Not far from Kampong Chhnang, one of the provinces of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, there are two other districts: Rorka Bphear and Teuk Phos.
It is here that the small villages find space inhabited mostly by very poor elderly marginalized by everything else.
They are people, people like us, with our same physical characteristics, the same emotions but they have experienced much more pain and are still suffering from the effects of the Pol Pot Regime. Everyone knows that the atrocities committed during this regime have been so many, too many. A regime focused on the massacre of about a million and a half people (children, women and the elderly) including thousands of deaths due to malnutrition, forced labour and poor hygiene and medical care. One third of the Cambodian population unjustly lost their lives in the period between 1975 and 1979, known as Cambodian genocide.
Unfortunately, the aftermaths of all this suffering are still present today and reside like ghosts inside homes almost completely forgotten by the rest of reality.
Many of these seniors have lost part of their family, they live marginalized and suffer because of their illness, their poverty, unable to think clearly about themselves. A cycle of poverty that is handed down from generation to generation. The reason for everything is that the elderly themselves, having lost their children, in turn have been forced to take care of their grandchildren, who are also unable to think about themselves and consequently to others, because they are deprived of education, health care and information.
Poverty is so strong and so present that it is debased day after day, triggering a vortex of negative thoughts in which they cannot project themselves into a rosy future.
Walking on the road, between burnt land and open-air construction sites where children play carelessly with what they find along their route, there is Cheang Vorn. Cheang is an 89-year-old lady. Her body speaks for itself. The continuous physical jolts and the wrong medicines taken during the course of her life have caused her a disease that causes her to not think about herself.
Not even a couple of meters later is 68-year-old Peang Yat, a woman whose disability blocks her use of her arms and hands, preventing her from doing any work. She has no brother or sister and parents died when she was younger.
In another small corner of earth and trees there is Keo Thol. Keo (between the ages of 60 and 70) was born disabled. His parents took care of him until their death during the Pol Pot Regime after which he was left completely at the mercy of himself. His house is essential: a small shack with a bed, utensils to cook and a bicycle-wheelchair that allows him to move independently in the surroundings. To support himself, he adjusts the bicycles of other people even if his earnings are relatively low if not imperceptible.
Not to mention Em Sok. Em is a 78-year-old blind man. During the Pol Pot Regime around the age of 12 he started to no longer see because of an insect bite or perhaps due to a virus. Not being able to go to the doctor he completely lost the use of sight to get thus the removal of eyeballs. His mother took care of him until after the fall of Pol Pot. After the death of his mother, Em began to provide completely to himself using the other 4 senses. Despite not seeing, he manages to wash and cook. His friends and neighbours, as far as possible, try to help him by feeding him.
At the end of another dirt road, instead, is Hang Roeung. Hang is a 69-year-old woman who unfortunately was nicknamed “the madwoman” although she does not denote any symptoms of true hysteria. She suffered heavy losses, like that of her husband killed during the Pol Pot regime, and the subsequent loss of all her children. The excruciating pain led her to throw herself inevitably on alcohol, the alternatives for her were very few. However, she is in the process of recovery, she does not want to continue on this path and her body begins to show signs of improving.
Also, a bad burn on her right thigh due to an incident occurred with boiling water. She is sweet and sad; her eyes speak more than you could imagine.
They are all people who have suffered and are suffering, they are not ordinary poor who resort to alms giving for an easy gain. Their only and small consolation is that they can have company, someone who supports them, that informs them about everything else that surrounds them and helps them survive with the little food they need, the right information and health care for which an ordinary person is about to use when the body comes to suffer the pains of hell.
These people, whose flame of hope has never vanished, all have as common denominator – Maria Thyda Rath.
Maria is a strong Cambodian woman with solid principles, with her accounting background in one of Cambodia’s leading companies, as well as for a number of international non-governmental and local organizations. She has significant specializations in the field of corporate financial management, management of NGO operations, human resources management and assistance to international and local NGOs through complex NGO registration processes and tax compliance.
Maria also provides training in Khmer and English in these areas. She, along with Paul Hughes, also a staff member, effective in helping organizations in times of change by providing exceptional management, innovative solutions and excellent projects, has developed a strong belief: to re-establish and sustain a sense of dignity, respect and love to improve the quality of life of these seniors.
Maria, as well as founder of the NGO New Day, New Life chose this name for the NGO because during her many field research, she stumbled into their knowledge giving a revolutionary boost to her life.
Bringing love, happiness, and hope by providing for basic needs such as food, health, and healing of the spirit has led to generous parental donations from friends to create packages on parcels addressed to at least 20 people in these districts., thus developing a real community dedicated to mutual aid, to their valorisation, to information on hygiene and to the increase of means of subsistence that contribute to the poverty line that afflicts the province of Kampong Chhnang.
The New Day New Life project is divided into 4 points:
- Feeding: specialized on the distribution of food (rice, dry food etc)
- Community: specializing in the construction of houses for the community, the sustenance of the elderly themselves and the provision of adequate medical assistance
- Early Prevention: specialized on children, mostly grandchildren of these seniors who are left in disarray and unable to think about themselves
- Business as Mission: specialized on profits and donations that allowed to help sustain the first three points of the project.
New Day New Life is a non-profit Christian organization focused on resolving and restoring unmet need for these poor elderly people living in remote areas of Cambodia. A nation that does not have many programs focused on the welfare of the elderly.
We often forget that at the end of our journey, when we get older, we return to being children with the same needs if not greater. These people have gone into oblivion or perhaps they have always been, but even more so they need help, especially in the context in which they live, with the bones that hurt and the thoughts even more. We try for a second to close our eyes and put ourselves in their place, we feel the same feelings, we try to make them our own. So, let’s reopen our eyes, let us pause for a moment on our thoughts and ask ourselves this question: are we ready to be marginalized?
Story and Photos from Anna and Matteo of Nutshell Travel. Story reproduced, with permission, from their blog called “Nutshell Travel“