Background

Cambodia suffered attempted genocide, war, extensive bombing, deprivation and the destruction of their country and almost their entire culture.  The repercussions of the last four decades 20th century are still being felt today. Many people are aware of the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge during the years 1975-1979, but less are aware of the events leading up to 1975 and the events after 1979. Bombing through the 1960s and 70s helped to recruit for the Khmer Rouge, after 1979 the Vietnamese occupied the country. The UNTAC mission in 1993 was not a complete success and brought a new set of problems, like the increase in the sex trade and HIV.  It did not disband, or even disarm all of the fighting factions, like the Khmer Rouge, even though that was one of its mandates.

Recently released archives have shown that Cambodia was bombed from 1965, and that bombing was not confined to the Ho Chi Mihn trails. Siem Reap province is hundreds of Kilometers from those trails but was bombed several times before the 1970s.  The latest research shows that more than 2.7 million tonnes of explosives are estimated to have been dropped on Cambodia by the USA. It is not known how many people lost their lives due to the bombing but it has been estimated to be well over half a million people.

The US backed coup of 1970 began the civil war. At that time the Khmer Rouge were being trained and assisted by the North Vietnamese.  The North Vietnamese took over the airport of Siem Reap on the 8th June 1970, this also meant that the temples of Angkor, just north of Siem Reap were occupied as well. From then until 1975 the front line was only 1km from the Grand Angkor Hotel, the former Raffles, which was being used as a headquarters for the Khmer Republic Army.

To the people living in the occupied zone it meant the loss of everything five years earlier than most of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge abolished all land ownership and made it collective. Villages were burned and people lost land that had been in their families for generations. They also lost all their personal possessions other than the clothes they were wearing and came under a brutal regime. Siem Reap was still being bombed in 1976, although which air force carried out the bombings is still not known.

By the time the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power in 1979, the ancient temples were boobie-trapped and their grounds sewn with landmines.  All the Wats in Siem Reap had been desecrated, the monks who hadn’t escaped the country were either executed or forced to disrobe. All educated people who came to the attention of the Khmer Rouge had been executed, even people who wore glasses were suspected of being educated and also executed.  But the war raging around Siem Reap did not end in 1979. As late as 1994, villagers and teachers were still being executed by the Khmer Rouge in Siem Reap province and some 30 thousand lost their homes in one incident alone.

The war did not come to an end until 1999 when the last of the Khmer Rouge were disbanded. From 1965 until 1999, Cambodians were not safe in their homes.

Siem Reap is still one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia, despite the money tourism brings in.  Tourism has provided thousands of jobs for locals, but it has also brought some problems, like the increased cost of living in Siem Reap and the bane of sex tourism.

Outside the city the rural people are still living in grinding poverty and essential services are difficult to access and afford. Medical facilities in rural areas are very few and far between for example and this means it costs too much to get to them.  Besides the cost for transport and food, people lose a day’s income, something none of them can afford.

The key to the future of the Cambodian people is education, however, despite record levels of children enrolling in early education, less than one in ten will complete high school. Very few of those can afford to go to university.

This makes the skills gap caused by the Khmer Rouge and ten years of Vietnamese occupation that Cambodia is still suffering from much harder to address, however the thirst for education of young people is incredible. If they are given a chance they will make the most of it. This has been the experience of the founder of eOcambo, a hand up plus hard work and determination has shown that someone can raise themselves out of poverty and bring others along with him. This is the aim of the eOcambo Foundation.

The eOcambo Foundation was set up to help address the challenges facing Cambodians in the Siem Reap area. The Foundation helps to support education of rural children mainly, however it also participates in several other projects and facilitates projects set up by staff and guests.  Please see our projects page for more information on what projects eOcambo Foundation is involved with this year.