Our first 6 days were spent with “Uncle Vic” and his staff at the Karuna Hostel. On the first full day there, we visited the slum project, a community of very poor people who live under the power lines and move around as needed for work, water and food. The weather was hotter and more humid than I expected. It pretty much zapped me of my energy, and all the water I drank to keep hydrated I just sweat right out of me! It was sweltering. When we returned to the hostel at 5 that evening we were starving. Being a little leery of the food, I put away a bowl of rice and drank several bottles of water. We were so tired the idea of going up to our air conditioned room to “rest” was not even debatable, so we climbed the three flights of stairs and passed out on our bed under the fan around 6:00pm and woke up bright eyed a few hours later at 11pm. Quite messed up on our sleep and internal clocks, we felt like it was morning so jumped downstairs to the main dining hall so we could get on the Internet and check in with home. It rained pretty hard on this first day so it messed up the water pressure in this little hostel so that there was no running water until the next day…..yes, we were pretty dirty!
I cannot tell you how amazing the experience was in the slums and what we saw – I hope my photos can help to tell the story. We were quite the celebrities, we played with the children (they were very intrigued by “the foreigners”) as they hammed it up for my camera and the adults began to appear from the huts and gather around the area to sit and observe. Uncle Vic said “they love foreigners because they want to have long noses and blonde hair”. It broke my heart when he said that because these are beautiful people and the children were gorgeous. There was a sense of sadness that prevailed as we left the place, children are children and their eyes lit up as we gave them attention and played with them, but what they don’t know now they will come to discover very soon – life is hard in the slums and there doesn’t seem to be much hope that it will ever be different, unless someone steps up to help change things.
The staff at Karuna Hostel are just young kids. This is a happy place for them as most of them are either rescued victims of the sex trade or considered “at risk” – they have no one but each other and Uncle Vic. The hostel is located outside of Phenom Penh in a small town, a very poor area. Most of the families in the villages do not have access to fresh water, no running water and no toilets. We stay in the SSF’s Karuna Hostel off the main road that runs through the small province, the SSF center is a separate facility not far from the hostel but in a more secluded area.
The weather it is almost unbearable but you just have to wrap your mind around it and drink a lot of water, we did spend our “siesta time” (most everyone takes a break from noon to 2) just languishing on the front porch of the hostel, orange soda in hand and listening to the music being played down on the street. The people do stare at us and smile and giggle, we communicate mostly with small bows with our hands folded to our chest, sincere smiles and hand gestures. The children are especially taken by my long blonde hair, at first they are a little stand off-ish but once they warm up to us they just want to play and want us to hold them. Pretty amazing.
So much to say, so more to come.
Love and peace!