Friday, May 20, 2011

Massager: A 55$-Salary Job !!!


After talking to a lady working as a massager in one shop, I can't imagine how I can make a living in a modern town of Siem Reap with a 55$ salary per month; including paying on a house rent, electricity, water, food and even raising an old mother? Can you? Comparing to my everyday expense, I might be dead.


Living standard in Siem Reap town is as high as in Phnom Penh city, and both places share similar modernity running beyond other towns in Cambodia. Today after dinner, I went to get a massage with one of my colleagues as we both feel a bit tired after having traveled a long way back and forth to work in the field. It was my first time to get a massage since I started working in Siem Reap for a month plus; I am a new comer. I just moved here from Phnom Penh.

When I stepped into the door of a massage shop, a lady welcomed me warmly. I was asked to sit comfortably on the chair, and my both legs got washed by that young lady name Da, 24, before she took me and my friend to the room for massage. Her massage technique with a comfortable place and a very low light from the bulb almost made me fall a sleep. However, with my curiosity about how the people's living in Siem Reap, I tried not to close my eyes so that I could find out what I want to know from her.

Da is from one village of Siem Reap province, around 25 km from the town. Her village is just a few kilometers from our famous temples Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Her family is a farmer. Sadly her father was dead for long, leaving her mother with two daughters; Da and her younger sister.

Her mother has raised her and her sister by growing rice. Now her mother is too old, so it's time for Da and her sister to make a living by themselves. In these last several years, there has been no enough rain for the people to make a farming in her village. The rice yield is low that reduces the people's annual livestock. The time for migration of the people has begun.

As growing rice can no longer afford her family's living, Da and her sister decided to come to the town to look for a job. They both don't even finish elementary school so it's hard for them to find a good job in the town. Da said most of the girls from her village come to work as a massager in Siem Reap town. As she has no other choices, she also started her career in this field.

Da's sarlary is only 55$ per month but she has to works from 12 pm to 12 am and 28 days per month. Tip is the only extra money that can help supplement her everyday expenses. However she does not get much from that as the massage shop she is working for is small with only 6 staff, and does not have many customers.  These days, Da has to rents a small room which costs her 30$ a month including an extra paid for electricity, water and food. She rarely spends on other stuff besides these four things.

To be able to pay for the rental, she has to share that small room with her friends to cut down her expenses. Everyday, Da dares not spend on anything besides food because she does not only need to save money for the rental, electricity and water but also for her mother who is staying a lone at home in the village.

She said that even though she tries all her best to save, she will never be able to save any cent. With some extra tips she gets from the customers, she can only buy some rice and sends to her mother at home. In short, she does not have even a cent left at the end of the month. That's what she means. I ask her what if one day she gets sick and cannot work, how can she survive and where she gets the money from to treat herself? She looked at me and then put her face down and said: "I don't know". It seems that she has never thought about that. She just earns a day for a day without thinking of the future consequences. She might thinks actually, but she cannot do anything better for now.

Da never enjoys life of having food in restaurant, BBQ, clubbing... even massage, she only provides but never receive. 

Da's imagination is to get back home to live with her mother. Asked her what she want to make a living in the future, she said she wants to be back home making a living by raising pigs and chicken and farming. She likes her life in her village than in the town. Life in town is more competitive and everything is about business. As a low-educated person, living in the town, your life will be more like a suffered rather than a better. 

However she does not know when will she be able to save enough money to start her goals as she has not save even a cent yet.

This is just a small part of her life that she told me during one hour of massage. She actually has faced many more problems since she moved to the town. On her first day in the town, she got lost with its modernity and got so much pressure. One example: before she comes to the place she is working now, Da used to work in two places already. The reasons that she move from one workplace to another because of the low salary, and she got many problems with previous places. She told me that before she came here (the place I got a massage), she said her manager in the previous place is a gay man who is always means to the girl staff, and he never treats fairly between a boy and a girl. He puts pressure on the staff and find many way to cut down the salary of the staff for his own pocket. Once he lost his spoon (just a spoon), he cut down 5$ from the 60$ of all staff's salary. It was non-sense, she said. She found hard to live in the town already with her 60$ salary per month. She and her many other of friends spent many months tried to work under pressure. They all left the place when they found a new one. 

