Do you think you could live on just a dollar a day? This is the reality that faced iiNet Compliance Manager Rebecca Moonen who spent the week in poverty-stricken Cambodia as iiNet’s ‘unsung hero’. Ten years of charity work in various institutions earned her the opportunity to travel with 12 players from the West Coast Eagles as part of the Tabitha Foundation – their mission, to build 20 houses in just two days. This is her story…
Day two: the Cambodian air is muggy and hot on day two of my mission with the Tabitha Foundation. I am immediately regretting my choice of jeans on the plane. We’ve been warned about cultural sensitivities out in the villages, and the need to have our knees and shoulders covered. With that thought in mind, we all jam in the mini bus for the ride to our hotel cursing our modest fashion choices. The Water Festival is in full swing- a celebration of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers changing direction – and we have to bribe officials to get into the city as over a million people have converged to celebrate and security are trying to keep large groups of people from entering the town.
Mike and Corrine Gurry jump into tour guide mode and point out local customs, the seemingly random traffic rules (pick any side of the road to drive on), and the large number of Lexus’ on the road. Apparently the GFC caused excess luxury car stock to be sold off dirt cheap to poorer countries, to prevent the glut from de-valuing the brand back home.
The Gurry’s are from Perth (Mike is the ex CEO of HBF) but now they choose to spend their time over here with the Tabitha Foundation. They’re welcoming, friendly, and (most importantly) select an excellent Thai restaurant for dinner. The boys all order 3 meals each and the dishes pour out of the kitchen. Realising the poverty in Cambodia, I’m worried that we might have excess food and appear wasteful but the boys scrape their plates clean and immediately start talking about breakfast.
My hotel room is interesting. The bathroom backs onto the street and has mesh over the windows but no glass. The roaring traffic dies down at 4am only to have the streets filled with barking dogs. I notice pink toilet paper plugging the holes in the fly screen and feel pretty darn clever for bringing a mosquito net. In the morning my tale of hotel woe was met with laughter and disbelief. Corrine tells me to request a room switch – I had picked a dud. We have breakfast at the hotel and board the bus for a day of sightseeing.
First stop is Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields) where Pol Pot killed millions of Cambodians. There are 17 tiers of bones in the memorial- clothes from the victims in the first, skulls (in order of forensically determined age and sex) on the 2nd- 9th tier, and hundreds of assorted bones in the final 8 tiers. It’s hard to conceptualise that each skull represented an actual person when there are so many.
We travel to S-21 and wander through the school block that was used to house the prisoners until it was their time to be killed. Only seven people made it out alive and we meet one of the men who managed to escape. The lone survivor holds no grudges and has even met with his torturers to shake their hand. My petty first world problems fade into insignificance as we board the bus back to the hotel.
To view more of the action from your computer screens, head here for a closer view courtesy of The West Australian.