Tuesday, August 15, 2006

July 20, 2006:

Dear all,


It has been raining A LOT lately. It's unfortunate that I'm in
Cambodia during the raining season… And it tends to start raining
quite hard at 4-5pm, right when everyone is looking forward to getting
off work! Lately, we've had to stay later in the office, waiting for
the rain to stop. The other day, Isabelle and I decided to bike home
and 2 minutes later, it started to rain… within 2 minutes, we were
ABSOLUTELY soaked, I could barely see in front of me, it was raining
SO HARD! How fun.


I'm not sure how to write this email. I visited my first shelter
yesterday. It was a shelter for children who were victims of rape or
trafficking. They also had a few disabled children, the ones who have
been abandoned because of mental or physical disabilities. My friends
Shoko and Sam were visiting, so I got the permission from ECPAT to
bring them along. The shelter is called "Goutte d'Eau" (Swiss NGO)
and is run by local Cambodians. It was absolutely beautiful… in a
remote area, but such a wonderful place for children to heal and
relearn to enjoy their youth. The kids were absolutely adorable, I
wish you could have seen them. They sang a few songs for us (Sam
taped it, we'll see if I can show it to you sometime)… we just went
and played with the kids for a while. For the majority of them, you
could never guess by looking at them that they have survived
trafficking and/or rape… but there were some who were very reserved,
afraid, and you could feel their needs for love and affection. One
girl in particular broke my heart. She must have been around 8 years
old, but the way she held herself, she could have been 25. While most
of the kids were running around us laughing and playing, she stayed on
the side, in the background, with such a serious look on her face… and
in her eyes, you could feel the sadness, you could feel that she has
been hurt deeply. She stood next to me as the kids began to sing
songs for us. It was a beautiful song, she sang softly but
beautifully. While all the kids had huge smiles on their faces during
the song, her face was incredibly serious and her voice held so much
emotion. I can't imagine what was going through her mind, but by the
end of the song, she had a tear in her eyes. I was unsure on how I
should behave around the kids. To be honest, I just wanted to hold so
many of them. Knowing what they have gone through, I wasn't sure if
it would be okay… but they're still children and in so much need of
affection. This little girl stood close to me and I put an arm around
her. She put her arm around my waist too, but she still didn't smile.
I wish I could have made her smile.


Most of the kids were so lively! They were running around so much that
I felt exhausted watching them… but it was great to see them run and
laugh and PLAY. They were beautiful kids, absolutely beautiful
children. I am glad they have found a home at this shelter. It seems
like the staff really cared for all the kids and the shelter provided
them with the perfect environment to grow, heal, and learn to find joy
in life again. I kind of regret not interning at a shelter now… Back
in the U.S., when I was debating between working at a shelter or an
NGO like ECPAT, I was worried that my limited language skills would
prevent me from really helping and connecting with the kids (victims)…
but after spending a day there, I think I would have loved it. I wish
I could stay here longer. I wish I could do so much more, but 2
months and a half is really short… and I'm really missing my parents
and all of you guys!


There's so much going on here… I can't write about all of it (no time
+ my laziness). I am enjoying the experience, I can feel myself grow
a lot from it (for better or for worse)… but there are so many things
that I need to figure out for myself. I can't explain what's
happening to me here, but I don't know if I could ever be "carefree"
again. We'll see.


Ok, that's it for now. Keep writing to me please J I love reading
your emails… I'm sorry I'm so horrible at replying though! We only
get a half hour of internet every day… and considering how slow it is,
I fall asleep waiting for the page to load… blah.


Take care everyone!

Vanna

p.s. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KIM!!! I wish I were there to celebrate it with
you… but you know we're thinking of you. I love you, Kim!

p.p.s. Happy Birthday, Mary! Hope you're having a great time in North
Carolina!


------------------------------------------------------------

July 10, 2006

Dear All,


We are having some serious internet issues at work. We now have to
use dial-up internet… But I'm not going to complain too much since not
everyone has easy access to the internet.

