Kao P’Dao is a village on Roungaev island in the Mekong River. Cambodia Rural Development Team organizes home-stays there in order to fund its efforts to help rural communities through programming in sustainable livelihoods. One of its programs is food security, which involves training in growing crops, as well as transitioning from reliance on fish to more diversified food sources. Our service on the island was helping with the construction of chicken and pig houses. Other CRDT programs are related to water and sanitation, renewable energy, environmental education, income generation, and waste management.
Our day started with making our beds and meeting the rest of the team in a community center at 7 am. As usually we had a Khmer lesson first and went over some specific words that are useful for our homestay such as bantup tdeuk (bathroom), peuk tdeuk (to drink water), and of course ping peang (spider), thom (big) and samlaap (kill). With our first day on the island we began learning about Buddhism. The quote of the day was “Empty your cup,” referring to right speech and right understanding. Morning was completed with noodles for breakfast instead of rice, which became our daily nutrition.
Before the sun arose on the sky we began to build the chicken houses, which the community declared as a need. The work was hard, because the required skills were not the ones we use in our daily life in Ross school. We were sweating terribly as we continued digging and carrying baskets of dirt under the very strong sun, but it was all worth it due to our swim in the Mekong River as our promotion. All of us were dressed appropriately, covering our knees and shoulders during swimming. As soon as we were done we became hungry and more voices were shouting klean bai (I’m hungry) waiting for food. Our lunch contained rice since we did not have it for breakfast, and it was the longest break without rice in the past week we had in Cambodia.
Right after lunch we had a guest, one of the oldest men in a village named Mom Sam Mey, who was a governor of this district in 1999. But he was there to share his experience on surviving the Killing Field and generally Khmer Rouge period. As the U.S. started bombing his island even before the Killing Fields he was a 22 year old educated soldier. As well as he had been a monk, for which he was captured and accused on the Killing Fields. He was strong and made it through as other 52 families on his island. In 1979 he joined the army of Cambodian National Liberation Front that organized against the Vietnamese-installed government following the Khmer Rouge regime. Later, he used his passion as a governor and now the island contains 168 families. Mom now has a beautiful wife and 10 kids (2 died).
Later we had to read the Pepy Reader book [a collection of articles organized by our hosts] and discuss whether there should be a Khmer Rouge trial or not, and surprisingly the opinions were equally spread. Dinner was delicious and healthy, and as we were having our meal we saw a beautiful fire-orange sun going down to be hidden behind other islands. We drove back home with our bikes and flashlights and as we were at our final destinations we immediately fell asleep regardless of the time. Since we all worked so hard as well as enjoyed the day, we were sleeping in our beds under mosquito nets by 7 pm.