Another world: Tender Shoots and Hope in Cambodia

“ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE, ANOTHER WORLD IS NECESSARY, ANOTHER WORLD IS ALREADY HERE.” – Shane Claiborne.

I woke up this morning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Which is crazy to think about for me. It isn’t everyday you get to hangout over on the other side of the world in a place as beautiful as Cambodia is.
Cambodia2But today wasn’t the most impressive wake up, if I am honest, because I rolled out of bed to the sound of a man testing the loudest loud speaker I’ve ever heard, in the park right across the road from the hostel I’m bunking in. I’m on a trip backpacking all over South East Asia with my twin sister Lydia and our good friend Abi, and for the most part our morning wake ups have been peaceful and serene. I usually wake to the sound of birds in the trees or the subtle hum of a shower a few rooms away.

So this morning was a bit of a weird one for me.

Today, it turns out, is a public holiday. Which isn’t too surprising because around 30 weeks a year in Cambodia have a public holiday.

However, it was very surprising to find out that today is not just any day off. It is International Human Rights Day, and the Khmer people were having a rally.  Which is why there was a man in the park across from the hostel I’m bunking in, testing the loudest loud speaker I’ve ever heard.

Cambodia1

And, I mean, public holidays are mean and rallies are always a good time, but the idea of a government-endorsed day to celebrate human rights in Cambodia brings me mixed feelings. On one level it irks me, but one another level I have hope.

The government of Cambodia has a long history of violating the rights of its citizens.

In 1975 a crippling dictatorship came into power and ruled until 1979. Under their regime, known as the Khmer Rouge, millions of Khmer people were murdered for an idea, and bad one at that. You were tortured and killed for simple things like wearing glasses or owning a book, or for being educated and working in a job that didn’t involve “using your hands.” Anyone else was sent into the countryside to work the land in terrible conditions.

The Khmer Rouge was replaced by a false democracy led by a man called Hun Sen. He and his officials live in grand houses and drive $100,000 SUV’s, while the majority of Cambodia’s population lives on less than $150 a month. At the last election Hun Sen was voted out but somehow remains in power. Knowing he would lose the election, a few days before it took place he threatened that if the people didn’t vote for him, another Khmer Rouge would happen. When protestors took to the streets after it was announced he was still to remain Prime Minister, 40 people were shot and killed by the police. Earlier in 2014 the government of Cambodia was given $80m to house refugees that Australia is unwilling to look after, but no one knows where the money has gone. And that’s all in the last 18 months.

Cambodia has come a long way since the 1970s, but the rights of the Khmer people are still neglected by its government.

However, I have hope.  Continue reading