Posted by: langincambodia | August 11, 2012

Collision, by Jaskiran Dhillon

Posted by: langincambodia | August 11, 2012

The Miners, by Fiona Mahurin

Posted by: langincambodia | August 10, 2012

In Solidarity, I Stand With You, by Andrea Summers

Posted by: langincambodia | August 10, 2012

I Will Remember, by Kristen Turner

As our program has come to its inevitable end, I have been thinking deeply about the kinds of things I will be taking away from this experience. I came to Cambodia with a very strong sense of a certain set of academic goals for myself, and feel confident in having achieved many of these goals. But what kind of strides have I made as a person? What are the things that I will take back home to New York with me, that will change the ways I think, act, and live? It has taken me until now, just hours before my departure from Siem Reap, to realize that these types of reflections generate evidence that is not always as physical or material as the evidence of academic achievement. These reflections are firmly rooted in the everyday experiences of being here, in Cambodia, and I will carry them with me in the ways in which I will remember…

I will remember stepping off the airplane for the first time into the thick and humid Cambodian air. I will remember being met at the airport by Rany and his tuk tuk, and how I attempted to take in every sight, smell, and sound of Siem Reap on that very first ride to the Seven Candles Guesthouse. I will remember the kindness and bright smiles of the Ly family, as they welcomed us not only into their guesthouse, but their home. I will remember listening to the stories of Lori and Ponheary for the first time, and how I felt inspired, in awe, and, at the same time, so small in my role here, compared to the strides and successes of these remarkable women. I will remember my first time experiencing the striking beauty of a landscape made up of seemingly endless rice fields and tall, scattered palm trees piercing the vibrant blue sky.

I will remember the first student in Knar Village that we interviewed, and how I was immediately met with the agonizing contradictions that lay between myself as a privileged researcher, and the reality that this student was facing in her daily struggles for access to education. I will remember how this contradiction followed me throughout the remainder of our time here, and how this realization pushed me to think critically regarding the implications of my presence within the space I was consistently stepping into while conducting these interviews.

I will remember the unmatched beauty of looking out from the very front of the boat on the Tonle Sap, turning to Jas and saying, “Just when I think this country can’t possibly be any more incredible…days like today happen.” I will remember our spontaneous group swim beneath the waterfall at Kulen Mountain. I will remember the feeling of the monsoon coming down on me with all its force, how the rain was warm, and how the sun came out immediately after the downpour, leaving the wet leaves of the palm trees glistening in the light.

I will remember the painted faces of the young children at that one orphanage in Siem Reap, and how the children, some as young as 5 or 6, are forced to put on a dance performance for tourists every single night, as part of an agenda of marketing them as “vulnerable” for the purpose of accumulating donations. I will remember the group of students at the dorm in Srayang, and how they have worked together to create a space for themselves that is inclusive and safe. I will remember the names, faces, and stories of each and every student that I had the pleasure of interviewing in Knar Village.

I will remember watching my fellow students deeply engage in their own projects, becoming more excited and invested in their work each and every day. I will remember our adventure in Ratankiri, and the solidarity that existed between ourselves and the four other groups of Cambodians in our efforts to push all of our vans through the thick of the jungle, when they all became stuck in the mud after a heavy downpour.

I will remember the strength and the resilience that I have seen within each and every young Cambodian I have met here, and I will remember the hope that exists for this country in the hands of people like our Khmer teacher Yeum, of Kaliyann, the sole female reporter in Siem Reap, the girls at the City Dorm, the students in Srayang, the media students at Tchey School, and the grade 10 students in Knar Village.

I will remember the Karl Marx quote that Jas shared with Yeum at the end of our final Khmer class: “Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will,” and how it applies so perfectly to everything we have seen and experienced here in Cambodia.

I will remember. And I will never be the same.


