Since the end of last term numerous people have very kindly donated money to this cause that we are supporting. Two young children sold their excess toys and have donated the proceeds of the sale. The empathy of children so young is astounding and heart wrenching.
The school, children and village we are supporting are in the Siem Reap area of Cambodia. This area is dominated by the lost temples of Angkor Wat. Ruined temples and palaces are dotted throughout the vicinity – as examples of the Khmer Empire. Lost for centuries much of the Angkor complex is over run by jungle and trees which rise majestically and encompass the ancient ruins.
Tourism dominates the town of Siem Reap but only a few miles out, the realities of peoples lives are obvious. Similar to the Somerset Levels the land is flat and dominated by systems of ditches that transfer and drain the water necessary for the rice crops. During the monsoon season these drains become saturated and the water table rises. Houses are built on stilts to ensure people retain their homes and limited possessions. The poorest people live on the water all the time. Their houses are built on higher stilts and they often become pig and fish farmers.
Our contact is a man called Sydem. He works as a guide and he and some other guides have joined together to try and help their people. At present he is working with some Danish connections to provide computers and furniture to secondary schools.
As a young boy he and his family were inevitably caught up in the political turmoil that dominated Cambodia. His father was a teacher – not a good profession to be in. His mother brought up 7 children on her own. Sydem worked in the waters of the rice fields and was the bullock boy. At the age of 14 he was kidnapped by the Khymer Rouge and forced to become a boy soldier.
When I left you in the last newsletter Sydem had been captured by the Khymer Rouge and forced to be a boy soldier. I did not add that two of his other brothers were also captured. (That is a story for another day) Just the thought of a young by being put under that sort of situation is desperate – I cannot even think how his mother felt.
Sydem himself is very quick to say he did not have to bear arms – instead he had to carry the equipment that caused much of the pain and anguish. One night about three months (Cambodians are not good about time) into his capture, he and two of his friends managed to escape. The surrounding area was littered with strategically placed land mines. The young boys, frightened and scared by their situation just ran. The inevitable happened but two of them escaped.
Desperate Sydem knew that if he returned to his mother’s home he would only put what remained of the young family in immediate danger. Instead he made his way to a small monastery and hid in a flour bag for nearly a year. An old monk looked after him and tended the very vulnerable child.
A fund has been set up to support the Children in Cambodia – however we would like to invite anyone who would like to become involved further to contact Mrs Fotheringham.
Sydem managed to escape from the Khymer Rouge Army – but at great cost.
He did not know that two of his brothers had also fled from the clutches of the Khymer Rouge. One managed to get away but the other was captured. He was tied to a tree and left to the mercies of the jungle. It was only by the greatest of luck that some very brave locals found him and nursed him back to life.
In the monastery Syden was constantly in fear of detection and remained in seclusion. For a year his and the lives of those hiding him were at risk. He decided to make a break for the main road which links the village to Siem Reap. The surrounding countryside is flat, covered in watery rice fields. A few trees surround the village but from then on the countryside is open.
One moonless night Syden made a bid for the main road. He was picked up by some sympathetic travellers and made his way to Siem Reap. In the bigger town he was able to gain anonymity and once again he joined a monastery. It was here that he developed his love and thirst for knowledge. It is here he realised the importance of education.