This weekend, we visited quite a few temples. Some of you may
remember that my grandma passed away last semester. This weekend
(between Saturday and Sunday) marked the 100th day since her death.
According to Cambodian customs, we have a sort of ceremony for her. I
know in the states, my family did something, but we had our mini
version of a ceremony for her here. For me, I think our mini ceremony
was even more meaningful because we actually went to my grandma's
birthplace. Grandma was born in the Takeo province in 1920… our
relatives here took us to see the area where she used to live, where
my mom grew up. That province is developing, but it is still poor
(like all of Cambodia). I tried to imagine my mother growing up
there, but I had a hard time picturing her in these settings. I'm
really glad we went. In a way, it made me feel closer to grandma…

Anyway, we went to three temples (too many in my opinion), it felt as
if we were in some kind of competition, racing to as many temples as
possible before noon. Oh, I forgot to mention that we had to set our
alarms at 4:30 AM (!) and we were out the door by 5 am. Because I am
illiterate in Khmer and the streets of Phnom Penh look very different
when all the stores are closed, I couldn't find my way to my aunt's
house (and it didn't help that our moto driver wasn't listening to my
directions!!!). Anyway, we almost missed them… Drove about two hours
to Takeo where we were the first ones to enter this particular temple
(I forgot the name of it, but it's supposed to be special). We got
four monks to ourselves (which is a privilege) and they did a prayer
for grandma and then they blessed us with holy water… In the U.S. and
in France, we're used to getting "sprinkles" of water, you get a
little wet, just a little! Which is why Isabelle and I were so
surprised to find ourselves COMPLETELY SOAKED from head to toes. If I
would have known, I would have worn different clothes. And as the
monks threw SO MUCH water at us, we were so shocked that Isabelle and
I couldn't help but laugh… no matter how hard we tried from keeping
ourselves from laughing (it's kind of disrespectful…), the noises that
Isabelle made (trying so hard to keep it in) made me burst out
laughing. Anyway, I bet the monks thought we were just dumb "ba-rang"
(or extremely immature and poorly mannered). I will send pictures of
our "holy soaked" experience in the near future…

We also visited some relatives (still unclear on how we're all
connected, but it doesn't matter), and they were telling us stories
about mom's childhood—it was nice. They kept on looking at us as if
we were from the planet Mars. I guess it's understandable, we are
from a different world. I know they were hoping that we would give
them money… but the thing is, I'm getting broke (and feeling quite
nervous about the next month and a half), so we really couldn't give
them anything… I hope they don't hate us.

* a little freaked out *
As some of you may know, France lost last night. Isabelle and I woke
up at 2am to watch it and were really sad to see our team lose *tear*…
life goes on. But when we went back to bed, I'm pretty sure we heard
gunshots… I know Cambodians love to make bets and tend to get drunk
while watching football (soccer) games. My guess is that somebody
lost a bet, got angry and started shooting. The papers would probably
not mention any of it, so I don't know for sure what really happened…
My co-workers, though, are telling me that things like that are not
out of the ordinary… Just a few years ago, most people carried guns in
Phnom Penh. I can't imagine how it must have been like then.

At work: last week, I attended my very first official meeting! The
program manager invited me to sit in this meeting between the
government (5 ministries) and different NGOs. They were drafting an
agreement between the government and NGOs on how to handle cases of
human trafficking. The agreement explained the roles of the government
and NGOs in helping victims of trafficking. It was really interesting
to see the NGOs and the government interact. I know the government is
very corrupt, but the government representatives at the meeting were
very intelligent and highly knowledgeable on the issue of human
trafficking in Cambodia. I couldn't help but be impressed. I was
also happy to see that women were well represented at this meeting and
they weren't afraid to speak up. A lot of the NGOs shared with us
different cases of human trafficking… it was very interesting. I also
learned a lot of new (and sophisticated) Cambodian words.

In the other project I'm working on (the Make-IT-Safe campaign), we're
having issues with another NGO. Apparently, this NGO (well, its
representative) hates ECPAT and wants us to disappear… wow. I was
really surprised to learn this, but I'm meeting with them tomorrow.
They're also working on protecting children in cyberspace, and it
would make sense for us to collaborate—work TOGETHER. We're both
working towards the same goal, who cares who gets the credit? They're
doing great work and it wouldn't make sense for us to compete against
each other… I've been communicating with this person via email and
I've been very nice and respectful. The intern before me, though,
warned me that this representative sees ECPAT as a threat. I don't
know, I guess we'll see what happens tomorrow. Maybe it'll help that
I'm a "new" face, maybe she'll be willing to work together… cross your
fingers!

Okay, that's it for now. Thanks to those of you who continue to send
me emails… I'm sorry I can't reply as fast as I normally would, but I
promise I will (with the limited access to the internet, it will take
me a while…).

Please keep me updated on what's going on from your side of the
planet. I really miss you guys!!!

~Vanna

p.s.: Phala & Jontue: HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!!


