In 2008 I took a trip that changed my view of the world, it amplified a desire to help others and created a drive and purpose in my life. I visited Papua New Guinea and volunteered while I was there, this set me down a path to volunteer and fund raise for causes that grabbed my attention. I had already been volunteering with various causes in Australia for many years, but there is something about work in developing nations that really grabs your heart and attention.
Since then I have travelled many places with the purpose of learning a culture, the history and the needs of an area. Growing up I remember reading about the genocide in Cambodia under Pol Pot, his drive to "reset" the nation back to "year zero" caused the deaths of at least 20% of the population. Pol Pot's "year zero" plan was to create a self-sufficient agarian society, based on communist principles. It is a dark place to start an article, but in order to understand Cambodia, you have to know where they have come from.
In 2011 I travelled to Cambodia and volunteered with Awareness Cambodia, an NGO that helps children orphaned by HIV. They run 3 types of programs: Orphanages, Education and Medical. While I was on this trip an opportunity opened up for me to tag along with a medical team from Australia as they travelled out to some very remote villages in some of the poorest provinces of Cambodia. I leapt at the opportunity and grabbed my camera, completely unprepared for what I was about to experience.The journey out to the villages was done in a few 4x4s, Cambodia is still recovering and much of the infrastructure is focused on Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and other major towns. We drove through muddy tracks and crossed rivers for most of the day before getting stuck within 2 kilometres of our intended destination. There were two grass huts where we got stuck, the people who lived in them volunteered them as our "medical clinic" so we set up right there!
Somehow the village got word that we were stuck there so they walked through the mud to come to the medical team. Literally hundreds of people ended up in the yard of this grass hut.
Over the course of several hours the medical team treated hundreds of patients, some were as simple as getting a check up, others were treated for what would be fairly simple ailments back home and yet others had actual surgery performed on them. Another section was set up to hand out glasses to those who needed them.
The next photo may be a little stressing to some, there is no overly gory details, but it was surgery performed by the team to remove a cyst / growth from a young boys hand without the aid of anaesthetic (very difficult to get into the country without it "disappearing" and nearly impossible to obtain within the country). This one wasn't performed in the village but at another village the next day.
Through out my travels I am constantly amazed at the ingenuity and budding entrepreneurship I see. While the villagers were waiting to be seen for treatment I observed two young guys speaking on their cell phones and then suddenly give each other a high-five. I wondered what their conversations were about and what prompted the celebratory high-five.
About 15 minutes later I was given an answer.
Some how they had organised for a moped delivery of snack food and drinks which they went on to sell to the hungry waiting crowd, talk about seizing an opportunity!
Since that initial trip, I have made many more trips, most of them leading teams of photographers for an organisation called The Giving Lens. The Giving Lens is a non-profit photography education organisation that does photographic tours / workshops, mostly in developing nations. The idea is to take a business model that works for many photographers (myself included) where we have workshops / tours in amazing places and other photographers travel there with us to learn more about photography as well as to get some amazing photos.
The Giving Lens takes that model and turns it around a little. The profits from each trip are donated to a local NGO (non-government organisation / charity) and the team will volunteer with the NGO for some of the trip, helping them document what they are doing as well as getting the word out about their efforts.
In Cambodia we've been partnering with an NGO called Anjali House, they work to get children off the streets and back into schools. Many children sell trinkets, books, postcards and other stuff to tourists visiting the temples to earn a living for their families. Anjali House helps break the poverty cycle by getting them back into schools, providing extra tuition outside of school ours and generally doing whatever they can to help these kids have a shot at getting out of poverty.
Cambodia is known mostly for its amazing ancient temples, some made famous by movies like Tomb Raider and others by various photos. We take the team there many times during our trip with a local guide who helps us get into the right places at the right times. Landscape photographers largely want uncrowded photos, so getting to the right spots at the right times is essential.
As we travel and interact with the locals you come to experience how friendly this nation really is. I've never had a single bad interaction with any locals ever in my many trips to Cambodia. Despite their struggles and, in many cases, abject poverty, they are a nation that are mostly happy, definitely happier than many of us who live in more developed nations. The Cambodian people are also generous, I've lost count the number of times I've been offered a meal when visiting with people in villages, people whose entire possessions are worth less than the camera I am hold most of the time. I think there is something for all of us to learn from there.
Over the trip we also visit villages, artisians and working temples. Each trip is incredibly different, with unique experiences. It has been really interesting to see the development happening in Siem Reap in particular, places that were run down rubble are now multi-level apartments, housing or hotels.
The ethos of The Giving Lens is to do a comfortable trip, but to also do the trip fairly cheaply so that a larger donation can be made, we also use local businesses and guides where possible, aiming to keep the money we spend within the country, rather than using chains and businesses that are based outside Cambodia.
All photos were obtained with permission from the subjects. I don't believe in exploiting people at all, treating them with the respect I would want at home, rather than like animals in a cage. The Giving Lens teaches a style of street photography that is not the usual "photograph sneakily / discretely", we believe the human connection is very important, so we always ask permission before taking a photo. Many times I've been turned down while travelling (particularly in Jordan and Egypt), but rarely in Cambodia. We always show them the photo after we've taken it as well.
I'll leave you with more photos from various trips to Cambodia, I will most likely be posting another post with more stories and photos from Cambodia down the track, let me know if that would be of interest to you.
Any reward gained from this article via the up voting will be donated to the NGOs I work with, so if you would like to donate, feel free to up vote.
Thanks for taking the time to read and check out my photos.
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