Why Cambodia? Why Cambodia?

By Ed Shuttleworth -

A recent trip to Cambodia reminds me that our South-East Asian neighbour still has a long road to recovery from its troubled past.

On a recent trip to Cambodia I met a boy called Darra in grade five. It was just 11:30am and school had already finished for the day. I asked Darra what he would have for lunch and he replied, “When I am at school I never know what I am going to eat. I will find some frogs when I get home. Now it's the rainy season they are easier to catch.”

Whilst the fragility of life for boys like Darra still shocks me, this is everyday life in Cambodia. An inability to meet basic needs is part of the fabric of everyday existence for many Cambodians, and this is where education can paint a brighter future.

But how did Cambodia get here? From the 14th century, the country was ravaged by constant invasions and wars, up until the 19th century, when governance was handed to the French. The Vietnam War saw America drop more ordinance on the country than they had used during the entire Second World War, killing nearly one million Cambodians. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh only days before the North Vietnamese took Saigon.

The Khmer Rouge plunged Cambodia into perhaps its darkest period in history. The regime killed nearly 2 million more Cambodians, particularly targeting the educated.

The Khmer Rouge plunged Cambodia into perhaps its darkest period in history. The regime killed nearly 2 million more Cambodians, particularly targeting the educated. They dismantled the school system, burnt all money and closed the temples. After extensive provocation, the Vietnamese invaded and occupied most of the country until 1989. Civil war still racked the country with four or more factions fighting one another.

The United Nations administered the country’s first national elections in 1993 and although Cambodia has far greater stability today, it relies heavily on foreign aid and contends with extensive levels of corruption.

Today, over 50% of Cambodia's population is under 21 years of age. 80% live in rural areas with poor education, dependent on subsistence farming. If Cambodia is to make significant progress in recovering from its troubled past, it will require the support of wealthy neighbouring countries such as our own.

The genocide memorial at the killing fields of Choeung Ek houses the remains of 8,985 victims that were unearthed at the site. The genocide memorial at the killing fields of Choeung Ek houses the remains of 8,985 victims that were unearthed at the site. Photographs of prisoners at Pol Pot's notorious secret prison 'S21': the former Tuol Svay Prey High School in Phnom Penh. Photographs of prisoners at Pol Pot's notorious secret prison 'S21': the former Tuol Svay Prey High School in Phnom Penh.

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