It is hard to believe that the village of Anlung Pi is just 25 kilometres from the five-star hotels of Siem Reap and the iconic lotus bud towers of Angkor Wat. Tourists don't come here, and they shouldn't. The village itself is unremarkable, but if you were to walk through the fields, just a few hundred yards from the neat, traditional wooden village houses, you would find yourself in the middle of a vast, stinking, rubbish dump. Sadly this rubbish dump is also home to an entire community.
Adults and children, many of them barefoot, scavenge daily among the rotting mountains of rubbish and clouds of toxic smoke for hidden treasures that will change their lives forever. But mostly they find just scraps of food -- not to be sniffed at -- and a steady supply of tin cans and plastic bottles that they sell on for recycling at 50 cents a kilo.
Those that live here seek shelter under scrappy tarpaulins and in makeshift houses, with nothing but rags at the “windows” to keep out the pervasive fumes of smouldering garbage. There is no clean drinking water, the “land” on which they live is unstable, and the risk of collapse, as well as spontaneous outbreaks of fire, is ever present.
But there is a glimmer of hope. Volunteer Development Children's Association (VDCA), a Cambodian-run NGO, recently received a donation from two UK supporters with which they have bought a sizeable piece of land near the village. Following discussions with the families, plans have been drawn up to turn the land into a safe, clean and sustainable community. When the fundraising target is reached, the empty plot of land will be transformed into a 'village' with eight houses, a new well and water filters for safe drinking water, toilets and washing areas, and land for cultivation and livestock.
The community will work in conjunction with VDCA which already runs a free school in Siem Reap for children whose families cannot afford to send them to state school, and with the recently established free school in the village of Anlung Pi itself. While state education is officially free in Cambodia, many families cannot afford school uniforms, books, and the additional payments teachers charge for the private classes needed to pass state exams, so free schools play a vital role in underprivileged children's education.
VDCA is run by former Buddhist monk, Togh Main, whose parents live in the village of Anlong Pi. It was set up in 2004 and originally consisted of just two grass-roofed huts in Siem Reap. VDCA gained Cambodian NGO status in 2007 and now gives free education to around 1,000 underprivileged children across the two schools.
Working together with villagers and the families from the rubbish dump, VDCA will provide immediate and much-needed relief for the community in the shape of safe homes away from the dangers of the dump, and work with them towards a more secure future where one day, none of them will have to risk their lives daily by working at the dump either.
If anyone would like to donate directly to the fund, you can do so securely online at VDCA's Virgin Money Giving web page.
Each month a Travelfish.org writer selects a charity or non-government organisation that they believe does excellent work on their patch in Southeast Asia. They write about them and we donate $100, a small way for us to give something back to the region. If you're looking to give back too, please consider giving a little cash as well.
By Simon Hare.
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