This trip was led by our ACCA alumni representing Hospitals Beyond Boundaries (HBB). We arrived in Phnom Penh airport approximately at 8.30 a.m. As soon as we reached the arrival gate, we were greeted with a warm smile from Mr Vaan, our tourist guide. It made us feel welcomed and that sure was nice.
While we were in the van that Mr Vaan booked for us, he told us about Cambodia’s brief history. Apart from the famous Angkor Wat, Cambodia is globally renowned for its bitter civil war between the Cambodian Government and Communist Khmer Rouge forces led by the notorious Pol Pot, which took place in 1970-1991.
The Khmer Rouge regime successfully took over Cambodia. The war that engulfed the country had brought misery to millions of Cambodians. Within days of coming to power the entire population in Phnom Penh was forced to march into the countryside and worked as slaves. Disobedience of any sort would often bring to execution.
The locals were greatly suffering during the Khmer Rouge coup, as they did not get enough supply of food and clean water. For instance, the rice was rationed to only 0.5kg per family for a week.
The teachers were missing for a few months and never returned. It was assumed that they were killed, as the Khmer Rouge regime did not want its citizens to have the ability to even think, much less learn and gain knowledge.
See how blessed and fortunate we are to be able to have proper education while some people had none at all?
Mr Vaan had also once separated from his mother when he was just a small boy. He had to experience rough times during this coup in order to continue with his life. Approximately 2 million of civilians died under the ruthless Khmer Rouge regime.
The post-war had brought about a massive loss of citizens, exposed the population to diseases, malnutrion and extreme poverty. Today, it is estimated that almost 60% of the population are in poverty.
After checking into The Pacific Hotel roughly at 10 am, we went to Mr Vaan’s home at Prak Pre and had lunch which was kindly prepared by his wife, who is also a Malaysian.
In addition, Mr Vaan also has his own ‘Madrasah’ to give Islamic teachings to the children of the poor Muslim community in his village and there are 6 ustaz teaching there. We went there to see the madrasah children, distributing some dollars, food and candies just to help brighten up their day.
After that, we loaded 90 ready-packed goods that had been given by numerous contributors into the van and headed to Peak Sbai village, which is located outside Phnom Penh. Looking out the windows, our view was vastly made up of numerous paddy fields that had been planted by the locals and cows grazing the greenery of the field. It was a sight for sore eyes as we were used to the urban landscape back in Malaysia.
Anyways, we really had the chance to witness the real life of the Cambodians. The poor condition of this country showed that the poverty in Cambodia is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with soon.
After two hours in the van, we finally reached our destination, Peak Sbai village. As soon as we set our feet to the ground, the villagers greeted us with hugs and warm“salam”. It was a truly touching gesture.
The villagers escorted us to the front of the mosque hall and served us fresh coconut water. The small event of giving away food packages to villagers began with an opening speech by Mr Vaan. One of our participants, Fazrul was given an opportunity to say a few words to the villagers with the help of Mr Vaan to translate them. In return, the Imam of the mosque also delivered a short speech to express how thankful they felt.
The event was then continued with the team handing out food packages to 99 less fortunate families in the village.
Next, we went to a small madrasah which was located besides the mosque to visit and distribute sweets and snacks to the less fortunate children. Almost 50 of them were packed in a small madrasah to enable them learn religious subjects. The substandard madrasah just goes to show how poverty-stricken the villagers were and it definitely was an eye opener to our whole team.
Before we handed out snacks and sweets, Mr Vaan taught the kids how to say thank you in Malay. Upon receiving them, the kids expressed their gratitude by saying “Terima Kasih” with delighted faces. We were equally delighted and smiled back at those adorable children.
After giving out all the intended goods, it was a wrap for us. We bade our hardest farewell to the families and kids and we hoped to come back here someday.
Alhamdulillah, the event turned out well and we learnt a lot of lessons too. Despite their hardship, they were still able to be very grateful for what they had. Needless to say, they taught us that we should appreciate every single thing in our lives even if it is not very much.
On the second day of our trip, we met a group of volunteers from UIA’s club called ‘UMission’ during breakfast at the hotel. Fazrul was having an insightful discussion with the club’s president on humanitarian outreach projects across the globe and it was a great opening to developing 14 Care CSR projects further.
Then, we headed out to a place called the Killing Fields and Tuos Leng Prison to know more about the era during the Khmer Rouge regime and took the ‘tuk-tuk’ (the main public transport) to a few halal restaurants for our lunch and dinner.
Finally, we spent our remaining time in Cambodia to ride a boat for an hour along the Tonle Sap lake. That was where we saw the villages of people living in the boathouses, mostly fishermen’s families. This is because they can’t afford the higher transportation costs if they live outside or in the town. They need to sell their fish and other seafood soon after they catch them. So they decided to stay on the boathouses so that they can continue to sell on a daily basis.
In short, the trip was a successful one as the aim of this trip had been achieved. We had a wonderful adventure that may have only come once in a lifetime and so, this trip will definitely be something that we will cherish for years to come.
Contributed by Syarina and Sabariah.