-----------------------------------------------------------

July 2-3, 2006:


Roosters. It's official, I hate roosters. I guess, I shouldn't
generalize, I hate "Rambo" the rooster, our neighbor's rooster. Rambo
is way too loud and, really, he has no sense of time. His
"cuckle-doodle-dos" at all times of the night and day are driving me
insane—it is one of the worst ways to wake up in the morning, but I've
experienced a much worse waking-up noise—the singing of our neighbor.
Wait, it's not any kind of singing, it is a very special kind: Celine
Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," or worse: Cambodian karaoke. Not only
does he have a horrible voice, but he cannot sing in English. And he
sings songs SO LOUD over and over again. I was ready to bang my head
against the wall at 7am! All these noises, our neighbors from
upstairs tell us we will have to get used to them.


There are two apartments on top of ours. We currently have two nice
foreign neighbors, one British professor (Marilyn) and an Australian
(Kich) working with a microfinance organization. Marilyn's birthday
was on Friday and we all went to a nice (touristy) restaurant called
"Elsewhere." There, we saw drunk (and stupid) foreigners, and we saw
young Cambodians (some probably under 18) in the company of male
foreigners… It was hard to see this and not being able to do anything.
The way the restaurant was designed gave the customers privacy and an
"exotic" atmosphere. From where we were sitting, though, we could see
foreigners lying down with young Cambodians. I had a glimpse of that,
and I just couldn't watch. Isabelle and I became very quiet, I wanted
to throw up. I know there are "child safe" hotels, there needs to be
a bigger campaign for "child safe" restaurants. Really.
ECPAT-Cambodia is currently working with other ECPATs in this campaign
against Child Sex Tourism. We really need to reach out to restaurant
owners, especially restaurants frequented by foreigners. I don't know
if any NGOs are working with restaurants, but I'll check tomorrow when
I'm at work.


I am trying to be positive, but I feel so sad and I truly worry about
the future generations of Cambodians. A lot of the Cambodians I've
met here have no real hope for the future. In America, we're taught
to "shoot for the stars," that we can realize our dreams if we
persevere and continue to work hard. Here, it's as if they know that
no matter how hard they try, their dreams won't come true (unless they
can move to the West). It's as if they don't allow themselves to
dream… In a way, I feel like it's paralyzing them. It's as if they've
grown so accustomed to this way of life that they've accepted it and
won't fight for better conditions. Of course, the government is
extremely corrupted. There is still this great fear, people don't
want to draw any attention to themselves. They're still very much
scarred from the Khmer Rouge years. They don't dare to try anything
new (maybe this explains the lack of initiatives)… It's as if they
prefer to rely on others to help them. I worry about the future of
Cambodia.


The parents are still psychologically scarred from the Pol Pot years.
The children have indirectly suffered the consequences of the regime…
a lot of them are now working on the streets, and some of them have
become child prostitutes. What will happen to the future generations
of Cambodians? When I think about this, I get depressed… but I try to
remember the proactive young Cambodians I work with at ECPAT (and
other Cambodians working in non-profit). I try to remember the
factory workers I met last week, I try to think of my young cousins
who are so bright and will, hopefully, work toward social change in
Cambodia. I wish I could do something about it, but they don't
consider me Cambodian, instead, they see me as a "barang" (French /
foreigner).


Ok, I have to get some work done.


Take care!
Vanna

Monday, June 26, 2006

June 26-27, 2006:

I moved to my apartment yesterday (Sunday). It is so nice to finally get some privacy, but I don’t feel comfortable going out by myself. I don’t know the area, and I live not too far from the ghetto… how nice. It is a nice apartment, though, definitely the cleanest of all the apartments I visited. But I’m alone, and I feel very lonely when I get home. It is nice though, it gives me some time to reflect and just relax. Oh wait, I do have an undeclared roommate… I’m not sure if it’s a he or a she, but it’s a lizard (not really a lizard, I forgot what they’re called) that loves to make noise/cry. Anyway, I was a little freaked out, but people are telling me that they’re everywhere, and they actually bring “good luck.” I think they’re just lying to me.

At work, we’re finally moving to the analyzing stage. We’ve collected several hundreds of questionnaires from the different universities. It is nice to finally have them, but every time I look at the huge stacks, I just feel like crying… Also, because all the questionnaires are in Khmer, I need our translator Eav to help me. It’s going to take us forever. At least, I’ve entered all the questions on excel format… it should be an interesting process to make graphs, etc. I will finally be using excel for real work—I wish I had SPSS, but I can’t find a pirated version on the streets… haha. Yes, EVERYTHING can be found on the streets…

Today, I met Navin, one of Saroeun’s good friends. We met for lunch with one of my co-workers, Leslie. Navin seems really nice, I am really glad that Saroeun connected us. It’ll be nice to have a new Cambodian-American friend who is also interested in human rights work. Navin works for Global Youth Connect, which is the organization Saroeun went through during her internship with DC-Cam last year. It sounds like a great program! I wanted to do it to go to Rwanda… maybe next year? We’ll see.

