Banner Staff Writer
It is a country only the size of Missouri.
Most of its citizens live in rural areas making only about a dollar a day.
The country is Cambodia — a land that has historically been war-ravaged and poverty-stricken.
This was the land Matthew Brown recently was able to visit in conjunction with the works of People for Care and Learning.
Brown said he had successfully bid on the trip during an event last year and “put it off a few times.”
But, he finally made the journey and related his views of what he saw while there to his fellow Rotarians during the Rotary Club of Cleveland’s meeting Tuesday.
Before his presentation, Brown put on a dark-blue silk shirt he bought during his trip.
“I figure I’m only going to have one chance to wear it, and that’s now,” Brown joked.
He began by giving some of the history of the country located between Vietnam and Thailand.
“Tourism is the second-largest industry and garments are the first,” Brown said. “It’s a very poor country.”
Brown said Cambodia has been constantly rocked by the shifting changes from Hinduism to Buddhism and back.
“Every 50 years, there’s another government or kingdom,” he said.
Brown showed pictures of the capital, Phnom Penh, noting many of the structures were on stilts or pilings of some kind.
“I think the water rises some 30 feet during the monsoon season,” he said.
He also showed a photograph of one of the city’s major thoroughfare’s jammed with vehicles.
“We spent the first three days learning how they chose who had the right of way,” he said. “We then found out he who has the biggest vehicle wins — except when it’s a more expensive vehicle.”
Brown was also able to visit places that served as interrogation camps and which led some to be taken to what are now famously called The Killing Fields.
“Andong was a community of people who lived in downtown Phnom Penh. They were squatters on a piece of land. They were uprooted because some wanted a hotel put where they lived. They picked them up and moved them to 6 acres in the middle of farmland,” Brown said.
He showed how People for Care and Learning was helping to build new housing and a marketplace for the residents there.
“These are good people just trying to make a living,” Brown said.
He said after seeing where so much death and suffering had taken place, “you’re just drained.”
But, they visited the PCL Children’s Home which provides a home for 27 children daily and also reaches out to provide meals, games and other programs for area youth.
“That recharged our batteries,” Brown said.