children have been rescued from this very village in threat of being sold to traffickers. Life really is that bad. There really is no other way to escape this level of destitute poverty. You truly have to be there. OBV works closely with this village, as their children are at highest risk to being sold to sex traffickers. I am proud to be part of an organization that knows the people, knows the culture, and finds solutions to help them out of poverty and slavery.  

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