Bargain shopping—I think I’ve become quite good at it, my mom’s taught me well J It is so nice to get shirts for $1-3. At work today, Leslie and I took a break and went shopping at the Tuol Tom Pong (aka “Russian”) market. There were so many tourists! It kind of makes me upset that the vendors always address me in English or French. My face clearly says that I’m Khmer, but they know right away that I’m not one of them… I always respond in Khmer to make a point… but they always reply in English/French to also make their point… grrrr. By the end of the summer, I hope to have improved my Khmer pronunciation to a level where people will have a hard time to discern where I’m from.



I just got back from dinner and going out with Navin and her Cambodian friends. It was wonderful. They were soooo nice, We went across the river to a very authentic Cambodian “outside” restaurant. There were absolutely no foreigners… it was AWESOME! Navin’s friends were great J and funny. I really hope I will get to spend more time with them. They were so genuine and generous to a fault. They wouldn’t let me pay for dinner—and I’m the one from the U.S. Their genuine kindness really touched me. We visited one of the girls’ rented room… in an area of Phnom Penh where a lot of factory workers live. It’s hard to describe what I’m feeling right now. I hate this privilege that I have, but I guess I can’t go on and feel guilty about it all the time. One of the girls had worked for 48 hours straight, which resulted on her getting sick from overworking… but still, she managed to spend time with us and talk with us. They had a small room, with lots of pictures decorating the walls… pictures of Cambodian models—with different styles of clothing and hairstyles. Navin told me that the two girls living there were both orphans and from the same orphanage. They work so hard, but they still manage to enjoy their lives and find time to spend with friends and laugh… They work so hard for low wages, and they wouldn’t let me pay for dinner. Do you know how I feel right now? Oh, and one of the girls said she wanted to buy me a Cambodian outfit… and I could see in her eyes that she was being sincere—there were no ulterior motives. Can you imagine how I feel? I hope you can, because I can’t describe it…

They wanted to show me so much, and it meant a lot to me. We ended up going to the Phnom Penh version of an amusement park. We rode on the “pieuvre” (for some reason, I can only think of the French word—can’t remember the English equivalent…). Anyway, it must have been the ghettoest pieuvre I’ve ever seen—but it was SO MUCH FUN! I definitely did not feel safe… and I felt very scared for the workers because they physically pushed us…wait—let me repeat—they physically pushed and turned our carts so that we could go faster—I wish I could remember the name of the ride in English so that you can better picture it! But yeah, it was the longest ride I’ve ever been on… it must have gone for like 8-10 minutes—it really felt like 30 minutes. … and my new friends still wouldn’t let me help pay.

Then, they dropped me off at my new apartment. A part of me felt really guilty because my apartment is so nice compared to their one rented room. The apartment is $150 per person (me and isabelle), so $300 total… and it is very nice. But bringing them in, I felt like an impostor—because I am—they probably started thinking that I was very wealthy… and I felt like a snob living in such a large apartment on my own. I truly hope they don’t think of me as a rich American expat—they probably do, but I don’t want them to treat me any differently. If only they knew what my life is really like in the U.S…. I am such an impostor. And such a snob.

Well, it’s really late. I’m going to bed. Sorry for the long entry… again.

Take care,
Vanna
June 26-27, 2006:

I moved to my apartment yesterday (Sunday). It is so nice to finally get some privacy, but I don’t feel comfortable going out by myself. I don’t know the area, and I live not too far from the ghetto… how nice. It is a nice apartment, though, definitely the cleanest of all the apartments I visited. But I’m alone, and I feel very lonely when I get home. It is nice though, it gives me some time to reflect and just relax. Oh wait, I do have an undeclared roommate… I’m not sure if it’s a he or a she, but it’s a lizard (not really a lizard, I forgot what they’re called) that loves to make noise/cry. Anyway, I was a little freaked out, but people are telling me that they’re everywhere, and they actually bring “good luck.” I think they’re just lying to me.

