Monday, December 15, 2008

In The Slums of Cambodia

Slums are unheard of in Singapore, but a two hour flight out to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and under an hour's drive from the airport and I was walking through a slum community. I'd braced myself to expect the most squalid conditions, but was taken by surprise. There was beauty to be seen even in the poorest communities!

Poor as the villagers were living in airy quarters erected on wooden stilts and poles that made for well-ventilated living, sleeping and cooking areas, no overwhelming stench greeted me. Like icing on a cake, the pond over which the quarters stood was a bed of lush green water plants that resembled hyacinths. Rubbish heaps and clothes lines marked the boundaries and households, in place of fences and block/unit numbers of housing estates we'd be more familiar with.

Despite the obvious lack of material possessions, the locals wore faces of contentment. The kids beamed, playing with items they'd gathered or put together. Young men beat away boredom on the volleyball court as they did their spikes four on four. Another game was happening albeit less vigorously; the ladies had gathered for a card game, but quickly hid their hands when I pulled out my camera (below). You see, gambling is one of the vices in the community. They don't even need an elaborate IR to get it going.

Thanks to Christina Ang (left) from Mercy Teams International for being our guide through the slums. For her, it's more than just about being an SIF In-Field volunteer. It's about pulling out of the extravagant lifestyle and self-gratifying desires of so many at home, and transplanting yourself amidst a people whose basic rights aren't even met. How truly commendable, giving and selfless!

(Right: Barbecued Bananas on Skewers)

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