Posted by: langincambodia | August 9, 2012

Things Like this Cannot be Planned by Jordan Lapolla

Posted by: langincambodia | August 9, 2012

Carrying All That I Have Learned by Shelley Green

Posted by: langincambodia | August 8, 2012

Coming Together, by Ashley Vidal

Posted by: langincambodia | August 8, 2012

(Burnt) Umber, by Noah Strouse

1.  A natural brown earth containing ferric oxide and manganese oxides, used as pigment.

2.  Any of the shades of brown produced by umber in its various states.

3.  Yes, the one in your high-school studio art class’ supply cabinet.


1.  (Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia) After their ancestral home was seized by massive government authorized land concessions and ambiguously (and irrelevantly) legal logging operations forced them out of the jungle and onto the plains, the tribal men and women, who now make their lives around illegal (relevantly, as the government often burns everything down) gemstone mining operations involving a network of impossibly narrow holes and tunnels with zero equipment or machinery or structural support and no way to climb back out of the forty-foot-deep-pitch-black holes other than wedging your knees and elbows into shallow rivets (of questionable stability) lining the wet walls of the vertically ascending cylinder, are, by intent or attrition, the same deep burnt blood-rust umber as the earth they inhabit.


(Note: this use of umber includes a shifting wash of cigarette smoke pouring from the infested belly of the pock-marked landscape).

2. (Ibid.) With the sun having set a good two hours ago and the rain showing no sign of giving up, the washed out dirt roads sliding beneath the three motionless vans, vans alternatively described as stuck, trapped, locked, fucked, or swallowed by the jungle, roads that shrink so apathetically beneath the van’s squealing tires so that Ponheary’s simple long-distance advice is to “sell the van,” roads that pull you in by the ankles so that Jas exclaims “oh this is what you meant when you asked if we were sure we wanted to come to Ratanakiri during the rainy season,” roads that yawn at your evening plans, roads that politely suggest against riders, that instead kindly request pushers, roads that bring together excited Barang and infinitely entertained Khmer in an absolute giddy shit-show of lightning and thunder and one-two-three!-moi-pi-bey!-slipping and sliding and knocking each other down and almost getting crushed by a few thousand pounds of vehicle slip’n’sliding their way uphill for who the fuck knows how long let’s just walk, it is these roads which will spray their sickly fluid umber across your skin until you belong to the forest. (Note: semi-permanent; have fun in the shower.)
Do we become the spaces we inhabit, or do they become us?

Posted by: langincambodia | August 8, 2012

Be Something that has Suddenly Broadened, by Lori Carlson

I have never ever been in the company of a group of university students (here on the ground in Cambodia) anything quite like you.

That’s saying something; it puts you in some very good company with people whom I hold in high regard and whose ideas and experience I value.

I tend to want to draw very clear lines around the volunteer projects that I think are “useful”, “helpful”, and those that are not.  I find that those boundaries shift every now and then and as an organization, we are working towards creating more meaningful and deliberate exchanges between people that want to participate in PLF’s work and the communities we serve.  What is the purpose of volunteer engagement? How do we address the inherent contradictions in supporting volunteerism in Cambodia– individuals coming from tremendous wealth (relatively speaking) and privilege who are collectively complicit in creating the conditions they are attempting to try and “fix”?

Based on my experience with all of you from Lang, I think part of the answer lies in moving from a narrow and ad-hoc volunteering model to one of civic engagement.  Volunteering is showing up.  Civic engagement is showing up and paying attention.

In order to make this shift, Jas, Andrea and I worked hard long before you ever got here to shape the scope of your field projects. Thank you for working with us to make sure they were appropriate and needed. I loved that you were able to be flexible at all times, roll with the constant changes and redirection, and still retain the core purpose of your individual pieces of work.  Cambodia is an unpredictable place; it’s important to have an ear to the ground here and stay detached from rigid outcomes. You all did an excellent job with this, not everyone can.