At work, we’re finally moving to the analyzing stage. We’ve collected several hundreds of questionnaires from the different universities. It is nice to finally have them, but every time I look at the huge stacks, I just feel like crying… Also, because all the questionnaires are in Khmer, I need our translator Eav to help me. It’s going to take us forever. At least, I’ve entered all the questions on excel format… it should be an interesting process to make graphs, etc. I will finally be using excel for real work—I wish I had SPSS, but I can’t find a pirated version on the streets… haha. Yes, EVERYTHING can be found on the streets…

Today, I met Navin, one of Saroeun’s good friends. We met for lunch with one of my co-workers, Leslie. Navin seems really nice, I am really glad that Saroeun connected us. It’ll be nice to have a new Cambodian-American friend who is also interested in human rights work. Navin works for Global Youth Connect, which is the organization Saroeun went through during her internship with DC-Cam last year. It sounds like a great program! I wanted to do it to go to Rwanda… maybe next year? We’ll see.

Bargain shopping—I think I’ve become quite good at it, my mom’s taught me well J It is so nice to get shirts for $1-3. At work today, Leslie and I took a break and went shopping at the Tuol Tom Pong (aka “Russian”) market. There were so many tourists! It kind of makes me upset that the vendors always address me in English or French. My face clearly says that I’m Khmer, but they know right away that I’m not one of them… I always respond in Khmer to make a point… but they always reply in English/French to also make their point… grrrr. By the end of the summer, I hope to have improved my Khmer pronunciation to a level where people will have a hard time to discern where I’m from.



I just got back from dinner and going out with Navin and her Cambodian friends. It was wonderful. They were soooo nice, We went across the river to a very authentic Cambodian “outside” restaurant. There were absolutely no foreigners… it was AWESOME! Navin’s friends were great J and funny. I really hope I will get to spend more time with them. They were so genuine and generous to a fault. They wouldn’t let me pay for dinner—and I’m the one from the U.S. Their genuine kindness really touched me. We visited one of the girls’ rented room… in an area of Phnom Penh where a lot of factory workers live. It’s hard to describe what I’m feeling right now. I hate this privilege that I have, but I guess I can’t go on and feel guilty about it all the time. One of the girls had worked for 48 hours straight, which resulted on her getting sick from overworking… but still, she managed to spend time with us and talk with us. They had a small room, with lots of pictures decorating the walls… pictures of Cambodian models—with different styles of clothing and hairstyles. Navin told me that the two girls living there were both orphans and from the same orphanage. They work so hard, but they still manage to enjoy their lives and find time to spend with friends and laugh… They work so hard for low wages, and they wouldn’t let me pay for dinner. Do you know how I feel right now? Oh, and one of the girls said she wanted to buy me a Cambodian outfit… and I could see in her eyes that she was being sincere—there were no ulterior motives. Can you imagine how I feel? I hope you can, because I can’t describe it…

They wanted to show me so much, and it meant a lot to me. We ended up going to the Phnom Penh version of an amusement park. We rode on the “pieuvre” (for some reason, I can only think of the French word—can’t remember the English equivalent…). Anyway, it must have been the ghettoest pieuvre I’ve ever seen—but it was SO MUCH FUN! I definitely did not feel safe… and I felt very scared for the workers because they physically pushed us…wait—let me repeat—they physically pushed and turned our carts so that we could go faster—I wish I could remember the name of the ride in English so that you can better picture it! But yeah, it was the longest ride I’ve ever been on… it must have gone for like 8-10 minutes—it really felt like 30 minutes. … and my new friends still wouldn’t let me help pay.

Then, they dropped me off at my new apartment. A part of me felt really guilty because my apartment is so nice compared to their one rented room. The apartment is $150 per person (me and isabelle), so $300 total… and it is very nice. But bringing them in, I felt like an impostor—because I am—they probably started thinking that I was very wealthy… and I felt like a snob living in such a large apartment on my own. I truly hope they don’t think of me as a rich American expat—they probably do, but I don’t want them to treat me any differently. If only they knew what my life is really like in the U.S…. I am such an impostor. And such a snob.

Well, it’s really late. I’m going to bed. Sorry for the long entry… again.

Take care,
Vanna

Friday, June 23, 2006

June 21, 2006:


Just got back from Kampong Thom, which is a province about 3 hours
from Phnom Penh. ECPAT-Cambodia sponsored a Child Sex Tourism (CST)
workshop (a one-day workshop) for people working in the travel and
tourism industry in that province. The Ministry of Tourism was very
involved and provided the training and material. For the most part, I
was very impressed.


