Sunday, June 1, 2008

Action packed children's day... (Sunday)

On June 2006, approximately one thousand police and military police forces gathered in Sambok Chab village heavily armed with rifles, electric batons, tear gas and riot gear. They bagan to began evict more than 1,000 families to make way for a development project financed by a private company.

They threatened human rights monitors and local and international journalists, and then confiscated their cameras and prevented them from recording police actions. The Phnom Penh Municipality chose to use violent means against the poor people rather than using a non-violent, transparent. There were standoffs and turmoil before police stormed the village, dismantled homes and trucked reluctant squatters and their belongings to an undeveloped site some 25 kilometers outside city limits.

On the new land there were a few public latrines, no drainage, no sanitation, no electricity, no water supply, no shops, markets or schools and no opportunity for employment. Human rights groups blasted the removal as inhumane, and the new residences -- 4-by-12-meter plots with no structures or facilities - as unacceptable compensation.

This Friday the evicted people will have been there 2 years. They now have made what they can of the settlement area with make-shift houses and and NGOs have created an area/centre for people to meet. There is now the fear that as land prices have gone up again these people may be evicted from their new site. Land in the new area now fetches about $3000 per square metre. The villagers have not got the title to the land yet - as promised. This is something that LICHADO, a human rights/legal NGO is trying to obtain for them before the election which is due to take place in July. They are also still trying to get these people access to a constant water supply - At present they are still not connected and have only pumps with limited water.

Within the last couple of years there has been a striking increase in land disputes within Cambodia. The judicial system is misused to threaten communities with arrest and imprisonment, excessive force is used, including use of the military, during evictions. Thousands of landowners and occupiers are forcefully displaced, and often reduced to destitute living conditions without adequate food, water, shelter, and health, education and other services. Many of the people who were displaced from Sambok Chab could not stay in their new area - there was nothing. The returned to Phnom Penh to live on the streets. Many people still send one family memeber to Phnom Penh to work and live on the streets whilst the others stay behind in the settlement.

On Sunday, I helped LICHADO with a fun day at the centre for some of the children displaced by the eviction.

The day began at 7am with the ride out of Phnom Penh on trucks. I have seen many Cambodian's travelling on trucks but not "barangs" (foriegners) - We must have been a real sight to some people as we travelled across the city then out into the country area. The road soon became a bumpy, rocky, dirty road - we were clearly on the path to "no where". Paddy fields all around us soon turned into fields that were clearly being developed for housing etc. But, there were no facilities anywhere to be seen: school, shops, place of worship etc

We arrived about 1 hour later.

The children were on a parade and were just returning to begin the fun. First they were organised into groups and given bags of food that children like: crackers, dried meat, nuts etc and then there were a number of speeches in Khmer.

This was followed by large buckets of squash for the children. They then began the activities: painting; juggling; dancing; mask making; face painting, sack races.

Watching the juggling with amazement... and wanting a go.

This was followed by a long role play in Cambodian performed by people from outside the village, they fear they could be next so also assist in educating/raising the moral of the people here. I have no idea what the play was about but I think it was funny (people were laughing) and I think the violence was supposed to be slapstick - cambodian's love slapstick. The children also did a play about a child who goes to the city, lives on the streets, has unprotected sex, gets HIV and dies. Not too jolly but educational. This was followed by breakdancing!!

After the shows the acivities continued and after I took a picture of one of the children suddenly about 15 teenagers all wanted their picture taken over and over again. First, just by themselves, then with their best friend, then a group shot, then all over again with a friend who had just arrived. It was hilarious and I think they enjoy it because a) they probably don't get to mess around on camera much, I suspect the NGOs take the pictures they need of events etc but not personal photos and b) Khmers I believe just have a fondness for posing for the camera.

I then helped out with some of the activities and amused the younger children with countless photographs. It was a fantasic day. The children were having an amazing time and were friendly even though they did not really speak English my Khmer and non verbal communication skills improved a lot!

The end of the day was a dance .... then pack up to go home on the truck. By the end of the day, at 4pm I returned home exhaused and very, very, very dirty!

Me posing mid-dance with some of the children (its in B&W because I have a sun burnt nose ...and you do not need to see that)

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