The ongoing point of view of our willingåÊ”outsider”åÊSunny in Cambodia. She’s now getting very much stuck into to learning about the potential projects in the region and prioritising the needs of the commnity alongside the Commune and Village leaders and generally having a fun time bouncing around Siem Reap province on the back of Camp Manager Han’s moped. Wednesday, June 21, 2011 – THE VILLAGE PEOPLE Bunlay came back to Siem Reap on Monday full of stories about his trip to Borneo. We arrived at Camp Beng Mealea before lunch time and greeted the staff. The camp looked good – rice was starting to grow in our little plot of land and the flowers they had planted a few weeks ago were blooming. Bunlay showed me pictures of the Borneo camps to compare with his camp, and I thought that Beng Mealea still looked pretty good. Bunlay spent the afternoon having one-on-one discussions with the camp staff, and I took off around town with Han on a rented moto to speak with the village people about projects. Han is clearly in his element riding around the villages and speaking with people about the community development projects. Pretty much all of the conversations were happening in Khmer, so Han was translating for me as best as he could, but most of the information was conveyed by showing me the problems in the villages, so I was able to keep up with most of what was being said. Beng Mealea is a town / commune that consists of 7 villages. We started with a meeting with the commune leader, Mr. Haat and then spoke with the village leaders. We visited all of them in their homes and they were kind concerned people. I was pretty surprised at the conditions even the village leaders lived in. No running water – they had these large clay jars that collected rainwater. No toilets, no electricity other than a couple batteries. Their houses were mainly wooden huts raised on stilts. In front of each of their homes were shelves of random packaged goods. Little mini convenience stores at every home. The problems in the community were mainly centered around water supply, road repairs, and health safety issues. Access roads between villages were in desperate conditions. They sorely needed a water source during the dry season. Each village leader had a large community pond at the top of their wish list. Each village leader had a list of the poorest families that needed homes repaired. And each village leader, although kind, seemed skeptical that we’d be able to help them. They told story after story about NGOs who had come to build structures that were not successful or sustainable. Pump wells that only worked during monsoon season, new homes that easily caught and spread fires in the dry season, chicken farms that were built without educating the villagers about how to raise chickens. I came away from these conversations determined to never give money to charities I didn’t directly manage. We also visited two schools – Sakada primary school and Teouk Leeck primary school. The children were all happy to be at school – that’s the great thing about children: they can have a wonderful time no matter what the circumstances are. But their schools were literally falling apart and basic infrastructures like their kitchens, were severely lacking. I went through a roller coaster of emotions and intentions today. One minute, I had all the energy and enthusiasm in the world to help these people. The next minute, I became completely depressed at the overwhelming poverty and thought, “What’s the point? Nothing I do, nothing anybody does, will make a difference. Maybe we should just let them live the way they live. Leave everything alone. Let them progress at their own pace. Go home. Live my own life.” It was hard to strike a balance between the two extremes. But it seems the relationship that Camps International is building with the town of Beng Mealea will result in a partnership that helps this community in the long-term. I’ve been really impressed with Bunlay and Han. It’s quite rare for a Khmer person to have such philanthropic ambitions. I respect them very much for being so devoted to this work.