It was all in Khmer, and I must admit that I did not understand all of
it—some of the words they used were too sophisticated for me to
understand. I think they did a great job getting the participants
involved. They even had icebreakers, group activities, quizzes, and
evaluation forms. I talked with some of the participants to get their
feedback and also to find out whether or not they had prior
knowledge/experience with child sex tourism. From the few people who
I approached, it seemed like they had heard of child sex tourism, but
they did not know how to address this issue. One man told me he felt
that the workshop was very useful in making him realize how he can
make a difference by just educating his people (he was the equivalent
of a mayor of a small town). I was happy to hear that the trainers
placed a lot of emphasis in making the participants understand that
they should care about this issue and that we can only stop child sex
tourism by working together. We provided lunch for the participants;
they weren't getting paid for attending the workshop. A high official
(I forget who he was) was also invited to close the workshop—there was
a formal ceremony. We had the press, a TV station was there to film
parts of the workshop. It was nice to see posters at the hotels,
which said "Turn a Child Sex Tourist Into an Ex-Tourist" and "Don't
Turn Away, Turn Them In." I took lots of pictures, I will post them
soon.


It was very nice to get out of Phnom Penh for a few days. We left
Monday and got back on Wednesday. I am a bit ashamed to say that it
was very nice to get a break from the relatives and get some SPACE.
Four of us went to the province, our Executive Director (Veasna), our
Program Coordinator (Chenda) and our driver (Eav). It was a nice
opportunity for me to get to know them a little bit better. They're
great. I'm really looking forward to working with them this summer.


An update from my personal life… I met my brother on Sunday!!! It
hasn't registered yet… I met my brother for the first time… my
brother! His name is Meng, and he has been a Buddhist monk for the
past two years. My dad finally told him on Sunday that I was in Phnom
Penh, and he came looking for me that same day. I wasn't expecting to
meet him! He just came by my aunt's house and found me. There were
so many things I wanted to say to him, but I couldn't because: 1) we
had an audience (I really don't get any privacy here), 2) the language
barrier (he couldn't always understand my accented Khmer), and 3) how
do I go about sharing my feelings with a stranger, even though he's my
brother? He stayed for over two hours. He came even though it had
rained really hard that day and it was so flooded that the water
reached all the way to my thighs! At first, he told me he was going
to wait until Monday to see me, because of the rain, but he decided to
come anyway because he just couldn't wait to see me after all those
years. He came with my cousin, Laiheng. We talked for over two
hours, until it got dark and he had to return. By now, he's probably
back at the temple. He lives at a temple near Siem Reap, half a day's
drive from Phnom Penh. I'm so glad I met him. I just wish I could
speak better Khmer, I wish he weren't a monk so that I could actually
touch him and hug him (women are not allowed to touch monks), however
strange that would be… I wish we had more time, I wish I could have
shared so much more with him… Anyway, my other brother lives in
Battambang. I plan to meet him after my sister Isabelle gets here
next week.


Ok, I wrote too much (again). Hope you're all well. I miss you guys!!!


~Vanna
Hello Everyone!


It is kind of bad that I have the internet at work and that I am
always the first one in the office. I waste way too much time online
when I should be doing other things. Old habits die hard.


Anyway, thanks so much for those of you who've emailed me
individually. I love reading your emails, they totally brighten my
day :-) It'll take me longer to respond to each one of you
individually though. I am loving it here, it's hard adjusting, but I
know I will in no time. I have to stop thinking like a spoiled brat
(because that's really what I am compared to the people here).


Did I tell you guys I went to visit Tuol Sleng on Tuesday? I'd seen so
many pictures of Tuol Sleng, read so much about it that it was very
familiar to me... but to be honest (and I don't mean to scare you), I
could feel spirits in that place. In Khmer culture, it is believed
that if someone doesn't get the proper burial, their spirit is not
able to proceed to the next "world" (or whatever that is)... But
seriously, I could FEEL them. I also was a little bit upset because
people were playing volleyball in the backyard and having a great
time. In a way, I felt it was incredibly disrespectful for them to
have so much fun right next to a place where people were miserable and
horribly tortured... But it could also mean that the people were able
to "move on" or that they're not allowing the past to paralyze their
daily activities. Does that make any sense?


Anyway, I wrote a lot last night, so I'm just going to paste it here.
It's long, don't feel obligated to read it!

Thursday, June 15, 2006:

I now have a better idea of the type of work I will be doing at ECPAT
this summer. I was under the impression that my work would be more
focused on the issue of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
(CSEC) in the travel and tourism industry, but the executive director
has asked me to work on the "Make IT Safe" campaign. I've been trying
really hard to learn as much as possible on the topic. I will be
taking over the position of an intern, Mathilde, whose internship is
ending next week. Mathilde did an impressive job for the campaign. I
wish she could stay here to see the product of her hard work. She's
incredibly smart and an amazing human being. We had very interesting
conversations. Her experiences are so interesting because she came to
Phnom Penh directly from having spent 6 months interning with the
French Embassy in Bangladesh. Amazing AMAZING girl! I'm so glad I met
her, but I'm sad that she'll be leaving us next week. Anyway, let me
tell you about the campaign!

