But it seems that the remaining project now, is to cram my belongings into a case and meet my travel companions
~ Famous Last Words By Me
A Couple of Hours Ago
Proof reading the final version of my last blog post less than two hours ago, this happened.
Finding the words for a blog requires silence, peaceful frame of mind, a little comfort and few interruptions. There’s a cafe nearby with air conditioning and today is particularly hot so I was hiding away in the cool, writing. Unexpectedly a Khmer friend opened the door and began waving in an elderly woman who I often see around town with a sack on her back, searching for cans and bottles to sell. An American couple had given my friend some cash for her and he had come looking for them to show them she had received their donation. They were not here but I was. I’ve often watched her and wondered. Why are her legs deformed? Why does she scavenge, surely she has children who could look after her? He encouraged her in and asked me to photograph her with the money, as evidence to the Americans. She removed her krama which sits curled around her head as she wanders the streets and smiled for a couple of photographs. I offered her a drink and she asked for Coca Cola! A seventy two year old Cambodian woman sitting across from me drinking Coca Cola – that’s another “first”!
As she sipped her Coke, my friend translated for me. Her husband died during Khmer Rouge. They had three children. Her sons were called to military training in the 1980s and were both killed by landmines at that time. Eight years ago a motorbike crashed into her while she was out scavenging. Three bones in her legs were broken and she was hospitalised.
Her daughter had just given birth to a fourth child. Worried about her mother, she walked with the baby to visit her mother in hospital. With assurances that she was fine, her mother sent her home to care for the four children. She walked the 3+km home again. The next day she was dead, I guess from a post-natal haemorrhage exacerbated by the long walk?
With no way of feeding the baby, she soon became unwell. They took her to a doctor who offered to adopt her. She has not been seen since. The children’s father left to marry another woman, leaving his remaining three children in the care of their grandmother. He has since also died. To feed her three grandchildren aged 6yo, 10yo and 12yo, she walks the streets scavenging. She is indebted to a villager who provides her with rice. She takes the sacks of bottles and cans to this villager as repayment.
We went in the tuk tuk together, picked up her two bulging sacks of recyclables, and drove her home. I will repay the debt for her and bought her a 50kg bag of rice, which will last the family a month. I asked for her expenses which come to $85 per month. Sending each child to English classes would be an extra $12 per month at $4 per child. We left with the promise that I will try to find people in Australia willing to sponsor her so that she doesn’t have to walk the streets scavenging anymore.
If you are interested in helping this family, it would only take four people to donate US$30 per month (to cover bank and GoFundMe fees) allowing this tiny beautiful woman some security and dignity in her final years. When I am not in Cambodia this can be reliably entrusted to one of my loyal Khmer contacts, with regular updates.
The same crowdfund page will work for this:
Help a Cambodian Family
It may not work but given the achievements we’ve had so far with so many projects, it’s worth giving this a go! I promise that my final project is now definitely just to pack and leave.
Meanwhile, correspondence with a friend in Australia is also worth sharing:
I reckon we can do better than this. I’m reflecting that cuts to Australia’s aid budget are implicated in sad stories like this… my own offer to volunteer in Cambodia through Red Cross was turned down because Australia couldn’t afford to let me volunteer through Australian Volunteers in International Development (AVID – AusAID funded).
Most Australians don’t realise how little we spend on foreign aid, and how much it can achieve. Personal stories like this might help not just your poor lady but thousands of others.
Interestingly we donate much more personally than we do as a country, yet a co-ordinated aid program sounds so much more valuable than each of us forking out a little bit for this lady who had the good fortune to meet you.
How about an open letter to (politicians).