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Local issues in Cambodia

Cambodia is a well-known backpacking paradise, known for its UNESCO famed Ankor Wat and magnificent countryside views. But away from the Royal palace, busy streets and riches of Phnom Penh, lies a desperate underprivileged community whose most basic needs are unmet and neglected. Survivors from a brutal civil war live in crippling poverty, where access to basic education and clean drinking water is often a luxury for the rural villagers of Takeo province.

 

Even during our short stay in Cambodia, we noticed the lack of proper drinking water sanitation, particularly pertinent in the rural areas. Although the majority of the villagers source their drinking water from rainwater or groundwater, they fail to sanitize water prior to consumption. Often their rainwater is stored in exposed containers with debris, while groundwater is polluted by runoff from rubbish. Many of the villagers expressed concern about the quality of their drinking water, yet only a few of them did anything to the water to eliminate bacteria (such as boiling) before drinking it. In addition, open defecation in the village can and does contribute to drinking water contamination, which could potentially result in diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, etc. As part of our project, we collected water samples in order to identify the prevalence of water contamination and to attempt to persuade and educate villagers about the dangers of water contamination. As part of this project, Project Little Dream has also built compost toilets to prevent open defecation and improve water sanitation and we also aimed to evaluate the impact of this on the trip.

 

Second, we also witnessed first-hand the need for greater support for those suffering from mental health issues. In one of the villages, a severely mentally disabled child was neglected, often beaten and verbally abused; the social stigma towards mental illness and disability was evident. However, one cannot blame the villagers who were non-educated, lacked the facilities or understanding to care for him properly. During our stay,  we visited the Transcultural Psycho-social Organization (TPO), an NGO tackling mental health in Cambodia, which revealed that  40% of Cambodians suffer from mental health and psychological problems. Post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as mental health problems due to domestic violence and substance abuse is prevalent in the country.  Although, greater education regarding mental health is needed, TPO alluded to the difficulty in overcoming complex social barriers such as poverty, corruption and traditional values.. Thus, a multi-disciplinary large scale approach is needed to address the issue.

 

Ultimately, Cambodia is a developing country that has been affected by war and poverty and there are a number of issues that were made clear to us, mental health and water sanitation being only a couple. Lack of access to education, poor building facilities, poor knowledge of multiple health topics (such as reproductive health, nutrition, sanitation, etc.) and poverty also contribute to the problems Cambodian people, particularly those living in rural areas, face daily. However we hope that through continuous work in the region, and by cooperating with locals and NGOs we can start to improve the lives of the people there.

 



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