These are just a few of the moments when I knew your field projects were being delivered as intended:

1. When I learned the gardener got on board with composting;
2. When I saw the students at Srayang peek into the microscopic world for the first time to see their own head lice;
3. When I saw you connecting with high school girls as they drew vaginas and talked about the real world (including their fears and hopes);
4. When I saw you understand and document the struggles of hopeful 9th graders during interviews for secondary school scholarships;
5. And don’t forget the small things like Chess, Chutes & Ladders, and Global Float–these seem small but matter greatly.

Even still, I know each one of you at the end of your stay here would say that you got more than you gave and that you will leave Cambodia in love with this land and the people who struggle, laugh and love within it.  I know your heart no longer feels the borders that separate people and that you have collapsed the distances between them. I know you will go home and continue to think deeply about the world and your place in it.  In wondering what that means, I know you will persist in asking uncomfortable questions about your (our) complicity in a world where a small minority reign over the majority.

What to DO? Who knows.

The only thing we can possibly know is how to BE. Be something that has suddenly broadened.  Keep with you the things you now know in a very personal way about the struggle of so many of our brothers and sisters in this world.  Cambodia is just one of so many; too many places in the world where people are suffering so that we don’t have to.

We need to ask more questions about that.  I hope we can do better.

I am so humbled by your openness and ability to find the humor in all things. This has been a gift. It has been an honor to work beside all of you, to ask the questions that have no obvious answers. And to keep asking, in another way, and yet another. To fully explore that uncomfortableness. To broaden. Thank you for sharing the experience of this on-going process with me.

To Jas, I would like to say that you did a perfect job preparing these Lang students and that your leadership in all of this has been one amazing feat after another. You just keep raising the bar.

Props to Andrea for all the google docs and keeping Jas’s rather HECTIC schedule running on time with no fuss. You are the Queen of the Cat Herders.

This is already too long but I have so much more to say. I think you all probably already know what those things are though, so I will just say that it was my (our) rare pleasure to have you here. You made me think deeply about our strengths and challenges as an organization and brought fresh perspectives to the way we understand PLF’s mission. I hold that as a treasure.

I have the feeling I might see a couple of you again down the road.  I hope so.

Posted by: langincambodia | August 6, 2012

What is the Meaning of School? by Fiona Mahurin

The determination that children possess to go to school is perhaps the single most defiant act that we’ve witnessed thus far in Cambodia, a place that is often wrongfully characterized as having no will to act. Contrary to stereotypes of docility, children we’ve encountered have suffered abandonment, left caretaker roles over siblings, slept in libraries, walked for days, and even threatened suicide, all in the name of school. It is too early for me to decipher what school means to local youth in Cambodia, especially for those who have never attended, but it is certainly a very different space than what we’ve considered back in the United States. Here, school can be a safe space that combines multiple elements aiding in providing basic needs such as food, water, healthcare, and security.
Dr. Kim, the medical care provider at Koh Ker school, after having gifted us with a collection of local fruits, set aside a portion of his busy day to speak with us this past weekend about the history and current situation of the village, including an overview of how the village was resettled after the Vietnamese occupation in 1979. Our conversation made clear that Dr. Kim sees the social issues facing Koh Ker through a much wider lens than from a simply medical standpoint. Important services provided at school, supported and encouraged by Dr. Kim, include breakfast, hygiene, and clean water. Basic services such as these have enormous outcomes that impact attendance, retention, performance, security, and confidence. Other structural decisions keep these factors in mind as well, such as dividing up school days over twelve, rather than ten months. By doing this, children are less likely to return for the new year with new diseases that have to be treated, and can quickly resume their studies after short, periodic vacations.
Dr. Kim had recently received word that eighteen students from grades second, third, and fourth were being pulled from school by their parents and will take the investigation of this matter upon himself, “This is the principal’s work, but I want to know. If they stop [school], the principal doesn’t care because he works for the government.” Dr. Kim’s passion for his work, which takes him beyond the medical field, was made starkly evident over the dinner table. “It makes me crazy,” he said, referring to the lack of parental support. Regardless, Dr. Kim views the students defiance and enthusiasm with admiration. “I am very proud [of the students] because they can think by themselves. They want to learn.”

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