Reflecting to my thought of Siem Reap, I would call it the province of a "wrong expectation". It does not mean anything critically; I just proof that my expectation is wrong. Before I thought Siem Reap was the richest province, that all people enjoy their lives well, after Phnom Penh; in contrast, the research proof that it is not even one of the richest provinces but the third poorest in the country !!! it is developed only in its small town only. Really out of expectation !!!

Now I keep thinking why can't the place, rich in natural and cultural resources like Siem Reap, cannot raise its people healthy and wealthy? What are the root causes? And what are the solutions? Answer !!!

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Lida Loem, Indradevi Hope Award Winner for Young Achiever


Lida Loem is giving
a speech for her achievement.
By Vannak LACH

A Creative Learning Class teacher, Lida Loem, 22, was awarded Cambodia's first ever 2011 Indradevi Hope Award for Young Achiever. The award ceremony was organized by the Women's International Group of Cambodia , seeking to recognize exceptional Cambodian women who have worked selflessly to make a significant contribution to their community and economic development in Cambodia.
Awards were given in one of three categories: Indradevi Hope Award for Dedication, Indradevi Hope Award for Leadership and Indradevi Hope Award for Young Achiever. Winners were given a plaque, certificate and $1,500.
The Indradevi Hope Award for Young Achiever was awarded to Lida Loem for her dedication in supporting a group of students as they organized a volunteer group called Volunteers for Community Development (VCD). This group's mission is to help teach English, as well as environmental awareness and morality, to the children in rural villages in Chanleas Dai commune of Siem Reap Province.
As one of the 3 winners among 48 candidates, Lida says she is proud of herself and her team's effort. "I am so excited to get this award. It is the cooperation from all members of the VCD team," says Lida, adding that her thoughts were never on awards or public acknowledgement when she started working with VCD.
Loem Lida, in the middle of other two award 
winners, is receiving the award on the stage.
"My purpose of volunteering with VCD is to share my knowledge to other students as they are not able to afford extra classes," claims Lida. "Even during the competition, I did not care about winning the award. I was just happy to share what my team and I have done to help the children and the community with the optimism that others will devote their time to help their community like us." When asked on how she is going to spend the $1500 award, she happily said, "the money does not belong to me but VCD."
Originally from Pursat province, a graduate of the Centre for Information Systems Training (CIST), Lida moved to Siem Reap to join PEPY as an IT assistant in November 2009. Now she is a Creative Learning Class teacher in a small community in Chanleas Dai commune of Siem Reap.
Lida devotes most of her free time to help VCD's work. Her responsibilities are to support the youth leaders who are managing VCD, to coordinate volunteers to teach English to other children, and to organize rubbish collection teams in all of the communities in Chanleas Dai. In addition to teaching children, VCD's new project is a community vegetable garden and fish farm to improve nutrition among their families and neighbors.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Kleat Tov Sen Chhngay" or "Lost Loves"

by Vannak LACH

"Kleat Tov Sen Chhngay" is an emotionally sad  Khmer movie I have ever seen. For its premiere at Chenla Theatre during the first Cambodia Film Festival on October 24, 2010, it made most of its audiences unable to help crying; a few even got out for a while to release their emotional feeling, but they did not leave the movie. The old whose lives went through Khmer Rouge regime feel so hard to confront the situation in the movie while young generations claim they feel the condition.
She lost most the members in her family the same as
many other Cambodians' people did. 

“I forced myself to hit my daughter because I wanted her to stay alive,” said a mother with her teeth chattering and her tear dropping from her both eyes, feeling pity for her dear daughter who refused to go with Angkar (during Khmer Rouge regime).


