Heading East

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Summer 2015, I headed off from Sweden knowing I would not see Europe for more than a year. Cambodia would be my transit point along the way, to carry out a collaborative project together with the NGO Community First Initiatives (CFI) , before heading off to Brisbane, Australia for my year abroIMG_0414ad. Despite my not so great fondness of long flights, I felt excitement- Cambodia was always a place I had wanted to visit and I was ready to get going working with CFI. My first night was spent in Phnom Penh, where I visited the Killing Fields- a sad but important experience. My first impression getting a taxi from the airport to my hotel was unfortunately, ‘dirt’. Like in many other developing countries I have visited, the greatest sign of poverty is the overall lack of IMG_0654care and infrastructural systems for keeping a clean environment. The air pollution and dust was intense and there was garbage, just casually, thrown everywhere.
The next day I hopped on a bus to Siem Reap. Comfortable? Surprisingly, yes. Safe? Probably not. During my five weeks in Cambodia I came to realise that there seems to be a sort of mentality that the bigger you are on the road the more recklessly yIMG_0192ou can drive. Despite going at what felt like 200 km/h and a flat tyre, I got to Siem Reap in one piece and in the great company of a group of Filipino backpackers.
The next weeks were spent working with CFI and my two project colleagues from back in Edinburgh. The members of CFI were very welcoming and I learned a lot from them.
With CFI I got to help establish a scientific protocol for testing the effects of beneficial microorganisms on aquaponic systems, explore the set up of a new farm school and investigate the needs and improvement of pump wells and solar panels in a village called Ta Tril. Our working group also got a round tour of the NGO’s IMG_0655 (1)garden laboratory facility and having a big interest in plant biotechnology and agricultural development, this was very interesting to see.
As much as I liked the project and the concepts of the NGO, my feelings about Siem Reap and Cambodia
were very mixed as a whole. There are many beautiful sides to Cambodia- IMG_0500 (1)the temples, natural beauty, kind and outgoing people etc. but it is a country that is still in its rebuilding process. I was saddened by the street kids trying to trick tourists into buying milk powder for them which they could then sell. The feeling of not being able to breathe properly due to the dust was horrendous. I also managed to get sick, and good standard healthcare in Siem Reap was extortionate- what I, and many others have suspected, a scam to make money off of tourists’ travel insurance. It was with a sort of relief that I left a  country with great potential but where the motto ‘no money, no honey’ clearly stands.

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