The challenges of life in Floating Villages of Cambodia

Last week I had the privilege of travelling to an area there are thousands of people living in floating villages on the Tonle River and streams that flow into and out of the lake.

I was with a team from Live & Learn Cambodia for four days to visit some of their projects and activities. We were in the area of Kampong Chnnang & Kampong Thom Provinces at the southern area of Tone Sap Lake. The lake is the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia, covering between 3,000 and 10,000 sq kms – from dry to wet season. Around the whole lake

These are literally complete active communities, the same as find on land with most of the services and facilities people expect in a village or town. There are schools, shops, medical centres, trading depots especially for the caught fish and other primary produce from the area, boat sales and repair centres – all afloat.

Floating villages developed because the first people were landless. So they built their homes and grew their communities floating on the water. People are landless for various reasons: some are refugees and cannot gain the rights to own property, others have lost their land by land-grabbing, or forced sale by loan-shark debts, or from dysfunctional families around the country. There are landless people scattered around the whole country, some living on the edges of the roads and highways, some on vacant land, some ’squatting’ on public land and on the fringes of towns and cities. These particular people have ways to live by “floating on water”.

Previously I had spent a lot of time in villages and towns around Cambodia, working with other NGOs teaching business skills as part of their community development programs. This was an opportunity to be with people in different circumstances. I was keen to see if there are differences in the lives of these people compared with the landed people of the other places in the country.

My foremost impressions are:

– How education can bring change

– How saving money can be the key to unlock new possibilities

– The importance of outside support to introduce change

– The importance of the local community for the individuals who live in it

– That some people are content to carry-on in the same old ways

Behind all the development and best intentions of supporters, people have to go on living ordinary lives, out in the provinces, despite everything that is going on in the capital and other cities.

Cecil is a volunteer under the AVID program an Australian Government initiative. The assignment is with Live & Learn Cambodia (LEC) as delivered by Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) and Scope Global.

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