Project in the spotlight – Cambodia
Cambodia – it’s one of my favourite programs that we offer here at The Leap. The work done by our Leap volunteers has a huge positive impact on the communities, both socially and by improving hygiene, sanitation and education.
In order to truly understand the program and the motivation behind it, it’s first important to know a little bit about Cambodia’s history…
Cambodia’s horror story is fresh. Unlike in Europe where the horrors of the World Wars are over 70 years ago, Cambodia is not even 40 years clear.
From 1975 to 1979 Cambodia was ruled by Pol Pot, the head of the communist Khmer Rouge party. The Khmer Rouge regime aimed to take the country back to the middle ages, as a result, its policies had a complete disregard for human life. This resulted in repression and massacre on an unprecedented scale.
Upon taking power, the Khmer Rouge forced inhabitants out of the cities and into the countryside to do agricultural work. Anyone thought to be intellectual in any way was executed on the spot. The intention was to create a classless system, however, the result was the abolition of basic human rights. Thousands died of starvation and disease whilst many others were held in prison camps and later executed. The largest of these was S-21, which held 14,000 people yet only 12 survived.
The regime was eventually overturned with the help of Vietnamese troops in 1979. The final death toll of the Khmer Rouge regime was nearly 3 million.
The aftermath of the regime is still clear to see in Cambodia. There are large numbers of orphans, widows and people severely traumatised by their experiences. Thousands of refugees were forced from their homes and many still live in incredibly basic conditions and extreme poverty. Running water and toilets are a luxury the majority do not have.
The country that has emerged from these horrors is peaceful, strong and welcoming. Their culture, heavily intertwined with religion is trusting, kind and forgiving. The industry is regenerating and tourism is boosting their growing economy.
Where does The Leap fit in
So this brings us to The Leap project in Cambodia. Throughout the country, there are people working on the rejuvenation of the communities in need. Socheat Hun is one of them. His company, Real World Adventures, offers what it says on the tin. However, he has used his experience and knowledge to help The Leap with projects in the communities most in need within Cambodia. Socheat is originally from Phnom Penh however he worked for the UN and EU for over 10 years. He is extremely passionate about charitable endeavours and therefore does what he can to help his country.
Volunteers are led in-country by the wonderful Chouy, a local guy who knows the country and communities like the back of his hand. Chouy is an all-important cog in the wheel of this program.
Better hygiene, better education
The bulk of the project focuses on Siem Reap, one of the poorest regions in Cambodia. It’s estimated that only over half of the population have access to clean water and even less to a toilet. This results in a high prevalence of completely preventable disease. So, for the last 8 years, we have been working with Socheat to tackle this problem in villages around Siem Reap.
Each Leap team works to build at least one toilet block and one well and pump for a village in extreme need.
Cambodia has a population of roughly 15.8 million people. Of these, 15% are below 22 as a result of the genocide during the Khmer Rouge. Sadly, however, Cambodia has one of the worst education systems in the world. Again due to the Khmer Rouge who sought to destroy education within the country.
As a result, there are a number of NGOs working to improve free education for underprivileged kids, including Kid Tree and Elma. We have teamed up with these NGOs so Leap volunteers spend the afternoons teaching English, computer skills and all sorts of other activities. All aiming to give the kids a shot at a bright future.
A section of The Leap’s project in Cambodia takes place over at the coast, in Sihanoukville. An idyllic beach location where, if you look a little closer you’ll see kids working on the street. Kids who should be in school or playing, most of all with no worries in the world.
Starfish is a community based humanitarian project that aims to get kids off the street and into education. Leap volunteers work closely with Starfish at Sakura School and the Community Development Centre. Working to provide an education and a safe environment for expression and learning.
Elephant Valley Project (EVP) is the only legitimate Asian Elephant sanctuary and rehabilitation centre in Cambodia. A place where captive and working elephants live out their days in jungle peace. You won’t find any elephant riding here, their ethos is all about putting the elephants first. The aim is to let elephants be elephants in a stress-free environment. Leap volunteers will help to wash, care for and feed these giants in addition to learning their story and understanding their needs.
EVP is based in the forest of Mondulkiri. The forest used to be large enough for elephants to roam at large. Now a mahout is needed to tend each elephant to prevent it from damaging crops and neighbouring villages. This dependence means the assistance from outside volunteers at EVP is even more required and appreciated.
To sum it up
The Leap Cambodia really has it all, teaching, development and elephants – city, jungle and beach. Each volunteer that lends their valuable time to the program is a small puzzle piece in a much larger story. A story that is improving the lives of people who have suffered more already in their short life than anyone ever should.
Each kid that gets touched by the project has a chance at an improved education and bright future. Be it working in tourism thanks to English lessons or starting a business with computer skills developed by volunteers.
Every toilet block and clean water well will reduce disease and improve hygiene, hence saving the lives of the communities who utilise them, consequently opening possibilities for tourism.