Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Street life

Its the season of goodwill and giving and so a post about a time when giving is not right seems appropriate (in my opinion)!

Cambodia is a difficult country. I am under no illusion that when visiting on holiday or even for a longer period of time it is so easy to give a dollar here and there and you suddenly feel like you have made a real difference. This is where I plead with you to STOP! and think about the problem.

Yes, of course, it is true that Cambodia does not have a welfare system and some guidebooks may encourage you (irresponsibly) to think about this aspect of society and dig deep into your pockets. Yes, giving 1000 riel (about 25 US cents) might give you a warm fuzzy feeling that a Cambodian family are going to be eating well that night. Yes, you can afford to do it... so why is it so wrong or unhelpful?

Firstly, from an economic perspective, looking at the average daily national wage, which is around $1 (a factory worker might earn $60 a month, a waitress in an expensive western restaurant $70.... and these wages are the middle class salaries) giving even just a dollar to someone who is doing nothing at all is a bit of a punch in the face to anyone who is doing a job. By all means give a nice big tip to your tourist tuk tuk or waitress or the maid who made your hotel room bed instead.

Secondly, from a different perspective, people are put on the streets to beg by people engaged in human trafficking. Yes - really.

There is a baby who is passed from woman to woman on the riverside so that each woman can do their "shift" with the miserable looking baby to get more money from the gullible tourists. The baby is a hired helper! If you are going to give money to a woman because she has the miserable baby then that baby will become more desired by other women and so will suffer a childhood being carted around the riverside by various women to generate more funds. If the baby doesn't generate money (because you ignore it) the baby will be "out of a job" and this is no bad thing. Having a job when you can't yet walk or speak is a GOOD thing! Now there will be some of you still wondering - that if they do not give some cash the woman with the miserable baby - how will the baby ever get un-miserable and how will it eat? go to school? get a better life? etc. The answer is above, the baby is not getting the money. None of it. The money is going to the baby's mother/owner (do you think she ("Pimp") will be giving the baby a cut of the profits....nah) and the woman who hired the baby (she paid to use the baby so why is she going to care - The more awful it looks to her the better - The more terrible, the more $$$).

This is just an example because once the baby can walk it will be put out on the streets to do the begging by itself - Returning its profits to the person it belongs to, not keeping the money for itself. This person may be its mother or it may be someone who has purchased it to beg for it. A kind of slave trade. If you don't give cash then the mother won't have a need to put the child on the street (what would be the point?) and the "slave trade" will die out. It gets worse, some of the begging "slaves" are drugged by their Pimp to make them look even more pitiful. One particular drug makes people loose all sensations in their legs and so it looks as though they have a disability and can't walk at all....

Ahhh so a child with those big brown eyes you fell for finally gets a few riel from you. It is his or hers to keep because unusually they are not a slave beggar and they have run away from "home"... Yeah! What will they spend it on? You hope they will run off to go to school, buy a pen or two and eat a nice wholesome meal. Wrong! More than likely that money will go on glue. Street children in Cambodia have a huge problem with glue sniffing. Its such a big problem that adults have set up places where children can go and buy a small plastic bag with a bit of glue in it to get their fix. These adults have realised that the children are desperate and can't get enough money together to but a whole tube of glue so they "so kindly" have set up convenience stands with just enough glue to get a fix. Just like you were kind enough to give that riel.

Ok! Ok, the above is the worst case scenario - Some adults and children do need your help genuinely..... but a far better way to help is to: a) visit NGO craft shops (more expensive but better quality and you are helping those people, often disadvantaged in some way, who make the products earn a wage) b) visit Friends for a meal (just by the national museum - the food is fantastic tapas) The staff are all ex street kids who have been given a break c) use child safe tuk tuks and moto drivers (look for the child safe logo) d) visit the child safe drop in centre opposite Friends.

This is just a starter setting out why it is never the season of goodwill to give a dollar here and there. Its a controversial subject.... Having said all of the above you have to use common sense. I used to give a few riel every now and then or some food to an old, old woman who would sit on our road by my house. But I did not live in a tourist area, she was not trying to make a fast buck, she never asked anyone for money, she was always happy to get food instead, the moto men and other Cambodian neighbours gave her small amounts too....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


In the run up to Christmas its nice to get Christmas cards Cambodian style!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Post Office Phnom Penh vs Royal Mail

I've had lots of people sharing their experience of the Phnom Penh Post Office since my first blog about it. My experience of the "service" is not unusual.

Recently a Cambodian student, who stayed with us in the UK in the summer, asked us to bring back some books from Cambodia after our holiday and post them from the UK to Italy where he has started studying. Of course - happy to pop them in the post via Royal Mail for a whopping sum of money.... The idea being that it was far "safer" to post them from the UK.

Those books were posted several months ago now... still no sight of them at the Italian end. Its rather ironic that my $13 from the PP post office resulted in delivery (and probably fed a family for a couple of days due to the overcharge) and made it across the world whereas here, well, Royal Mail resulted in complete postal failure. Try explaining that to the poor guy waiting for his books!!!!