a sunday visit to the garbage dump and some criticism

December 22, 2008 at 3:10 pm 1 comment

I just learned that Thailand changed their visa rules for border crossings. It used to be that if you are a citizen of a certain country you were automatically granted a 30 day visa upon entering Thailand from any border or airport. You were (officially) allowed to extend this visa 3 times within a 6 month period by leaving the country and re-entering it, but i know several people who stayed in Thailand for years using this leave and re-enter system. So Thailand has now changed it rules to grant only a 15 day visa for travelers entering through the land borders and has become much stricter about extending visas for travelers who have overstayed their 90 day allotment. This means that before i return to Thailand in March i have to apply and pay for a visa in Phnom Penh. One of the perks of coming to Thailand was the fact that it was so easy and free. I don’t think tourists undermine the Thai economy so why are they taking these measures to keep us out of the country?

I am sitting in an internet cafe trying to upload pictures, use facebook, reply to emails and sort out finances on a computer that refuses to open all the windows at once and is about to freeze and shut down all my programs.

Yesterday morning i went to the garbage dump several kilometers outside Phnom Penh with a group of men and a doctor who have made a routine of going out there to feed the children and women who live on and off this dump. They go there 3 times a week and encourage tourists to come along (and contribute $ to buy the food). The lot of us contributed $10 each and this bought 400 bougettes, 400 eggs, x number of kilos of apples, oranges, and bananas. Each individual was to get a bougette, a hard boiled egg, an apple, an orange, and a banana. 

We arrived on a truck. It was hot and foul smelling and the lines of people waiting showed that they were expecting us. As our truck moved in the lines disappeared and a chaotic sprawl produced a mob. Four girls (me included) stayed on the truck organizing the food while the others tried to control the lines.


The people smiled as they recieved their portion. There were almost no men in the crowd. Some of the women were pregnant despite the toddler already sitting on their hip.

Before we arrived we were told by the organizers that despite doing this for 2 years they had not witnessed any improvement in the circumstances of the people. Despite their inocuous outlook on their work, I was critical of their approach. Just feeding people cannot be good for them if it doesn’t go along with other ways of helping them. Instead of investing themselves and their resources in hiring Khmer staff to lead workshops and assist the dump dwellers in filing for government allotments of land where they might have more opportunity to be self-sufficient, they discourage the development of initiative among them and reduce them to beggars. One of the Cambodians who’d come along was also un-impressed with the effort. Overall it was a numbing experience.

More photos


Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , , , , , .

childhood new year’s eve

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. teachingchris  |  January 3, 2009 at 6:48 am

    So the question becomes — who was the charity about? Was it about improving the lot of life of the people at the dump, or was it about ridding the group that headed out with the food of some of their guilt?

    We see this phenomenon all the time — even Oprah’s O Ambassadors do charity like this — they build a school in a 3rd world country (but don’t teach people how to build it – or modern teaching methods – or provide resources for teachers to use). So misguided.


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