This is one of the most tear-jerking scenes in the film “Kleat Tov Sen Chngay” or “Lost Loves”, a movie mirroring the real lives of a high ranking family went through the darkness; bringing the feeling of both young generation and the old-people back to the real situation in Pol Pot regime.

This scene keeps staying in my mind and opens my  eyes to see the deeper feeling of a mother to her children. It reminds me of my mother's every action to her children.

This movie was produced by Mr. Chhay Bora, a former Khmer Lakhoun actor and an Economic Lecturer at National University of Management. He spends his own budget to produce this film with the commitment that the Khmer saddest history should be documented and revealed to the young generation.

Comparing to other films about Khmer Rouge I have ever seen, "Lost Loves" is the most credible one ever, in which the story has been revealed in deep by the Victim of the regime.

Mr. Chhay Bora is being interviewed by the Los Angeles Time
journalist in his editing room.
“I decided to produce this movie because I have not yet seen any movie shows what my movie does,” said Chhay Bora, “the movie actually shows only a small piece of the story while the real situation is even more cruel and depressing.”

Bora wanted all Cambodian young generation and the Cambodians who live abroad to watch the film, to see how tough the lives of people during the Pol Pot time, he told the journalist. 


He has so far screened his film in some universities but with the limited numbers of seat. He is now looking for donation to screen the film around the country and abroad. 



Mr. Khoy Bona, film editor, is talking to a journalist about
how he likes the movie; 'he is one of the KR victim' too.  
The blog owner is also here, not to steal
the information but to help promote the film !!!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Once a Prisoner, Always a Prisoner?

by Vannak LACH
Prison is supposed to be a place where bad people become re-educated in order to return to society as a better person. For Cambodian prisons, this is not true. A few ex-inmates however do claim to have changed – some with the help of god.

“In prison, the convicted grow accustomed to the brutal conditions and they become even crueler,” says Chou Potita.  Prison is not a place where people “learn to lead a life without crime.” 

Chou Potita should know. The thirty-five year old was just released from Municipal Prison where he spent three years of his life. The embezzlement of a large sum of money from one of Cambodia’s big gas companies got him there; he never denied the charges.

“In prison, people are classified”, says Potita. “The rich have power and get protection from prison officers, the poor always suffer. Discrimination, corruption and unfairness exist just like outside.” This discovery seems to have shocked the man who used to mix with the more powerful and rich himself, before he was imprisoned.

Potita himself became a victim when he was assaulted and humiliated in the prison.  He recounts how one day, “I was exercising, when a newcomer with his gang came and took off my shorts in front of a crowd of people and beat me. When the prison guards came they blamed me and banned me from exercising for a month.” His assailants were known to have money, he says, and that was why the prison guards favored them.

“A prison guard once even told me, ‘money, not justice, rules in here’”, says Potita who once served as an officer for the government himself. “I always used my money to influence the people around me. Most of my life, I was the one who had control over others, but in prison, I had no control.” Torn between helpless desperation and great anger, between suicidal thoughts and the wish to do away with others, he finally formed a gang to protect himself.

“I thought that after my release, we could rob and kidnap the rich and use the money to bribe officers to discharge other prisoners, so our gang could grow.” This plan no longer exists, after what Potita calls “the guidance of a Christian missionary” entered his life.                                                                             

“If prison is not changing us to the better, then we have to start changing ourselves,” says Potita confidently.
“Christ helped me change and allows me to live peacefully.” He says that his belief also gives him the strength to openly admit that he was in prison. If this is why people dislike him, he hopes to change their attitude to him and possibly towards other ex-inmates by living a sober life.

“I never cared about what others said,” he says. “Now, that helps me; I just try to be good.”   

The Bright Future Project aims to educate prisoners and help them when they are released. It also provides new hope for Potita. He volunteers with the project under the umbrella of the Community Enrichment Alliance International (CEAI), a Christian organization with South Korean support which focuses on agriculture, healthcare, and education in remote areas. The plan is to create an organization which will focus on educating and training ex-inmates and to help them to find jobs.

