Monday, August 09, 2010

Next Destination: Cambodia

No, I didn't get lost on the way to Alaska. This blog entry is out of sequence, for reasons that will become evident when you read it. I will return to the Alaska adventure with the next post.

I recently ate breakfast with a group of pilots, one of whom was preparing for a trip to Cambodia in order to do volunteer work. "Wow!" said I, and trained my shark-mounted laser vision on him to demand details.

Cambodia, as I knew only vaguely, is a country in Asia, between Thailand and Vietnam, which suffered a Communist takeover in the 1970s and then a Vietnamese occupation and a civil war in the 1980s. In an attempt to have only a gullible proletariat to rule, the communists set out to kill the intelligentsia, eliminating everyone with the education to mount an effective opposition. This meant statesmen, teachers, doctors, and masters of the cultural arts. The frenzy came to the point where people with glasses were subject to imprisonment or execution, because everyone knows glasses are a symbol of smartness. Many who weren't executed starved to death in the disruption. Look at the people who are leading first world countries today: the politicians, corporate leaders, senior civil servants. They were probably all educated or mentored in the 1970s and 1980s. Cambodia hasn't got those people. Cambodia also has one of the highest proportion of amputees in the world, due to the legacy of land mines from all the conflicts. This doesn't put their infrastructure or agriculture on a firm footing. There's no reason they can't be a self-sustaining nation again, but they need some help.

What is being done to help?

Canada delivers a lot of foreign aid around the world, including Cambodia. Janne Ritskes, a woman who worked with a Canadian government programme delivering aid became frustrated with the organizational inefficiency. Like so many people frustrated with the management of their organizations she said "I could do a better job." Unlike most people she quit the inefficient job and set up shop to prove it. She runs Tabitha, a non-profit organization entirely operated by Cambodians. The organization is Christian, but not evangelical. I suspect many of the staff are Buddhist. A lot of what they do is just encouraging people to save money in order to make incremental improvements to their lives. That may seem obvious to you, but you probably grew up in a society where people were doing that. There is hardly anyone alive in Cambodia who remembers the 1970s, but I can't see that people today have much in the way of role models for long range planning. It takes savings of $960 to build a house, but for some families who have absolutely nothing, Tabitha will build them a house after they have saved a token amount, just to get them into the programme. This group from Vancouver is going to build homes.

Who is going?

The core of this group are members of the Vancouver Police Department, but I don't have to be affiliated with the police in any way in order to join them.

When are we going?

The latter half of November 2010.

What skills or experience do volunteers I need to have?

None. I know how to hit a nail with a hammer, at least nine times out of ten, but apparently even that is in excess of minimum qualifications.

Is it safe?

You know the pilot is going to ask that. The guy who invited me went on a previous trip and he didn't get mugged or sold into slavery. We will need a tonne of vaccinations and precautions against tropical diseases, and not step anywhere there isn't already a path. If you're going to go to a country where conditions are unknown, going there surrounded by police officers seems like a good bet.

"You want to go, don't you?" he asked me. Well, yeah, I do. It was pretty obvious. I've never been to Asia. I've never been anywhere in the third world, unless you count Nunavut. I've never built a house. But as you probably figured from the first person pronouns above, I'm going. I signed up as soon as I checked with my doctor to make sure that all the vaccinations were okay for me.

Originally the group thought that they would get a grant from the Vancouver Police, as in previous years it had been a team-building effort for the force, but this year they didn't receive the money, so I just found out participants have to fundraise for the materials necessary to do the building. Right now the people in Vancouver are busy organizing pub nights and silent auctions and the like to bring in the cash. But I'm not in Vancouver, and I can't be a freeloader. The more we raise, the more houses we can build. The whole housebuilding project is a crafty way to spread awareness of the organization and to get North Americans with enough money to go on foreign trips to raise some money. How will I do my part?

So far this is the best idea I have:

Would you please donate some money? To make it not something for nothing, I'll send donors a postcard, from Cambodia or from somewhere on my travels for work. I can also offer you a blog entry that's not on the blog, perhaps one of the ones that was too emotional, or gave details of an emergency that could be used to pinpoint my company. If you are a new reader and weren't around in 2006, you should probably request the northern smoke saga. I also have some bloglike accounts from before I started the blog of my own initial flight lessons, and of learning to fly a Twin Otter. Maybe you have a special request for a blog topic. Let me know what you would like in appreciation of your donation. You will receive a Canadian tax receipt; sorry if that's not useful in your country. Everyone, whether you donate or not, will get an account of the trip, via this blog.

How to Donate

This is slightly trickier than one-click ordering, so please read carefully to make sure the money is credited on my behalf, to the right team. I've left out the obvious instructions like "click Donate Now" and "enter your donation amount." I'm figuring that Cockpit Conversation readers are all smart enough to be targeted in an anti-elitist purge. Or at least have your glasses on.

