One month ago schools closed again as COVID at long last got its grips on Cambodia. As we predicted at the time, the road has been a bit rough.
Phnom Penh has become overwhelmed with cases, mostly stemming from factories and several local markets. As it sweeps through the city, certain neighborhoods are in such lockdown that the Army is delivering food to those zones (no going out for shopping) and 1st dose vaccinations are currently suspended. Provincial borders are secured such that persons trying to get to Phnom Penh for flights out, are hard-pressed to do so. Our foreign staff hasn’t been home in ages. Local staff had to isolate themselves during Khmer New Year, the equivalent of Christmas-New Year, a time when families should be gathering.
The last 18 months have been heavy for those far away from home during what is a scary time and that includes every one of us here.
Siem Reap is a ghost town. Everyone involved in tourism are now approaching bankruptcy if they aren’t already. Meanwhile the city is tearing up 38 main roads to put new sewers in, taking advantage of a time when there are no visitors and the town is awash in cheap labor, so it’s challenging moving around the city even when we are allowed to do so. Angkor Wat was officially closed over the holiday and remains so, something that hasn’t happened since the war. That has also been hard on people here, to not be able to draw close to their sacred place of protection and strength during the most sacred time of year.
Since lockdown, the rules in place are not being enforced equally. Enforcement is at best uneven. There is a palpable sense that the right-hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing and people here are largely uninformed or misinformed and therefore deeply afraid. Conspiracy theories rage among the local population creating resistance to vaccinations. There are serious supply chain issues. People who live hand to mouth cannot get to work and do not have enough to eat. Petty theft is increasing.
We could go on, let’s just say “there are multiple challenges at every level”.
Siem Reap is currently in the first week of lockdown affecting three neighbourhoods in the center of town, one of which is where PLF HQ is located. As such, our staff who live outside lockdown cannot come to work, which is pretty much everyone. Foodbank recipients should not come in to pick up food. Food sellers around town should not bring our deliveries in. We have no one to load trucks.
Food drops to Romchek, Koh Ker and Knar are ready to begin but while we do have permission to cross provincial lines we are trying to file a bunch of paperwork with City Hall to get permission for movement of staff inside our district necessary to purchase, receive, load and execute the food drops. None of us are brave enough to face what we know will be abject chaos at city hall — so we’re giving the filing of paperwork a few more days — but we assume we’ll get it sorted in due course.
Meanwhile, we have successfully done the first round of food drops to Preah Vihear with the thinnest veneer of authority; let’s all give some big ups to Esa who can talk his way out of anything. He’s personally responsible for getting the first round of food delivered up north after lockdown measures were implemented.
All of you must have a serious case of COVID fatigue by now. Most of the world has been through a savage 2020 while Cambodia skipped through the tulips with only 500 cases in the whole of last year with no deaths. While you had dead tolls mounting we were strolling through Angkor Wat, utterly devoid of tourists for the first time in recent memory, going for a massage and somehow moving through it all pretty much unscathed.
But that’s done now. We’re off and running.
What we know from watching the rest of the world for the last year, is that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re bracing ourselves for the waves we know are coming. What’s happening here is being called a “national tragedy”.
Probably 80% of the readers of this post will have been to Cambodia and if you’ve been here with PLF you probably have a pretty good understanding of how most of the population lives. (79% of them to be exact)
We know that those of you who understand the situation here will be imagining trying to live through these tough times- without access to proper hospitals, electricity, know-how, information, resources, assistance. Help. In any form. There is so little help for the people here, many of whom were hanging by a thread, to begin with. We know you can imagine how it is for people facing the pandemic in a place with such limited resources. It wasn’t great on a good day. It’s downright scary on a bad day.
We here at PLF are facing down every one of these challenges one by one, day by day as best we can. In the last month, it has felt a bit like building the plane while you’re already in the air, but we’ve prepared thank goodness.
We are not being deterred by what we cannot do; in fact, we’re altogether done worrying about what cannot be done right now. We are instead hyper-focused on getting done what we can do. Keep people safe, find workarounds, huddle. Keep some form of school running. Keep people fed. Work through each day as it unfolds and do the very best we can to see everyone through.
It’s been a rough month, we can’t lie. We’re learning what you all learned last year: to rest when we’re tired but never ever stop. Here’s a recent photo of us doing just that 🙂
Right about now there should be some CALL TO ACTION! Everyone is telling me to link this to a fundraiser, but really I want to tell you that in the big scheme of things we consider ourselves to be in pretty good shape: you guys have kept us banked and rolling. Not that we don’t need funds; we’re a charity of course we need funds. Send them now! 🙂
But our call to action, really, is this:
Share our posts and newsletters and general news of Cambodia.
Join our Instagram page, comment and engage in a ridiculous manner so we can stay in people’s threads. Do a little fund-raiser if your birthday is coming up. Be in touch, we’ll do all the legwork! Tell your story of Cambodia and the people you met when you were here. Help us stay relevant.
We are so scared of falling into the abyss of all things forgotten after so many many months in isolation and with so many more looming ahead.
Do it. It’s free. And it’s huge for us right now.
All of us here are humbled by the solidarity you’ve shown. What you do every day for all our students is proof that the world can be better and that we have the power to make it be so.
Light a candle, we’re on the case! Be in touch, we miss you!