“We used to be one family, and we are still one family…”
The familiar tune of the Tzu Chi song, “We Are One Family” wafted across the air at Dangkor Landfill. Volunteers from Tzu Chi Cambodia and Tzu Chi Merit Organization (Singapore), together with their new-found friends at Dangkor, linked hands and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, as they united in joyful singing and dancing in a huge friendship circle.
From 23rd to 24th December, 2017, Tzu Chi volunteers once again visited the Landfill in Dangkor to conduct a relief distribution. Mr Keo Channarith, the manager in charge of the Landfill, said with much gratitude: “Today is a very special and joyful day for the residents, because they are going to receive free goods and services, such as clothes, shoes, hair-cuts, manicures, and even clean showers. These are all brand new experiences for everyonethat had never been part of the previous relief distributions.”
He went on to describe the extreme poverty of the Landfill’s residents, which had caused much unbearable hardships in their midst. They were bombarded with the unbearable stench of rotting garbage daily, and their extremely unhygienic living conditions often led to respiratory issues and skin diseases. Mr Channarith also commended Tzu Chi for continuing its aid efforts to improve the health of the residents and to help raise the educational standards of the children.
Hair-cuts and Clean Showers for a Fresh Start
At the beginning of October 2017, Tzu Chi conducted its first relief goods distribution in Dangkor Landfill, while also providing free dental and family medicine services. In this round of relief distribution, besides providing free medical services, volunteers also erected three tents to serve as beauty and hair salons, where residents were given free hair-cuts and manicures.
In the city of Phnom Penh, a typical hair-cut for an adult costs about US$1.50, while a child’s hair-cut costs about US$0.60. To the impoverished residents in Dangkor, who eke out a living by scavenging, even such seemingly paltry sums will put a heavy financial strain on them, to the extent that some of them only have a hair-cut once a year.
Cambodia was experiencing its annual dry season at this time; the bright sun heated up the day while strong winds stirred up thick clouds of dust. Tzu Chi volunteers had set up eight shower stalls, segregated into male and female showering areas. They carried pails of clean water to the showering areas for the residents to enjoy clean showers after their hair-cuts. After showering, the residents changed into their new clothes and shoes, with neatly combed hair.
“It feels really good after a hair-cut!” 6-year-old Rathanak exclaimed enthusiastically as he touched his newly trimmed head.
Rathanak had followed his older sister, Say Lakna, to select fitting clothes and shoes, and then took a shower on the spot before donning new clothes to pose for a photo together.
Two years ago, after divorcing her husband, their 41-year-old mother brought her four children back to the Landfill. Say Lakna and her younger sister had to stop school and helped to scavenge together with their mother in order to support the family and to enable their younger brother, Rathanak, to continue schooling. A week before, Say Lakna accidentally fell down while her mother was cooking, and her torso, chest, arms and legs were scalded by hot oil as a result. After the doctor learned about her injuries, she carefully cleaned and bandaged Say Lakna’s wounds.
The young lady expressed with much grateful joy: “The doctor was full of love; she gently cleaned my wounds, and the two-day event allowed my siblings and I to participate in charity activities. We are also very happy to receive many daily necessities.”
New School Bags and Stationery Inspire Learning
On top of these, there was the surprise appearance of two Santa Clauses, who led everyone in joyful dancing and singing. The sounds of joyful laughter wafted through the air in Dangkor, carried along by the gentle breeze that blew through the grounds. Then, the children sang two popular local songs to show their appreciation to the Tzu Chi volunteers.
The volunteers also reminded the children: “Do not use plastic bags or bottles again; treasure the free water bottles you will be given. Do not buy Coca Cola and drink boiled water instead. Remember to bring your own water bottle in the next distribution!”
The little ones listened quietly and nodded their heads before walking towards the distribution area in an orderly manner. Lined up in two neat rows, the volunteers bowed gently towards each child before handing out reusable bags containing stationery, colour pencils, food, drinks, and water bottles, to the kids.
“My daughter’s uniforms have always been picked up from what others throw away, so we are very happy to receive new uniforms today.” Dangkor resident, Nhoek Kunthea, said emotionally through red-rimmed eyes.
Every day, she and her husband wake up at 2am to scavenge among the Landfill, in order to feed their family of five. The couple often toil through the night and morning till late afternoon, before returning home at around 3pm. On this day, their oldest son, who was 14 years old, took care of his younger siblings, while their 12-year-old daughter, Sroy Kimmouy, a Grade 5 student, accompanied her mother and a 3-year-old younger brother to the relief distribution site. They had a happy and memorable day getting their hair trimmed and clean showers as well as selecting clothes together. Nhoek Kunthea hoped that her daughter would do well in studies and find a good job some day in the future.
