Since this is the first post I have written since the start of this course, I would like to say this trip has far exceeded my expectations. I knew at first that this course would be an amazing experience that I would never forget, but it has also opened my eyes to new thoughts and ideas that I was not expecting. I am extremely appreciative of the hard work and planning that Pushpa has put into this course to make it the incredible experience it has been this far.
Thailand was a great experience, and learning about the Southern Thailand conflict and the border region has been very interesting. I went to Thailand early and visited the island of Phuket which is very diverse. The influx of immigrants into Thailand is huge, and meeting with a local NGO (The Center of the Protection of Child Rights - CPCR) was a great experience. We learned about the problem of Human Trafficking into Thailand from neighboring countries which are not as developed, and the problem of people coming into Thailand to work on the boats to generate a minimal income. I found this problem to be similar to the immigration problem in the United States, and the influx of Hispanics into our country to try and make a better life. While some of these people coming into Thailand are coming to find a better life and a higher income, they are significantly abused and taken advantage of. The regulation of these migrants is difficult, and the harsh working conditions and low wages are a violation of their rights. CPCR is working to teach these people their rights and reintegrate them back into their own society. I was interested to see how effective this program was, and if the migrants have ever been repeated offenders like we see so much in the United States. The CPCR is solely working in Thailand and attempting to reintegrate the workers back into their own country. However, I believe it might be beneficial to increase this organization into the neighboring countries so that these migrants would be able to participate in this organization in their home country which could smooth the process of the reintegration process easier.
Going onto Cambodia was a very different experience. The difference in the development of the country is extreme, and obvious how people could try to go to Thailand for better opportunities. Siem Reap was incredible! The temples of Angkor Wat were so much more than I ever expected. The vast amount of different temples is impossible to see in one day, but the couple that we visited were truly something I will never forget. We woke up early one morning to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat and heard a story from someone who survived the Khmer Rouge. It difficult for this person to explain the story which was extremely touching and I was very grateful to be able to hear it directly from a survivor, who was still fearful that the Khmer Rouge could come back to power. This fear is very troubling to me, and made me wonder if that could be one reason why there is a lack of education about the Khmer Rouge. We learned so much about the great Angkor period and the vastness of this great country during those times. I wonder though if the lack of teaching the children of Cambodia about these experiences is to prevent the spread of this fear that the Khmer Rouge could come back.
The Bus ride to Battambang which is a small province in Cambodia was definitely a bumpy ride. We visited two schools in the outskirts of the city of Battambang which were very different from each other. The first school we visited, which is also an HIV/AIDS refuge called Thean Thor means Acts of Compassion. This school was extremely touching mainly due to the happiness of all the children there. One of the teachers there explained how some of these children will seem incredibly happy, but once you get to know them you see the problems of extreme poverty that they suffer from. I found that the children here, as well as almost all the people of Cambodia are incredibly grateful for what they have, and never take anything for granted. I've seen children play with things as simple as their own flip-flops and how much fun they make of them. It is so different coming from a developed country and seeing children already wanting everything and anything they can get their hands on, while here it seems as though the children make the best of what they have. I found this to be extremely touching and made me think of life differently, and how that sometimes you need to just make the best of what you have or of your situation and just experience life for what it is.
The second school we visited was the Friends Economic Development Association (FEDA) which was much larger than Thean Thor and consisted of about 800+ students. A few volunteers just arrived at this organization the day before to start a program to develop jobs for people living in this rural community and preventing the migration of people from these rural areas into the bigger cities. They are planning on creating a method of transportation from this rural community to the city by kayak. This will help create jobs for the people of this community and hopefully improve their standard of living. I also feel it is important to preserve their culture living in the rural areas of the country and prevent a migration of people into the city. I found this to be a great thing for someone to come and help develop and will hopefully be a great success!
I've obviously gone on forever and there was so much more I haven't included, but I am committed to writing more on a regular basis so things will be shorter and hopefully even sweeter!