Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wat Opot

On Sunday I travelled out of PP by tuk tuk to Takeo Province. The reason for the journey was to visit an AIDS Hospice called the Wat Opot Community. The Wat Opot Community takes care of children who are effected by AIDS. It is suitated on a rice field behind a run down Temple, 47km outside Phnom Penh, The Wat Opot Project started out in 2001 as a refuge for dying victims of the Cambodian AIDS Crisis - Now its focus is children.

It was a dusty 1 and a half hour ride!!! (nice look)

Many of the residents of the Community are children whose parents died at the Project. One third of the 65 children presently living on the site are HIV Positive as are all but two of the 20 adult residents who help with the care of the children. The Wat Opot Community is unique in that it does not segregate those children who are HIV Positive from those who are not. Wayne - One of the founders of the Project took us around the site. Much of the comunity was like other orphanages I had been too. The dining area, the homes, the play areas - Here however they also have an on-site crematorium for disposing of the AIDS victims once they die. He told us how the children would even assist in preparing the crematorium for those who die to assist in the grieving process. A shrine to the children and adults who have passed away is also very sad but at the same time positive that they had this hospice to turn to when they were in need and that they certainly have not been forgotten.

The visit to the Project was spured by a Community Art Project and an open day that took place today. I ended up buying 2 paintings done by children. One of them was from a boy who had proudly showed us his picture of the mountain and tree. I couldn't resist buying it. With my help he detached his picture from the temporary gallery made of wire and bamboo (that the child artists had constructed that day) and then, after politely saying thank you, ran off with my $5. He said he was 12 but my guess would have been 8 or 9. It constantly surprises me how old children are here in comparison to how old they look. Its best to guess and then add on at least 3 years.

After the tour I found the little boy to take his picture. He later presented me with a gift that he had just made - A keepsake box. It was emotional even if it was just a bit of cardboard he had shaped and covered with Barbie wrapping paper. He is an adorable child. The Project is an amazing place. I have no idea how the director keeps going with so many deaths.

Their website is: - take a look! You can read about their art project here: - The other picture I purchased is the one with the monks sitting looking at the view - Its on this website if you scroll down.
This little girl enjoyed loading her brush and then flicking it at the very large canvas set up for today. Very Jackson Pollock of her - Her Grandmother did not agree that she was a genius and was more concerned about the mess she was creating!!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A visit to the landfill for the Smile CCH photo project

Today the children of CCH and CDCC returned to the landfill in Stung Meanchy - A place where they had all worked before being rescued by CCH. I had been to the dump once before but in the dry season. This time the filth was even more putrid and the stench stomach churning. We took 7 children back to take photos including 5 new students to the course. Their photos will be added to the Smile Project web page in the next couple of days (

Naran told me her story of how she worked on the dump for 10 years. Her parents initially went with her but then they just decided to return to the province but leave her and her brother and sister behind. She was 10. Piset told me how his mother had moved to Phnom Penh in search of making money - she moved to the dump with her 7 children. He was 8 years old at the time. His mother and all of the children now live at CDCC (CCH's partner orphanage). His mother is employed as the cook for the children. Sambath also came to the dump after he was told by a friend he could make money there. He was told all he needed was a plastic sack.

Our first task was to get boots. The director of education of CCH was kind enough to help and went on his moto to get a better price. 10 pairs of boots for under $20. Armed with our boots we set off 11 people in a large-ish tuk tuk.

We arrived at the main road lined with garbage trucks. Also along these roads are the warehouses where the plastic/glass is sold to recyclers. The rubbish eventually ends up in Vietnam. On the way in Naran pointed out where she use to live.
Me and Naran in the sludge - a picture taken by Raksmey

Upon arrival at the dump we quickly discovered how vital it was that we got the boots. The road was thick with filthy sludge. Not mud - just muck that smelt absolutely wretched. Around were the massive hills of rubbish. Surrounding the piles are little rivers of water which bubble in the heat due to the methane being released from the rubbish. Fires start of their own accord because of the heat and the gas. The grey sludge would often be so thick it would almost go over the top of the wellington boots. The children were quite happy to just start taking photos of everyone. It was awful how the dump has children picking through the rubbish by themselves. Their situation is so tragic that they have become like ghosts. Sniffing glue is a common problem. Even when the CCH kids were taking children's photos there was none of the usual interaction. The children of the dump were completely lost in their internal world and were completely vacant.
We sloshed through the muck to the area where the dump trucks deposit the trash. This is the main hub of action - People surrounding the trucks to get the best bits. A large machine with mashing wheels was menacing and the rubbish pickers would be warned very briefly that it was starting. Sometimes people are killed by these trucks so it was not surprising that one of the children was particularly scared by it. Ironically the largest shopping mall in the city and the only international chain hotel in the city (Intercontinental) can be seen on the skyline from the dump.

We left the dump going through the surrounding slum. One of the children had her aunt and her mum still working in the dump. We saw their house and the small shop she ran. She people in the surrounding areas were friendly and even warned us to look after the cameras because of the thieves that operate in the area.

We were at the dump for 3 hours and my stomach is still churning at the thought of the stench and the poverty. We were able to leave but when I think of the people who are still there now and the children it is absolutely devastating. The pictures give you some idea.

The pickers at the truck drop Man carrying his plastic collection sack

Children picking the recyclable goods from the mass of rubbish

The Smoky Mountain and someones "home" on the top

In the surrounding slum

One of the roads into the dump through the slum - these children were playing on the sacks of rubbish that had been collected. I wish I could say more in Khmer to say more to these children.

Bubbling "rivers"

This girl was so busy looking and I saw her quite alot in different places - more pictures of her below

I gave this woman my plastic water bottle as I has just finished it. She was very happy with it. The crunching machine is in the background. Also a picture of the garbage truck dumping spot.

The vacant stare of a child sat in a trailer to carry rubbish

Riding the rubbish truck

Recycler - he would buy off the rubbish pickers - less than 2p for 2 cans
This boy's complete lack of interaction is haunting

The stacks of filth... the muck of the roads

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Friday night fight live!

On Friday a friend of mine had decided that he would try his hand at Cambodian boxing. Sounds quite foolish but he is a trained Thai kickboxer and has been in many fights. His was the 5th fight of the night. We first saw the top Cambodian fighter (win of course) and a few other games before my friend Medhi was "on".

Being a white woman with a big camera during fight number 4 I decided to ask the army man guarding the free area around the ring - "som" [that means please] and point at my camera. The hope being that he would allow me to stand right up against the ring. This is Cambodia - and so the reply was "yes". From a distance the fights didn't look so bad but up close you could really see the power behind the kicks and the punches.

Medhi's fight was definately the most entertaining as he and his opponent went in for the "kill" straight away and there was far more kicking than in the other matches. We were surprised when Medhi was called out because he was up and fighting. Apparently, we discovered later that in Khmer boxing if you touch the floor 3 times you are out - it doesn't matter if you just slip or get up right away. A second reason also was that as the fight was being filmed the scheduled air time had run out and the TV people wanted to make sure they covered the full fight!!!