Photo Friday: "House Boats" in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I don't seem to be able to let the week pass without one final post about children in poverty. This is a picture from our trip to Phnom Penh the capitol of Cambodia. By local standards, this family is doing ok. They live on the river. They have a house. They probably catch fish for a living (and that small pen is a floating fish-farm), just off-camera there is another floating pig-pen with four pigs in it. Look at the kids, one is swimming in the water (the same water that the pigs refuse drops into), another is peeing into the water, and a third looks like he's about to jump in. They look like they're having fun.

Still, does anyone think this is a healthy environment to raise kids in? They don't have electricity. If they want clean water, they need to boil it first. Odds are that someone in the family had a debilitating land mine injury, and everyone needs to be careful when they step off the boat, because the area still hasn't been completely cleared of mines.

There's such a spirit of hopefulness in the country, it's hard not to want to help. Cambodians have great entrepreneurial spirit, and small businesses are springing up everywhere. Many NGO efforts that we witnessed were focused around teaching traditional crafts like silk weaving or carving and helping get rural and disabled people set up with their own craft businesses. Through Kiva you can make your own microloan and help a budding entrepreneur lift their family out of poverty.

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  1. CanCan (MomMostTraveled) on October 16, 2008 at 8:50 p.m.

    I was in Siem Reap for a week. Cambodia totally broke my heart. I have never felt that "coldness" or lack of hope anywhere else. Even in poorer countries than Cambodia.

  2. Downtown. on October 16, 2008 at 9:50 p.m.

    I am planning a trip to Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand for February. You mentioned it was one of your favorite places - do you have a post on what to see, where to stay in Cambodia?

    I have never been and will be traveling with my 2 month old, I would love to hear from people who have been!

    my preliminary itinerary is posted here:

  3. jamie on October 16, 2008 at 10:40 p.m.

    What a stark contrast to my own life. That's really a sobering picture Debbie.

  4. poetloverrebelspy on October 17, 2008 at 4:01 a.m.

    I forgot to add this to the linky when I posted it . . .

  5. Tamara on October 17, 2008 at 4:57 a.m.

    Congratulations on a great blog - I have just started reading and am addicted. I'm a mum and a very frequent traveller so your blog is perfect!

    The Cambodia pic is heartbreaking - just terrible what some children have to live with!

  6. Mara on October 17, 2008 at 5:02 a.m.

    What an amazing picture and a great post (as was your one about Madagascar). Although I have been to India and see this kind of intense poverty first hand, I haven't yet taken my children any place either in the U.S. or abroad where they can see this. Thank you for giving me a quick moment of gratitude for all my blessings at the start of my day.

    And I'm sorry that I put in that bad link to my Twitter page - total accident caused by three-year-old pulling on my arm. Please do delete!

  7. Dominique on October 17, 2008 at 5:15 a.m. all I can say. A lot to think about looking at the photo...and reading your story about the picture.

  8. Meg (B2B) on October 17, 2008 at 7:39 a.m.

    I am always amazed at how happy people can seem living in poverty - or in conditions that would seem quite grim to an American. Perspective huh? While we stress about traffic, money, too much to do, paying the mortgage, cost of health insurance, most of the world has a lot more, more serious things to worry about. But they don't. Well not exactly, but they seem to accept a lot and enjoy what they do have-like family.

    This is why I think it is important to travel, especially with children. Perspective is important. You don't "need" a Wii if you have a friend who needs shoes. Most kids don't have enough room to have the full Thomas train table.

    I can't wait to get to Cambodia. Every time I have tried there was a major political upheaval or we had so little time, I could not get the flights to work. Soon.

  9. Nomadic Matt on October 17, 2008 at 8:33 a.m.

    amazing photo. Picture that speaks more than 1,000 words.

  10. Debbie on October 17, 2008 at 10:31 a.m.

    Thanks for the nice words everyone. Cambodia really impacted us. In some ways more that anyplace else we have been. The people there have been through so much, and many people were very open with their stories.

    There was a real sense of hopefulness during our visit (Back in 2001) ... locals welcomed tourists with open arms as a sign of stability (and also potential income). And there was a real desire to connect with us on a personal level. Being in a new place is overwhelming, especially when there is as much poverty as there is in Cambodia, yet we felt very at ease with the locals.

    On the first day, we hired a moto driver to take us to Tol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge prison. He took the time to point things out on the way... where he had grown up, where his family lived, and where he stayed while his father was in Tol Sleng. We were comfortable with him, and ended up hiring him every day for the remainder of our trip. That connection was fabulous to us. He took us to a new dance school where traditional dance, almost entirely lost during the war, was being taught to young kids. He took us along the river to the "upscale" restaurants where Cambodia's successful business people dine, and he helped us understand what we were seeing.

    In our guest house, the girls that worked in the restaurant were so happy to see and talk with us each day that we got in the habit of having tea there in the afternoon. Bit by bit they started to tell us their stories too, and they were heartbreaking. Honestly, if I had been in their shoes, I don't know how I would have continued. Yet there they were, laughing, making jokes, practicing their English, and each one had traveled far from home to make money in the city, learn English, and take computer classes.

    I haven't yet taken my kids anywhere like this either. Here in Seattle, we live a pretty comfortable life, and I worry about them growing up with a lack of perspective. They know that I give money to homeless people & E and I have talked about it. Occasionally, they've seen me take someone into a grocery store or sandwich shop and buy them something to eat. On the holidays, we buy an extra gift for a kid who needs one. But that's about it.

    This week has really gotten me thinking though. Besides all the posts on poverty, it turns out that the food bank closest to where we live is having a hard time keeping the shelves stocked (increased need, decreased donations). I'm going to make an extra costco run this week & have the kids help me bring food to the food bank. I don't know how much of an impression it will make at such a young age, but I think it's important for them to start understanding that not everyone has the head-start in life that they got.