Year Ho and her husband have been scavenging together for the past 5-6 years, they start toiling in the Landfill from 9am in the morning till about 7pm before heading home, all for the sake of earning a little more income to feed their family of five with three children. She said, “I thank Tzu Chi for enabling my kids to have new uniforms, shoes and bags for school, just like other children.”
Tzu Chi’s rice distribution had also helped them save some money for their children’s education, and she really hoped that her children would one day break the poverty cycle and walk out of the shadows of eking out a hand-to-mouth living among the Landfill.
“I have received some stationery that I was lacking previously, and I love to study. When I grow up, I hope to become a businessman and repay my parents, so that they no longer have to scavenge for a living,” said Year Ho’s 12-year-old daughter, Pie Sveymey.
After trying on her uniform, it was found to be slightly over-sized, and an observant volunteer carefully made some minor modifications to the buttons, and altered it to become a fitting uniform for the thankful young girl.
Another 10-year-old girl, Khong Sokna, was so elated after receiving her new school bag that she said with a bright smile: “I love the Khmer language and hope to become a teacher in future.”
Sokna often helped out with housework and cooking at home, and would even accompany her parents in scavenging among the Landfill during the school holidays. She has lived with her parents at the Landfill for five years, and her father was recently injured after a motorcycle accident. Her mother said with much gratitude: “This is our fourth time receiving rice from Tzu Chi, and it’s really a timely relief of our family’s heavy financial burdens.”
Free Clinic Relieves Suffering While Free Rice Fills Hunger
The Tzu Chi free clinic served about 283 residents over the two days. 50-year-old Lin Ai Cun still bore horrific memories from 20 years ago, after she fainted as a result of a painful tooth extraction, and had since been fearful of tooth extractions. Thus, she had endured a toothache for five years, to the point that it became so unbearable that she finally made a resolute decision to overcome her innate fear and have her tooth extracted at the free clinic.
“I couldn’t imagine that it only took the dentist here a few minutes to extract a tooth. I will come here in future for tooth extractions,” she said with relief, flashing a toothy smile to everyone present.
On the second day, she stepped into the clinic again with a courageous smile, to have another decayed tooth extracted. After receiving free rice from Tzu Chi for the fourth time, she happily said, “My life has improved after receiving the free rice from Tzu Chi, and I finally have my own savings.”
“Our savings were wiped out after the accident. If it were not for the help of the medical professionals at the free clinic in cleaning the wound on my hand, it would still be oozing with pus and very painful. After the doctor lovingly cleaned the pus from my wound with much care, it is not so painful now,” said Som Sav.
She scavenged in the day together with her husband, and worked in a plastic processing factory at night. About a month ago, due to work fatigue, she accidentally had three of her fingers sliced off while operating a plastic-cutting machine, and the family fell into financial hardship due to the loss of her extra portion of income. Their 10-year-old son had to shoulder the added responsibility of looking after his 5- and 8-year-old younger siblings.
Entrepreneurs and corporate executives were also invited to participate in this round of relief distribution, and it was Singaporean entrepreneur, Sok Hang Chaw’s first involvement with Tzu Chi’s relief distribution. Though he had never bathed his own children before, he still helped out in the showering area. He had also invited his Cambodian business partner, Horng Pheap, to join him in this meaningful venture.
“It is common to see students going on holidays during their school vacations, but my two kids chose to join me in this relief distribution, and together, we’ve gained a great experience that is even more memorable and meaningful than just going on a vacation,” shared Horng Pheap.
He had brought along his entire family and a dozen or more of his staff to help out at the Landfill, where they experienced the joy of serving and caring for the needy.
Another businessman, Wu Yong, who operates a shoe factory in Cambodia, together with his shareholders, donated the 2,000-plus pairs of shoes that were distributed to the residents, while he himself personally signed up as a volunteer for the event.
The first day of the relief distribution ended at about 5pm in the evening. The head of Tzu Chi Cambodia, Xie Ming Xun, said to the residents: “Today, we have brought joy to everyone. When you feel happy, you can also do your part to help others in need.”
After listening to his inspiring speech, many of the residents enthusiastically donated into the Tzu Chi Bamboo Coin Banks, in response to the organisation’s call of “saving for a good cause”, so as to perpetuate the virtuous cycle of love and blessings.