Cambodia is a country steeped in history, that can be traced back to at least the 5th millennium (BCE), it draws tourists from all corners of the globe, wanting to immerse themselves in this ancient land – from visiting the “lost” temples in Siem Reap, to celebrating with locals at Bon Om Touk (annual water festival – a three-day event celebrating the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River signalling the end of the rainy season).
However, one thing that many people don’t realise is that Cambodia has a dark past, that for many is very close to home. This isn’t something that happened hundreds of years ago and is relayed only in history books; it happened just 40 years ago and stories are told by parents and grandparents who would have witnessed the atrocities first-hand. These are the events that have shaped Cambodia into the country we know it to be today.
On the 17th April 1975 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took control of the capital city, Phnom Penh and effectively the nation. They aspired to change Cambodia – re-named Kampuchea -into an agricultural utopia. Declaring the nation would start again at “Year Zero”, this Marxist inspired dictatorship set about isolating their people from the rest of the world and forced them to move from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside. They said they were “freeing” them from the evils of money, their belongings, private property and religion – effectively taking Cambodia back to the middle ages.
Anyone who was thought to be intellectual (if you wore glasses or spoke a second language you were on that list) was killed. Many were taken to the infamous Tuol Sleng, the S-21 jail in Phnom Penh, tortured, killed or taken to Choeung Ek (the killing fields). There were as many as 17,000 men, women and children imprisoned and killed there.
For the hundreds and thousands of city dwellers forced to work on rural farms, their fate wasn’t any better. Suffering from the effects of overwork and lack of food, thousands died from disease, starvation, forced labour and execution. During the regime’s four-year rule, it’s estimated that 1.7 to 2.2 million Cambodians died, leaving a devastating effect on the country.
Today it is estimated that 80% of Cambodia’s population still live in rural housing, and suffer from extreme poverty, malnutrition and a poor education system.
Here at Camps we work closely with two rural communities, Beng Mealea and Beng Pae across a variety of projects to help combat some of these issues. With the help of our volunteers and local staff we build housing for those in need, install village wells, set-up jungle gardens, improve school facilities and provide an English teacher. And this is just scratching the surface of what we can do to help improve the lives and living standards of this amazing and resilient nation. Through our long-term commitment to these communities, we are able to provide real, sustainable solutions that create a more positive future for thousands of Cambodians.
To join us, and help make a difference check out our full list of expeditions to Cambodia here: https://campsinternational.com/project/independent-volunteering/?de=destination-cambodia