We’ve arrived in Cambodia!

After almost 24 hours of travelling…we’re actually here!

Us with Save the Children
Us with Save the Children – by Sarath Keo from Save the Children

First feelings arriving in Phnom Penh? Warmth, humidity, bright colours and a distinctive scent in the air! Every street is lined with roadside vendors selling everything from food and household goods to snakes and giant ceramic Buddhas. The crazy traffic…the rule is: there are no rules as long as you use your horn! Lots of tuk-tuks & motorcycles whizz past carrying around four members of a family and several of their worldly possessions.

Motorcycle – by Emma Devine-Lawson

There are new developments on every corner alongside the traditional temples and buildings that survived the Khmer regime, such as the Royal Palace, built in 1856. The Cambodian people are very welcoming. The gap between the wealthy and the less fortunate is evident everywhere. For example, you’ll see children playing on the street alongside a Lexus car.

Child at roadside
Child at the roadside – by Karen Sutton

Our first meeting of the trip was with Save the Children staff, who talked to us about the history of Save the Children in Cambodia, the work they do and the challenges they face.
Did you know:

  •  50% of Cambodian people are under 20 years old, mostly because over 2 million people lost their lives under the regime of Pol Pot.
  •  28% of people live on $1.25 a day, around the same price as an IKEA BJORN bear soft toy.
  •  According to government figures, 96% of children start education but less than 50% of children finish school.
  •  40% of children suffer from stunting (malnutrition that stunts cognitive and physical development).
  • With Save the Children, the IKEA Foundation aims to support 78,000 children in six provinces and 147 schools over a three-year period. That’s enough to fill Old Trafford stadium!
  • 80% of children have experienced bullying and 39% fear going to school.
  • It takes 2 months and 15 days to train as a qualified teacher. Unfortunately, salaries are meagre so retention is low.
  • Climate change is affecting the education system with issues like flooding and migration.
  • Children with disabilities have little access to the education system.
Group picture with Buddhists
Group picture – by Sarath Keo from Save the Children

A large part of today was spent visiting the Tuol Sleng, formally a school that became a place of torture and imprisonment among the killing fields during the era of ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ and on the orders of Pol Pot in 1975. People were detained, interrogated, brutally tortured and eventually killed here. It was later converted into a genocide museum.

This has left the group feeling numb, emotional and very shocked, but it also showed us how can we make a positive difference with funding created through the Soft Toys for Education campaign. We’re looking forward to visiting our first primary school and meeting children, parents and teachers tomorrow….

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By Emma Devine-Lawson at Save the Children headquarters in Phnom Penh


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