Most of us have some knowledge of the reign of terror imposed by the Khmer Rouge and the murderous Pol Pot on the people of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Recently Noel Jones directors learned a lot more about this tragedy. Even though he only led the country for a mere four years Pol Pot is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of 1-2 million Cambodians.
Upon gaining control Pol Pot and his regime conducted a campaign to return the entire country to an agrarian economy without money and any trappings of western society. Almost all the occupants of Phnom Penh were forcibly repatriated to the country and the city was virtually abandoned.
Many Cambodians who wore glasses, had an education or lacked callouses on their hands were taken away to the killing fields and summarily executed in one of history’s most barbaric acts of genocide. Hundreds of thousands of others died from starvation, forced labour, torture and beatings.
Whilst the arrival of the Vietnamese army in 1990 heralded the beginning of the re-building of Cambodia the country had been decimated over the previous decade by internal fighting and a lack of overseas aid. Consequently the reconstruction of the Cambodian economy and infrastructure lags all other South East Asian countries and many Cambodians are still living in appalling substandard conditions. The average income is barely $2 per day meaning that most children are forced into menial labour almost as soon as they can walk.
The Noel Jones connection
In July 2008 Noel Jones directors and families travelled to Cambodia with members of Samaritans Purse, a global charitable organisation committed to assisting underprivileged children. The aim was to see first hand the conditions in which so many Cambodians are forced to live and to learn how we could be of greatest assistance to them.
Because so many adults were killed by the Khmer Rouge there is almost a generation missing from the Cambodian population. Over half of all Cambodians are under 20 years of age and many know little of the reign of terror except what they have been told by their grandparents. The children know little of the outside world and without education are destined to a life of poverty.
During our travels we saw tiny children working; collecting plastic, selling humble possessions and doing all sorts of menial tasks. Unless they can gain an education they are destined to a life of poverty and servitude. Worse still they could even become involved in the vast illegal trade in children which still flourishes in Cambodia.
We also visited the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in Phnom Penh where so many Cambodians were tortured and murdered. The display beggars description but all of us left there knowing we had to do something to avoid a repetition of this outrage against humanity.
At Noel Jones we have committed to the construction of two schools in Battrang in Northern Cambodia. One school is already up and running, the other is approaching completion. At the opening ceremony last year we listened as the students sang to us a song of thanks in which they promised to study diligently and make their parents proud of them. No one could ask for more of these delightful young people who only seek a similar chance in life as we have in Australia.