Cambodia, known for its rice fields, temples, and natural beauty

Cambodia is a Southeast Asian country, bordering Vietnam, Lao and Thailand. In the south it borders the sea. Cambodia is four times the size of the Netherlands, but both countries have a population of approximately 17 million people. This is nowhere near the population of neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam with respectively 70 million and 97 million inhabitants.

Cambodia and its rich culture

Cambodia has a very rich culture. People believe in karma: if you do good in this life, you will be rewarded in the next. When thinking of Cambodia many people will conjure up an image of Angkor Wat – the largest temple complex in the world. Perhaps even more intriguing are the hundreds of other temples of Angkor, which reach deep into the jungle, some overgrown by plants and reclaimed by nature.

Cambodians speak their own language: Khmer. The Khmer curly script looks very delicate and graceful. “Graceful” is also what comes to mind with regard to the traditional arts, such as Cambodian traditional dance. The same goes for traditional colourful clothing, now mainly worn on festive occasions. All of this is a feast to the eye.

Cambodia, full of natural beauty

Besides its rich culture, Cambodia also offers great natural beauty. There are white sandy beaches and tropical islands in the south, rugged mountains in the north, and tropical rainforests inland. Traces of ever-advancing civilization can be seen everywhere: charming rice fields, but also deforestation.

Cambodia’s rich fauna is also fascinating – and especially the largest mammal on the Asian continent, the elephant. Its Khmer name is ដំរី (phonetically ‘Dom-ray’) and we have adopted this strong, brave and beautiful animal’s name for our foundation.

Cambodia, a country struggling with poverty and corruption

Even though Cambodia is in many ways very beautiful, the country struggles with poverty. Many Cambodians need to live on just 2 USD per day. It is not a given that children can grow up in a safe, healthy, child-friendly environment, or that parents can cover the expenses that come with going to school. Children are sometimes asked to help their parents in their family businesses, or to work elsewhere to contribute to the family income. In addition, many children are separated from their parents out of sheer necessity when those parents try to find a better income in the city or even abroad. An even more worrisome problem is child prostitution, which happens on a relatively large scale.

Another issue Cambodia is dealing with is corruption. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks countries around the world based on how corrupt their public sectors are perceived to be, Cambodia scores a mere 23 out of 100 points. As a result Cambodia is ranked close to the bottom of the list, suggesting the level of perceived corruption is very high. It is obvious that this has a negative impact on the future of Cambodian children.

Cambodia’s bloody history

It was in the final years of the 1970s that a terrible genocide took place in Cambodia. The ‘Khmer Rouge’ wanted to set up a self-supporting agricultural state and they terrorised the population to accomplish their ideal.Everything concerned with religion, culture and education was forcefully put to a stop. Cities were cleared, schools were closed, children were separated from their parents. Intellectuals, monks, artists and citizens were considered to be enemies of the state. Over a quarter of the population were murdered by the ‘Khmer Rouge’ or died of hunger, hard labour or diseases. After liberation in 1979 Cambodia started to work on rebuilding the country, but unfortunately this has proved to be a slow and complicated process.

Cambodia has one of the youngest populations in Southeast Asia. About one third of the population is between the ages of 0 and 14. By way of comparison: in the Netherlands this is only 16%. By helping these young people access education and by stimulating personal development we enable them to contribute to the sustainable development of their country.