GRANGEVILLE — “Can anyone tell me where Cambodia is located”? That is how I prepped my 7th and 8th grade social studies classes as we prepared to hear Yolanda Stout tell us about her 32-day experience in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Stout traveled halfway around the world to volunteer her time and spirit with the SHE Organization. This organization helps to reunite young girls and women with their families after they had been sold or kidnapped into the sex/slave trade. Unfortunately, this is common practice in Cambodia.
As she spoke with my students, she emphasized more the history, living conditions and corruption of the government. She had many beautiful pictures of the temples of Angkor Wat, a place she was able to visit and she shared her impression of this ancient wonder of the world. A more recent history of a negative nature that she had many pictures of was a tour of the Killing Fields, where Pol Pot killed thousands of Cambodians through genocide and extermination in the 1980s.
Her pictures also displayed the unsanitary living conditions of the country. There was garbage all over, on the roads and in the waters. When flooding occurred from heavy rains, sewage would float with the rising water. She said it smelled of feces and urine. Many had no refrigeration and because it was so hot, food that was left outside could easily spoil or end up covered with ants. Yolanda showed a picture of a bowl of rice covered with ants. She said the family would eat the ant covered rice and that provided a source of protein. The students reactions to that, “Ewww”! Every day in Cambodia was a struggle to survive.
Stout shared with my students that schools are only for the wealthy, and mainly for only boys. Girls are considered second class citizens with few rights. She also talked about the government corruption and how she saw demonstrators beaten for expressing their views.
My overall objective from Stout’s presentation was for my students to realize how fortunate they are to live in a country where we have clean water and plenty of food. Also, to never take for granted the freedoms that we have to express our opinions, and the protections we have through our Constitution.
Betty Nafziger is a junior high social studies teacher at Grangeville Elementary Middle School