“Potita was an aggressive and hot-tempered person before, but now he has changed for the better,” says Ny Sambath who is running the project to which Potita hopes to contribute with his experience and past good relationships with many businessmen. Potita’s ultimate goal is to run an organization which helps released convicts to set up small businesses. “Ex-inmates can work together,” he adds, “we want to help them because we know how they feel.”

Sam Phirum, a 24-year old ex-inmate appreciates such support. He had to give up high school after he was convicted of armed robbery and is now released, looking for a job. In the prison, he says, Potita helped him to deal with frustration.

Potita himself has not found a job yet and says that this is because Khmer society still discriminates against ex-inmates. Now his goal is to create a job for himself as well as for other prisoners after their release.
Around 30 students are already undergoing training in English, computers, publishing and music, he says. But their goal is more than that. Potita and Sambath work very hard to strike against discrimination and to prove to society that they are strong enough to stand by themselves and to gain respect through honorable work.

“One day all people will acknowledge us for making a change and becoming good people, and no longer look at us as prisoners.” 
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“I am on My Stand, My Brother is on His”

by Vannak LACH
For the Puy family in Stung Treng, democracy is a daily issue. While one brother fervently campaigns for the SRP, the other is a strong CPP supporter.
Puy Chann Thalak
Puy Chann Thala

As children, both brothers Puy were good in Maths, Physics and Chemistry. As adults they shared their love for education and in 1980 both became teachers in Stung Treng. When they entered the political sphere, both brothers chose to become members of the CPP. But on politics, the two brothers Puy can no longer agree.



Puy Chan Thalak, the elder bother, today supports the Cambodian People’s Party, CPP, while the younger campaigns for Sam Rainsy’s SRP. Does their opposite political conviction not break their relationship?
The answer is not simple.


“There is robbery, cheating, corruption, no justice and peace in the society,” says the younger Thala. In protest he decided to join the Sam Rainsy Party and resigned from his job as a teacher. School was the place where he expected everyone to be neutral and to educate students to walk in the right way, but everything was different from what he learnt. “Bad students are even selected to be scouts,” he says.


As a person with ideals, he refuses to work in such a context. That is why he gave up teaching and his engagement for the CPP. He says that he saw how the CPP’s leadership did things differently from what they promised before they got power.


“I find that all CPP members work for the party and for themselves - not for the people,” he says. “The people with much money and the high-ranking invade the poor.” Thala believes that only the SRP can lead the country well, can find justice for the people, and eliminate corruption.


Thalak, the elder, supports the CPP because the CPP saved his live. “Towards the end of the Pol Pot regime, my name was put on the black list,” he says. They wanted to kill him. “But then came liberation day, January 7, and saved my life.” He says that CPP is a good party which saved Cambodian people from the Pol Pot regime and helps them until today. “These are the reasons why I work for CPP.”


Only during election time does Thalak, the elder, claim to be impartial. “I want the election to be free and fair,” he says. That was the reason to accept the presidency of the Provincial Election Committee, Pec in 1998. He says that he has suspended his CPP membership and his position as the Vice-President of the Provincial Department of Education, in order to pay full attention to this job which he got because he was known for his experience, his clear planning and for accurate work.


His younger brother meanwhile doubts the elder’s impartial view. Thala observed that “99 percent of the Pec members who my brother selected are from CPP. If Pec acts biased, I will protest against my brother.” Not all of his family like the brothers’ controversy. “Most of my relatives are members of CPP and have tried to persuade me to leave the SRP,” says younger Thala of his blood brother, his brother in law and his cousin. As CPP members, they all hold positions.


“Some worry that I am in danger,” he explains. “But no one can change my mind. I have a clear purpose and policy for myself. I am not afraid to get killed. I only want to help the people and the country.”


