In and around the Angkor Wat temples, Cambodia, you’ll see kids everywhere. There are wide smiles on dirty faces, and bare feet splashing in puddles. They wear rags for clothes, and with almost every child, an even younger one tags along. Some are begging, and some are farmers. More still sell postcards and tourist trinkets for pennies. Some seem in a constant daze, just wandering around the ruins, as if it was where they lived…they probably do. There are others, like the young novice monks, seeming happier than most but not convincing. And there are artists, painters and weavers, paid pittance for their brilliance. And the young girl dancers, disciplined to smile, and show focus and grace, but when no one is watching, reverting to the sad forlorn long days of performing for little or nothing. Those are the locals.
And then there are tourist kids, all loud and bright clothed and iPhone wielding. The disparity between them is vast. The tourist kids climb ruins where they shouldn’t, and harass the monkeys, while watching on sadly, a local child sits in one spot, a leg missing from stepping on a land-mine in the jungle. Foraging through trash cans is a constant necessity, because in the eyes of the poor, scrappy natives, despite the occasional smile, there is hunger. As a visitor, I do what I can. I buy things I don’t want, and I share my food. I sit and chat a while, sharing my so-called gift of English. The kids laugh with me and impress me with their vocabulary. But the moment you leave, their smiles fade and the hunger returns.
Every visit to Cambodia fills me with both awe and sadness. And it’s in places like this that I realize just how fortunate I am to have been born to English parents, where food and shelter was taken for granted, and at 7 years old, everyday was a good day. A good day for Angkor’s kids is selling a broken fridge magnet to a tourist or finding a half-eaten sandwich in the trash.
Angkor’s Children: A Photo Essay