Treak village is about 4 kilometres to the south of Siem Reap town, which is the main tourism service town for the World Heritage site at Angkor Wat. Though Siem Reap is pretty developed by Cambodian standards, if you make that 4 kilometre journey it is like travelling back in time 100 years. Indeed, in many parts of the village, life goes on much as it has done for the past 1,000 years! You can see wooden carts being pulled by cows, haystacks by people's houses where the straw from their rice fields is piled up, and pigs and hens and ducks and cows all living around and under the houses.
People traditionally built their houses from whatever materials they could find and poor people's houses are still built in exactly the same way. People who can afford to buy bricks and concrete are considered rich; poor houses are a single floor, about 6 metres by 4 metres, with a wooden frame and walls made of panels woven from grass and strips of bamboo. The roofs are woven grass or palm leaves; if people can save up a bit of money they like to make a roof with corrugated metal sheets as these last much longer than the grass, which has to be replaced every 2 years or so.
The poorest people have no land and build little shelters out of whatever they can find: bamboo poles; bits of old tin; plastic bags; old tarpaulins; cardboard; grass; old bits of wood that other people have finished with etc.
Around 80% of the people in Cambodia live in the countryside. Many people are farmers with a small rice field and a few animals; many are subsistence farmers who just grow enough for them and their families; many cannot even grow enough and their food runs out before the next rice crop is ready. Increasingly, as the population steadily recovers, people find they have no land, or they have to divide up their land for their children.
There is no piped water supply in Treak village; all the water comes from wells and many families share wells. The water has to be boiled or run through water filters before it is safe to drink but 30% of the families don't have water filters.
There is no sewage system in the village; people have simple collecting tanks next to their toilets that have to be emptied out. 50% of people have no toilet and have to use the forest.
There is no gas supply, there is no tarmac road; no one is connected to the telephone system.
In parts of the village the only visible signs of modern life are mobile phones, televisions running off car batteries or the electricity supply, and a few motorbikes.
Treak village is a very typical rural Cambodian village. Most people are subsistence farmers or fisherman; around half of the adults are illiterate, which is a direct consequence of the Khmer Rouge period when schools were closed, education was abandoned, and many teachers were killed or fled the country. At the end of the Khmer Rouge period in 1979 there were less than 10% of the teachers left. Education continues to improve but it is still pretty basic and teachers' salaries are very low; this impacts on the standard of teaching, which is also often poor. There is still a shortage of teachers and school buildings so half of the children go to school in the morning and the other half go in the afternoon. The teachers have to teach the same lessons twice, starting at 7.00 in the morning and finishing at 5.00 in the afternoon, 6 days a week and all for about $80 - $100 per month.
There isn't a government primary school in Treak village. The children have to attend one of the schools in the neighbouring villages. Over 90% of children start primary school but many don't finish. Only half of the children go on to start lower secondary school with only 18% of them going on to start senior high school. The situation is much worse in the more rural areas that make up the majority of the country. In addition, girls have much less chance of finishing school than boys and it's highly unlikely that a rural girl will complete her schooling.
Treak village has 2,000 people living in 330 families. Around 20% are on the official government poverty list which means they earn less than 50 cents per day. 30 families are classed as living in extreme poverty; this means that they have no land or job or savings or support from family members etc. Families living in poverty find it very hard to afford to send their children to school so the children cannot get good jobs when they grow up and the cycle of poverty starts all over again. There are good jobs within the tourism industry in nearby Siem Reap, though many are only for people who can speak & write English.
'There were so many highlights of my volunteer experience and it is difficult to pinpoint particular ones. I think the best part overall was working with an incredible group of dedicated and hardworking teachers who give their all and make it the place it is.' Volunteer, Sophie
Volunteer opportunities in this community support programme can involve health care, child care, teaching skills, sport, craft - and other experience will also be put to good use. Take a look at the list of needs, as identified by the project, near the top of this page. Work with local people and play your part in responsible volunteer projects abroad.