Thala admits though, that his family also fears others might look down on them because of the brothers’ political quarrel. That doesn’t look good. Whereas could they persuade him to return to the CPP, they would gain reputation.


“My younger brother changed from CPP to SRP because he was under the influence of a SRP-person,” says the older, Thalak, who has watched the same SRP person join forces with CPP recently. “But my brother can do what he wants to do,” the elder says.


The younger does. People do not seem to mind. “Although Thala and Thalak work for different parties, I have never seen them quarrel with each other,” says Prom Try, a teacher at Sakhoun Primary School. “The people in the village like them because they are good and helpful.”




But the brothers rarely meet. “As family they only get together when there is a ceremony or a party,” says niece Chan Leakena. “Then they speak to each other as usual. But they never mention work.”



Maybe this is what keeps the brothers united until today. “Although my brother has opposite ideas and favors another party, we never make our arguments personal,“ says Thala. “Outside of work, we are still brothers.”


Both brothers Puy confirm, “Work is work, relation is relation.”


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The Home Comes First

by Vannak LACH


Fire victims care more about building houses than voting


Add caption

“We need a home and need to fill our stomach, not to cast a ballot!” says 40-year-old Heng Mony, smiling sadly. He is one of over 562 Phnom Penhian families who have lost their houses to fires about two months ago. With another 433 families from Teuk Thla commune of Russey Keo district, he is now temporarily housed in blue plastic-covered shelters provided by the Cambodian Red Cross and some NGOs.

Since the fire, Mony, who is an official at the Chemical and Biological Department in the Interior Ministry, his wife and two children have had a difficult life. “My wife must stay at home all day to look after our remaining property.”

Even now, Mony does not know whether his family will be allowed to vote because his election documents were destroyed. He had no time to check with the authorities. “During the day I have to work full time and at night I have a part-time job at a printing house,” he says. “If I do not work hard, I cannot survive.” He does not waste emotions on the election. “If they want me to vote, they must approach me and issue the lost papers. Otherwise, I will not vote.”

“It’s miserable,” says neighbor Meas Heourn, a cyclo-taxi driver. “Everything gets wet and sometimes, the roof of my shelter is blown away.” He doesn’t care much about the election, all he wants is a new house. “I cannot sleep at night when it rains,” he complains.

Hardly anyone in the community cares about the election. Even Tea Thet, a salesman who has never missed voting since 1993, does not worry about it any more. “Last time, I watched the TV and listened to the parties’ policies, now I don’t care, I just want the authorities to solve my problems.”

The authorities had promised to find a solution for the people after Khmer New Year, but everything is quiet now. “I heard a rumor that they are waiting to check outcome of the election first.” What is more threatening to the fire victims, is the land problem.

The community is settling on the land of Ouknha Thay Bun Rong and people do not know how long they can stay there. “We may not be allowed to stay here after the election,” says Tea Thet. “When we had a home, everything felt comfortable,” Tea Thet says. “Now we have no home, no electricity, and no comforts.”
The place where all those victims lived before fire comes is a lake. Thus, they are worried that if they are not allowed to stay on that land for longer, they will have no place to live in because they cannot build their house on the lake.

Douk Phalla, a former policeman in the Anti-terrorism Department of the Interior Ministry, said “my life is getting worse and worse because I am ill. Now I am both homeless and sick. It is hard to survive. Voting! Wait until that day.”

Mann Sreyla, whose husband is a motor-taxi driver, said that she does not expect to get anything from her vote. “Even though I go to vote, I don’t expect to get a new house. We have to try hard by ourselves.”

In response to the victims’ concerns, Toeuk Thla’s commune chief Tan Navin, said that there won’t be an eviction of people to anywhere else. Phnom Penh’s municipality is conducting studies on the disaster land as they want to develop the roads and infrastructure to avoid such disasters in the future.

After the road development, City Hall will allow the victims to return, but the municipality will not promise to build houses for the people, he added.

