Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Just Beautiful

Many of you reading this may remember that nearly two years ago, I spent some time teaching English in Cambodia. While I was there I learned a lot about the country and the host of difficulties that it faces, many of which stem from three decades of war. One problem in particular that has been ongoing since the 1960s is that of landmines, incredibly destructive pieces of ordinance that have been buried all around the country and continue to maim and kill hundreds of Cambodians every year. 

Today, Cambodia has a population of over 14 million people, 40,000 of whom are amputees. Although this is one of the highest ratios in the world, landmine victims receive little to no government support and as a result have extreme difficulty finding work and earning a livelihood, with many resorting to living on the streets and begging. Bel, a Khmer man who is landmine victim himself, understands first-hand just how challenging finding a job can be, and that's why he is working hard to change that.

I met Bel when I was volunteering in Siem Reap back in 2012. He is the founder of KILT, The Khmer Independent Life Team. Founded in 2009, this local NGO is working to provide training and employment opportunities for those impacted by disabilities and/or poverty. Bel employs a handful of Khmer people, some of whom are disabled, and has trained them well in the art of jewellery making. The jewellery is then sold at local hotels and markets. 

The money they make goes towards supporting the KILT homestead, which provides shelter and care for not only Bel and his wife/child but also for his group of adult employees and 17 children (there were 13 when I was there in 2012 but they have since welcomed a few more!) Some of these children are orphans, several have disabilities and many have parents that live in the countryside and simply cannot afford to care for them and send them to school. Bel ensures that every child attends government school (where they learn subjects like math and science) but also recruits volunteers at KILT who teach the children English when they're not at school (I did most of my volunteering with another organization but spent some time at KILT as well).

Many children's homes in Siem Reap are terribly corrupt (I even wrote a blog about it) but this is just not the case with KILT. Tourists are not permitted to come in and just start playing with the kids, as is the case with many children's homes; the children there are raised in a family environment and feel sibling-like bonds with one another (you'd honestly never know they hadn't all been raised together since birth); the children do not have to 'earn' their keep in any way... simply put, Bel has the best interests of the kids at heart which, sadly, is not always the case.

But here's the thing: During Siem Reap's 'high season' (October-April) the city experiences a huge influx of tourists taking advantage of the dry weather. The rest of the year is considered to be the 'low season' when, due to heavy rains, there are far fewer tourists. While KILT is able to sell a lot of jewellery in the high season, they tend to struggle a bit in the low season. 

That is the main reason I'm writing this blog: when I visited Cambodia in May of this year, I paid Bel and everyone at KILT a visit. Being that it's the low season I made a (very small) donation to KILT but promised Bel I would write a blog to create a little awareness about the amazing work he's doing. He's apparently having some bank account troubles and is currently unable to receive online donations (though I will be posting another blog with information on how to donate as soon as this issue is resolved) but in the meantime I just wanted to spread the word about an NGO that in my opinion is incredibly worthwhile. 'Bel' actually means 'beautiful' in French and to me, that's exactly what the jewellery Bel makes and the work he does is - beautiful.

Some photos of KILT on my most recent visit there in May

* I apologize for the embarrassingly low quality photos, I arrived at KILT sans camera (not so smart) and at dusk, which made for pretty rubbish photos on my iPhone *

Bottles turned into plant holders - so resourceful! 

Part of the art studio at KILT

Open space where the kids play

The kitchen

Games with the kids at sunset

A group of incredible kids!

To learn more about...
- My visit to an active landmine field, click here 
- The Khmer Independent Life Team (KILT), click here
- Bel and the great work he does, click here
- Volunteer opportunities at KILT, click here (or contact me!)

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