Lately, I have been reading extensively on the history of Cambodia and its dark period, rule by the Khmer Rouge. The re-telling of these devastating four years has opened my eyes to the physical and psychological torture the Cambodian citizens were forced to endure. Reading two memoirs, written by survivors, has provided me with insight into the trauma caused by the horrific acts of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. In the first memoir “To the End of Hell”, a French citizen shares her experience in the agrarian labor camps, and the atrocities she witnessed. The second memoir “First They Killed My Father”, is told from the perspective of a young, middle-class Cambodian girl who was forced to become a child soldier of the Khmer Rouge after her father, a former police officer in the overthrown government, was executed.
Many of the individuals who were fortunate enough to survive this genocide are still living to this day. With this in mind, I must be conscious that I will likely encounter survivors during my time in Cambodia. Many of these people have been permanently scarred, preventing them from trusting that there is hope for a brighter future.
Since the goal of my Peace Corps service is to provide the individuals of my community with an improvement in health, I must keep in mind that at times progress may be slow. I must first instill a sense of trust in the lives of those whom I hope to assist. If what I have read about the Cambodian people is true, they are a kind and welcoming population, yet something which is precious to all of us has been taken from them. They have lost their faith in humanity. In a travel narrative by Dutch author, Carsten Jensen, he wrote that many Cambodians will tell you that “Cambodia is bad.” This bleak outlook for their future develops from both the wickedness of the Khmer Rouge and also the current state of their political system.
The government is currently quite unstable. This instability has trickled down into the educational system where it has resulted in the lack of many Cambodians receiving a proper education. There is a high level of corruption from the educators which makes attending school a very costly task. This lack of education has resulted in poor hygiene and living standards.
Serving as a health educator in Cambodia will not be an easy job, yet it is not an insurmountable task. Though the Cambodian people may be hesitant to trust in a brighter future, they are eager to improve their lives. With my assistance as a health educator and the willingness of the people, I hope to spend the next two years of my life making a difference in the lives of my Cambodian community.