The Make-IT-Safe campaign is an international campaign led by ECPAT.
The campaign works to combat child pornography and child sexual abuse
on the internet. I really didn't know much about child pornography,
but from reading a gazillion of reports, I learned that it is a
multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow at an alarming
pace. I was really shocked to learn that the majority of the child
pornography that is in high demand on the internet is violent child
pornography. In other words, it's the type of pornography where a
child is being sexually tortured, raped, and inflicted other forms of
physical abuse. It is really disturbing and upsetting to even think
of all the deranged people living in this world. [that's it—it's
official, I'm not having any kids].

Apparently, Cambodia is one of the countries where a lot of child
pornography is produced (sorry, I don't have any statistics). Foreign
pedophiles come to Cambodia to sexually exploit children and also to
take pornographic pictures of them (but still, the majority of the
adults who sexually exploit the children here are Cambodians or
expats…). Still, child pornography is very much linked to commercial
child sexual exploitation. There have been a lot of cases where
pedophiles get in touch with children in the chatrooms and begin to
"groom" them. "Grooming" means preparing a child for sex and making
the child see sex as a normal activity. For example, the pedophile
can send a lot of child pornography to the child (via the internet or
cell phone) in order to make the child believe that sex is normal for
children. Anyway, pedophiles in other countries can convince kids to
take pictures of themselves and put them online… or the pedophiles can
convince the kids to meet with them, which leads to sexual abuse and
exploitation.

Cambodia is pretty interesting because sex is such a taboo topic.
There was a recent study done in Phnom Penh which showed that a lot of
children and young people watched pornography on the internet. It is
really bad because that's how they get their "sex education." A lot
of the young people use the internet to meet people… through the chat
rooms. They don't understand the dangers of the internet and the
survey showed that a lot of them did not have any qualms setting up
meetings with people they met in chatrooms. A lot of pedophiles
probably love that… Anyway, the Make-IT-Safe campaign here will focus
more on education and prevention for the youth. They need to
understand the dangers of using the internet. We're currently working
on collecting data to better understand how young Cambodians use the
internet and then we'll create a working group (high schoolers,
university students, teachers, NGOs) to tackle the problem. We have a
lot of ideas, if you're interested in learning more, let me know and
I'll send you the proposal (once I write it.. which will take me a
while). Oh, and if you have any suggestions for the Make-IT-Safe
campaign, please let me know!

So, I found an amazing apartment: two floors, 3 bedrooms, two
bathrooms, one large living room, no AC, and super cheap ($150/month),
BUT (there's always a "but" L) it's not furnished. I really like the
apartment, it's beautiful and in a safe area of Phnom Penh (no bars
around—one of my coworkers lives close to a bar and she heard three
gunshots last night… it's the world cup season and the Khmer people
are getting drunk and betting enormous amounts of money… yeah, not
good). Should I just take it and buy simple furniture? It just won't
feel like a home because there'll be too much open space. The
apartment has a lot of potential, if I were staying for a year, I
would so take it! What should I do? Keep looking? I really need to
move out of my uncle's house as soon as possible. I don't feel right
staying so long. They treat me like a VIP guest and I don't feel
comfortable getting treated so well (they won't let me help them with
anything…). They all want to practice their English with me… which
means I don't get to practice my Khmer at all. At work, everybody
speaks English or French, so I don't practice there either. If I move
out, then I'll have more opportunities to interact with the locals
(non-related to me) and will most likely improve my Khmer… J

Alright, sorry this is so long! There's so much happening in my life
right now, but I'll stop boring you. I miss you guys and I can't wait
to see you all again in a few months!

Love,
Vanna

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hi Everyone!!!


I hope you're doing well... I already miss you guys! After almost 24
horrible hours in the air, I thankfully arrived (in one piece) in
Phnom Penh yesterday. People had warned me that the airport staff
would try to rip me off. Luckily, they only asked me to pay $5--I
think the guy took pity on me because I was trying so hard to speak
Khmer. Gosh, my Khmer sucks.


My relatives were there to meet me at the airport. It was really
nice, except, I'm still unsure how I'm related to them. All I know is
that they belong to my mom's side of the family. I can't wait to
meet my dad's side of the family. As some of you may know, I have two
half-brothers that I will be meeting for the first time. I try not
to think of it too much or I'll puke from nervousness.


