By Pamela Scala
It is possible to take a trip and return unable to decompress because of sensory overload. That is my current status.
My brother’s company, Global Service Corps, runs several service learning programs in Tanzania and Cambodia. Everything from Buddhist Immersion, Sustainable Agriculture to teaching kids about
HIV/AIDS prevention is offered. I tagged along with my brother to Cambodia to run a program for very disadvantaged 10- and 11-year-olds in Phnom Penh.
The curriculum set up by the GSC staff in San Francisco covered HIV/AIDS, drug/alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and life skills. It was eye-opening to see the 10- and 11-year-old hands raised when we asked if they had ever seen huffing (glue sniffing) on the street. All hands were raised, every one of them. When asked if it is OK for a husband to hit his wife, 50 percent of the hands went up, verifying the prevalence of domestic abuse in Cambodia. We did our best to educate the 100 kids we worked with about all these issues and feel we made a real difference. We hope.
Cambodia is a mess. Typically tourists return from their visit there remarking about the happy Cambodians. Trust me — it is not a reflection of their life’s reality. Poverty is extreme and everywhere with little chance to get beyond it. The henchmen of the Khmer Rouge are in power, having learned that their power nets huge paychecks. They aren’t out filling the Killing Fields anymore, at least not with thousands of bodies, but their brand of corruption wields a heavy hand with dissenters. The people of Cambodia suffer.
The people are truly dear and wonderful. The Cambodian arts are lovely. The cuisine is my favorite of all Asian cuisines and that’s saying a great deal. Angkor Wat is spectacular. A dinner entrée at a lovely restaurant is $3 or $4.
There are many, many reasons to visit Cambodia, but perhaps you would consider following my lead and giving your time to the children of Cambodia who so desperately need our help. My experience has burned a mark in my psyche that will not disappear. The smiles and hugs of the kids we worked with create a picture in my mind that will not go away.