1. Go to the Canada Helps website.
2. Search for "tabitha" and select Tabitha Foundation from the results.
4. Opposite Fund/Designation choose 2 - Housebuilding - "Vancouver House Building Team Nov.2010". [This is a change: it was #17 before].
5. Opposite Dedications and Gift Options choose Yes, as a gift in honour/on behalf of and put "Aviatrix" there.
6. Either choose the e-card option, or just e-mail me to let me know what you've donated, so I can know I'm successfully raising funds and awareness, and figure out how many houses we can assemble. My e-mail address is still

Thank you very much for anything you choose to donate. Note that your donation is going directly to Tabitha and is used exclusively for building materials which I and the group will use to build homes for brutally poor Cambodians. My airfare, spending money and living expenses for the trip come out of my pocket.


gosling said...

"Look at the people who are leading first world countries today: the politicians, corporate leaders, senior civil servants. They were probably all educated or mentored in the 1970s and 1980s. Cambodia hasn't got those people."

Well, gee, perhaps they are lucky that way. I'm not attempting to make light of the horrible things that happened in Cambodia, but it's funny to read a suggestion that they are suffering now because they lack politicians and corporate leaders as wonderful as ours. I'm pretty sure, for instance, that George Bush would have been left alone by Pol Pot's men, correctly sized up as a village idiot.

Aluwings said...

@gosling - I'm going to hazard a guess that you haven't spent time yet in a country with a completely destroyed infrastructure, including in this case, even a lack of people with the basic experience for leadership ....? You'll correct me if I'm wrong.

Those of us living in developed countries have no concept of the difficulties people face to "bootstrap" an entire country.

We take our infrastructure for granted without realising. As much as we complain about some of our leaders, trust me - there's worse scenarios.

I look forward to Aviatrix's observations once she's on scene. I'm sure they'll be eye-opening.

Contribution to follow. Go Aviatrix!

majroj said...

After I read and corresponded with a nearly-local responder to Haiti a bit after the quake, I see why failed nations are incredibly hard to make progress in; they have degenerated into an "everyone for himself" deal and descending aid workers seen as pinatas.

One of the wonders of Cambodia is that it seems to be amost uniquely free of militaristic warlords. Having been through the ringer from the Vietnamese military, I guess that is pretty understandable. (Look, Ma, no guns).

Heaven help them if someone decides to start growing poppies there, or finds oil or uranium.

Jeremy said...

Hey Aviatrix,

I think it's awesome that you're going to Cambodia and using your muscle power to help out in a real physical sense. Regardless as to the history and politics discussed above, the key thing is that many poor people need safe shelter, we come from rich countries and can afford to help out. Actually going there and physically helping has many benefits besides just the manual labour. I've done a few similar trips to El Salvador through Habitat for Humanity, and it has been some of the best experiences I've had in terms of meeting the local families and being able to experience their joy with them as their life improves.

Have a great trip and it should provide some great blog material too!

Julien said...

I am so looking forward to those blog posts Aviatrix :-)

For those like me who may wonder why send volunteer unskilled labour from Western countries instead of hiring local builders, this page will explain why. A very smart scheme indeed, and from what I can gather a scheme run on a shoestring and with integrity.

A Squared said...

You don't think that the Cambodians are going to be a little freaked out by someone with green hair?

Julien said...

@A Squared: Haven't you heard of the Khmer Vert (Green Khmer)? :-)

D.B. said...

Sounds like a great opportunity for you, Aviatrix, to make a difference (and get a cool new stamp on your Canadian passport), and also for me to back you up.

I will be making a donation.

D.B. (aka N6349C)

Jim said...

Donation made.

For the e-card option there are a somewhat disappointing number of choices, so I selected a birthday card on the assumption you will have one sometime this year.


GeorgeG said...

I'm in for my little bit. I can't guess whether such things help, but I don't think good will and honest work can hurt.

Thanks to DB for his lucid comments to my naive question a couple of posts ago. I enjoy following Aviatrix' blogs, obviously, but the comments of my fellow readers add greatly to the value of the blog for me.

-Thanks, you guys!

Sarah said...

OK, I'm in. Have a great trip!
My e-card was the only flying related one ... the birthday balloons.

Anonymous said...

as another aviatrix blogger has on her website
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

I'm in and thank you for being a caring adventurous person

majroj said...

Someone's visiting "chopper chick" Desiree Horton's blog. That's where I read about ths one.

Kheris said...

I lived in Washington DC in a building owned by Georgetown University during the era of the Killing Fields. I was in a 1 BR apt that had room enough for 2. My roommate left and the lady running the building contacted me shortly after and suggested a new roommate for me. Turned out she was the Director of Linguistics at the University of Phnom Penh. I remember coming back from work and finding her sitting in a circle with a bunch of Cambodians. The killings had started and they were in tears because they could not go home. It was terrible.

She wound up as a nanny because her credentials couldn't pass muster with American Universities.

I admire you Aviatrix for doing this.