Cambodia. It's not registering yet that I'm in Cambodia. It feels as
if I'll wake up tomorrow back in my comfortable bed in Minnesota and
all of this was just part of my imagination. I couldn't stop smiling
yesterday. Even though everything about Phnom Penh screams "chaos," I
just love it. It's so ALIVE. My parents had warned me that the
streets were crazy... They definitely got that right! Even though
there are traffick lights and you need a driver's license to drive,
nobody, and i mean NOBODY, respects the traffick laws. Some people
prefer driving on the right side, whereas others prefer the left side.
I've never been so afraid for my life or the life of others
(especially those in motorcycles or bicycles). People drive so close
to each other, no wonder there are a lot of accidents (I haven't seen
one yet, but I'm told they are quite frequent).


I am looking for an apartment. I'm currently staying at one of my
uncle's house, but I feel bad because their house is so small and I
don't want to abuse their hospitality. This uncle is a doctor working
for the Ministry of Health, but I can tell that they have difficulties
making ends meet every month. They don't have air conditioning, and I
didn't expect them to have it, but last night--I thought I was going
to die, it was SOOOO HOT. I feel bad because they keep on apologizing
for not having this or that. Yes, I'm from the U.S., but it doesn't
mean that I need to be treated like a queen or that I need all the
modern appliances that are available to us in the U.S. I don't need
much, it'll take me time to adjust, but I'm sure I will. But I can't
help but feel horrible for being so damn privileged. A part of me
feels guilty because I see it as an experience, whereas it is their
life--their reality. I know that things are difficult, but in the
end, I know that I will be going back to my comfortable and privileged
life in the U.S. My cousins keep on telling me how they want to come
to the U.S., I try to make them understand that things are also
difficult in the U.S.... especially if you're uneducated and you are
an immigrant. No matter what I say though, their response is always
"anything in the U.S. would be better than this"... and it would be a
lie for me to disagree. But the thing is, there is a greater sense of
community here. People, neighbors visit each other, share their
food... share their music... You rarely ever get that in the U.S. I
think this culture is beautiful, and it makes me sad to see how many
of them would give it up any day for the U.S. But again, this is not
my reality, who knows if I would feel the same way if I were them???


Corruption... sorry to change gears so quickly, but another thing that
I've noticed is the corruption. There are a lot of very nice brand
new Lexus cars... and my cousin agrees that the majority of the owners
are corrupted government officials. I was talking to the ECPAT
executive director about it... and he was telling me that even though
corruption is everywhere in Cambodia, you can't let that paralyze
you...


sorry. gotta go!


vanna

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Now that our conference, "United Front for Children: Global Efforts to Combat Sexual Trafficking in Travel and Tourism," is over, I have more time to think about school, and about my life after school. It is still hard for me to believe that I will be graduating in two weeks! In so many ways, I don't think I'm ready to enter the "real world," but I know that it's time...



Plans after graduation... an internship with ECPAT-Cambodia! I am so excited about this internship. ECPAT-Cambodia is an NGO in Cambodia which works with other NGOs to combat child trafficking. Child trafficking, especially child sex trafficking, is an issue that truly "grabbed" me. It is hard to believe that child sex trafficking is happening in today's world. It breaks my heart to think of all the children whose childhood is stolen from them so that they can fulfill the fantasies of sick individuals. My heart hurts thinking about those children, but I am also filled with this anger directed at the perpetrators--the clients who provide the demand side of this horrendous multi-billion business! We can do something about it. Not only that, but I strongly feel that we have an
obligation to act! It is so easy to ignore this problem because it probably does not affect you personally or your loved ones... but it does affect other people, other people's children/siblings/grandchildren. As children, they are the most vulnerable because they rely on adults to guide them and explain to them how this world of ours works... We have a collective responsibility for the children who represent our future (I know it sounds very cliche). This summer, I really hope I can help... I don't know how much of a difference I can make, but I'm sure that anything helps, right?


Cambodia. A country with so much history... so much pain and so many injustices... so much corruption and no one to speak out. My parents are right to be afraid for my safety. I am sort of scared, but I know I will be fine. I hear it is a beautiful country. I hear the people are generous and good-hearted, is that true? Cambodia has so much to offer, if only we could give its people more opportunities... Sometimes I wonder whether it's this lack of peace and healing, this lack of accountability for the innumerable atrocities and injustices that were committed against the Cambodian people that's been holding the country back. Cambodia is such an interesting place... a place where my family is from... the place that has given them so many scars, both physical and psychological. I want to have hope for this country, but for some reasons, I just feel despair in my heart. I wish I could be more optimistic, but thinking of all the corruption and the continued misdistribution of foreign aid give me little hope. argh.