The troubled waters of the past

September 1, 2017
by 
Véronique Gauthier-Galardo, QSF Intern in Cambodia

Eight young people from Quebec are currently completing an introduction to international solidarity internship in Cambodia as part of the Québec sans frontières (Quebec without borders, or QSF) program. They are supporting a Development and Peace partner, Development and Partnership in Action (DPA).

DPA is partnering with, empowering, and supporting the poorest and most vulnerable Cambodians, particularly in rural areas. It actively contributes to the creation of an environment conducive to sustainable and equitable development. As part of its partnership program, DPA provides support to grassroots community organizations, such as the Por Samrong agricultural cooperative, where the QSF internship is taking place.

The group is sharing their experiences with us during their stay. Here, Véronique talks about her time in the village where she is staying in Cambodia.

When we mention the country of Cambodia, we cannot omit its tragic past. Barely 40 years ago, a genocide caused the death of 25% of the population of the country. This horrific event is still very present in the collective memory of Cambodians. With this in mind, and still reeling from what I had read and my state of being vis-à-vis this tragedy, I met with Cambodians who had survived these troubled waters of the past.

A bit of history

Kampuchea is the name that Cambodians use for their country. The Khmer Rouge insisted that this name be used by all during its regime and the current government is trying to back to the use of Cambodia to disassociate itself from the murderous acts committed during the time of the regime.

Even if Cambodia is the name used by the outside world, the devastating impacts of the genocide are still being felt by the population. The Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 with the objective to give back the country to the peasantry by creating an agricultural cooperative. It covered the entire country and each person had to work relentlessly in order to serve “The Angkar,” the name taken by the political party. Despite this dark period from 1975 to 1979, Cambodia is today a country in Southeast Asia that is slowly rebuilding itself.

My impressions

Before my departure, I was aware of the atrocities of the genocide that had been subjected on the population, but I didn’t know how visible the scars would still be. A friend took me on a day trip to discover the area and pointed out a lovely lake. Nonchalantly, he mentioned that the body of water that I was admiring, was dug out by shovel by the local inhabitants under the authoritarian yoke of the regime. This was a stark reminder that behind the beauty of my host country, there is a tragic past that is closer than we think.

I came to the realization that it is not enough to speak of the resilience of the people, which is still constantly put to the test. In fact, I can’t help but admire the generosity and joie de vivre of those around me.

Another aspect that I found particularly inspiring is the great calmness of the people. It is always with gentle voices that our host parents address us, and with a big smile on their lips. These people whom I can barely understand fill me with a natural benevolence.

This country that has been on such a long road towards peace, overwhelms with its surprising human side. I can only conclude, that despite the atrocities that a population experiences, there is a goodness that has emerged. And that goodness is the Cambodian people themselves.