Culture Shock

Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
Trip End May 30, 2013

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I've been going through a bit of culture shock wince arriving in Kampot from Chi Phat. From quiet country roads and starlit skes, we now have busy dusty roads, tourist shops and flashing neon signs. Going from a place without electricity most of the day, to flashing signs and advertisements. Heineken, Illy, 'best ribs in Cambodia', burgers, steaks, and 'happy' pizza. After an evening walk along the riverside strip, we were ready to pack up and leave. Thankfully, our guest house is outside of the city in a quite place along the river. Grass woven stilted bungalows with geckos on the ceiling will be our retreat from the madness. Perhaps it's a good stepping stone for us as we're on our way to Siem Reap in a few days and that will be complete tourist madness. A town that exists solely for travellers seeing the temples of Angkor.

I have been doing a bit of reading on Siem Reap and something saddened me. I have been hearing about volunteer opportunities in orphanages. This of course, for me, sounds like a wonderful idea and something that I would love to do. Being adopted and having a niece and nephew who are adopted, this is something quite special to me. However, when flipping through a magazine, we saw a shocking ad showing foreigners taking photos of children in cages with the phrase: 'children are NOT tourist attractions'. This caused me to do a bit of research...
“Each year, thousands of tourists visit orphanages in Cambodia, thinking they are helping some of the most vulnerable children in the world. Recent reports however, have found their visits may be doing more harm than good...”
The little bit of travel we've done here have not shown me any children who seem vulnerable. Instead, I have seen happy children with families who love them, friends playing together, walking/cycling to school. Where are all the orphans coming from? It's too long after Khemer Rouge for that many children to have lost their families.

“Seventy-two percent of children currently living in orphanages have at least one living parent”.

I do understand the poverty in this country can make it difficult to raise a family, especially when planned parenting is not an option.

“Since 2005 there have been an increase of 65% in 'orphanages', despite there being a decrease in the number of vulnerable children”.

“Beggars follow travellers around. Through the mayhem, a small team of professional junior entrepreneurs make their way around pitching a different product – a visit to a nearby orphanage. With ready made smilies, these young children (including several younger than 10) are quick to break into examples of their orphanage's dance routines to draw attention. They preform long enough to round up enough tourists to visit and donate money to their orphanage the next day.”

I was wondering how travellers managed to make these kind of connections during their trip. I visualized volunteer organizations, background checks, stays of upwards of a month, and didn't understand how it could be done.

“Orphanages must be a safe place for children and not a tourist destination. We cannot just go and visit orphanages in your own countries, so why in Cambodia? Although tourists believe they are doing good by visiting the children, findings who that visiting impacts negatively on children's development and is supporting a system that fails to protect children and is encouraging the separation of families.”

I was talking to an NGO on the bus from Thailand who builds houses for families in Phonm Penh. Although the families do not need to pay anything for the houses, he only builds them for families who will not sell their children in future.

“Not only is it in the best interest of the child to live with his or her family, but it is also much cheaper to maintain.”

Thankfully, there are other organizations that support and promote family and community care!  If you're interested in doing this kind of thing, research with care!

It looks like I'll have another culture shock to adjust to. I'm just glad I have a bit more insight before 'being thrown into the lion's den', as Brian would say!

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kittnrob on are passing along some valuable information in this entry....thanks much.

Fay crombie on

hmmm...that's an eye-opener. Leaves one sad,

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