Tep Nytha, Secretary-General of the National Election Committee said that the people have not understood. As citizens, they have an obligation to vote. They vote to choose a good leader not only to solve their problems but also to lead the whole country.

“It is wrong for the people to expect the authorities to come to them,” he said. “They themselves must approach authority if their files were destroyed.”


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Friday, September 17, 2010

Once a Prisoner, Always a Prisoner?

by Vannak LACH


Prison is supposed to be a place where bad people become re-educated in order to return to society as a better person. For Cambodian prisons, this is not true. A few ex-inmates however do claim to have changed – some with the help of god.

“In prison, the convicted grow accustomed to the brutal conditions and they become even crueler,” says Chou Potita.  Prison is not a place where people “learn to lead a life without crime.” 

Chou Potita should know. The thirty-five year old was just released from Municipal Prison where he spent three years of his life. The embezzlement of a large sum of money from one of Cambodia’s big gas companies got him there; he never denied the charges.

“In prison, people are classified”, says Potita. “The rich have power and get protection from prison officers, the poor always suffer. Discrimination, corruption and unfairness exist just like outside.” This discovery seems to have shocked the man who used to mix with the more powerful and rich himself, before he was imprisoned.

Potita himself became a victim when he was assaulted and humiliated in the prison.  He recounts how one day, “I was exercising, when a newcomer with his gang came and took off my shorts in front of a crowd of people and beat me. When the prison guards came they blamed me and banned me from exercising for a month.” His assailants were known to have money, he says, and that was why the prison guards favored them.

“A prison guard once even told me, ‘money, not justice, rules in here’”, says Potita who once served as an officer for the government himself. “I always used my money to influence the people around me. Most of my life, I was the one who had control over others, but in prison, I had no control.” Torn between helpless desperation and great anger, between suicidal thoughts and the wish to do away with others, he finally formed a gang to protect himself.

“I thought that after my release, we could rob and kidnap the rich and use the money to bribe officers to discharge other prisoners, so our gang could grow.” This plan no longer exists, after what Potita calls “the guidance of a Christian missionary” entered his life.                                                                             

“If prison is not changing us to the better, then we have to start changing ourselves,” says Potita confidently.
“Christ helped me change and allows me to live peacefully.” He says that his belief also gives him the strength to openly admit that he was in prison. If this is why people dislike him, he hopes to change their attitude to him and possibly towards other ex-inmates by living a sober life.

“I never cared about what others said,” he says. “Now, that helps me; I just try to be good.”   

The Bright Future Project aims to educate prisoners and help them when they are released. It also provides new hope for Potita. He volunteers with the project under the umbrella of the Community Enrichment Alliance International (CEAI), a Christian organization with South Korean support which focuses on agriculture, healthcare, and education in remote areas. The plan is to create an organization which will focus on educating and training ex-inmates and to help them to find jobs.

“Potita was an aggressive and hot-tempered person before, but now he has changed for the better,” says Ny Sambath who is running the project to which Potita hopes to contribute with his experience and past good relationships with many businessmen. Potita’s ultimate goal is to run an organization which helps released convicts to set up small businesses. “Ex-inmates can work together,” he adds, “we want to help them because we know how they feel.”

Sam Phirum, a 24-year old ex-inmate appreciates such support. He had to give up high school after he was convicted of armed robbery and is now released, looking for a job. In the prison, he says, Potita helped him to deal with frustration.

Potita himself has not found a job yet and says that this is because Khmer society still discriminates against ex-inmates. Now his goal is to create a job for himself as well as for other prisoners after their release.
Around 30 students are already undergoing training in English, computers, publishing and music, he says. But their goal is more than that. Potita and Sambath work very hard to strike against discrimination and to prove to society that they are strong enough to stand by themselves and to gain respect through honorable work.
“One day all people will acknowledge us for making a change and becoming good people, and no longer look at us as prisoners.”
                                                                               ###   

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