Cambodia Team Update by Lucy Leishman
Cambodia Days 1 and 2
Two cheers for two days in Cambodia! We arrived safe and sound and ready to work. Our 30 something hours of travel were arduous but have already paid off in the short time we’ve spent here. The travel has also been such a wonderful opportunity to bond and get to know our fellow teammates.
Yesterday we landed in Phnom Penh. We were greeted by members of Sustainable Cambodia (S.C), a partner of Youthlinc. We packed our team into two buses and took of on a hectic journey to the hotel. I think every member of our team was surprised to see the stark difference in driving habits and modes of transportation (motorcycles and mopeds). After a quick lunch in our hotel restaurant we visited the Central Market. The Central Market is a covered structure where vendors sell anything from cockroaches to jade Buddha statues. After two hours of navigating the maze of stalls we journeyed back to our hotel. We changed into the clothing we’d purchased from the market then the team was ready hit the town! We walked to the palace of the prince who is Cambodia’s current leader.
After dinner we gathered for reflection time, which is a period when each member of the team expresses his or her feelings and observations from the day. It is amazing to see the range of feelings and also the similar feelings from the team members. Many were excited to immerse themselves in a new culture. Others expressed their gratitude and awe for the Cambodian’s warmth and kindness. Our team leaders were especially happy to rekindle old friendships with members of S.C. and watch us experience what they have grown to love so much. We were all happy to go to bed early.
Today we had the opportunity to visit one of the killing fields and S-21, the main torture site during Pol Pot’s regime. It was an emotionally difficult experience. For those of you who are not aware, Pol Pot overthrew Cambodia in 1975 and aimed to create a classless, uneducated, agrarian society. In order to accomplish these goals he committed unimaginable acts of murder and destruction. Over Pol Pot’s four- year reign 12,000 innocent Cambodians were sent to S-21 to be tortured and ultimately killed in the killing fields. Only 7 victims survived. We walked through the prisoner’s cells. We saw the blood stained floors in the torture rooms. We read the stories of the survivors. While we were at S-21 we had a chance to meet two of the seven survivors. It was incredible to see these men sitting at the place where they were tortured in order to tell their message: let us never forget. Those images and feelings will never leave us.
The detainees of S-21 were sent to the killing fields as they are called now. Men, women, and children who had suffered torture were killed by brutal methods and were shoved into mass graves. We listened to an audio guide as we walked through these sites. We saw victim’s clothing and bone fragments sticking out of the ground. We walked through a skull filled monument to memorialize the dead.
This educational day will be essential to our service in Pursat. The people of Cambodia have suffered unimaginable atrocities that are still echoed in their lives today. How could we serve these people without knowing their pain? How could we help improve their lives if we didn’t know what lead to the reversal in the once prosperous Cambodia? While we rode the bus to Pursat, Visa, a Pursat native herself and a member of S.C. elaborated on the knowledge we had gleaned from these sites. She answered all our questions in an intimate and personal way. Although she did not live through Pol Pot’s regime she has still suffered because of it.
While some of the bus ride was filled with education, it was also a time for fun. Four hours is an adequate amount of time to tell embarrassing stories and play mash. Lasting friendships are being created.
At the end of our night we had another reflection. It was difficult for many to express their feelings regarding today. People felt anger and sadness. Many felt impressed by the message to never forget. Many were frustrated by the fact that they have been oblivious to this era. The room was filled with the words of living and the memoires of the dead.
Tomorrow we begin our work in the village starting with the opening ceremony. Our team is ready to work and serve these happy forgiving people. We are excited make a difference and see the impact it makes on these people’s lives. We are ready to remember and ready to serve.