This is not the post I promised on Liger, which will be forthcoming.
Last week brought a lot of opportunity for sight-seeing and adventure, now that we have a better grasp on how to get around. A highlight of my week was accompanying two of the Liger teachers to the local Frisbee league. I am always impressed that the Ultimate community, wherever it may be located, is always a place where I feel welcomed and comfortable. The league has four teams of roughly 10 people (that were actually present) and splits to play 4 on 4 on a small turf field. Doing something so normal to me was a welcome relief.
Other highlights of the week include seeing the students perform music on two occasions. One of the performances was at a local restaurant, Luna D’Autunno, owned by a woman who has been working with the kids for several weeks. The other performance was a concert given over Skype by both Liger and a Singapore school, which was just completely different than any concert I’ve been to before. Liger and the Singapore school Skype weekly and perform music for each other. The Liger students mostly sang pop music accompanied by guitar, while the Singapore students played classical music on an impressive variety of classical instruments (a few strings, several keyboards, a tuba, and a few woodwinds.) It was awesome to see two schools from such different places and with such different music come together to experience each other. Really, this experiencing and respecting of different people’s lives embodies Liger. Liger recognizes that its students have only had the opportunity to experience a very small portion of the world, and seeks every opportunity to connect their students with people from all over.
I am not a historian and it is altogether possible that I may have written something in error.
If that is the case, I apologize. Wikipedia actually has an excellent overview of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The most moving and difficult place we have seen is the Killing Fields, which honor the memories of the ~2 million people who died under the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. We visited two sites: the Killing Fields, at which the regime exterminated thousands of people, and S-21, which was one of the largest and most ruthless prisons and now hosts the Genocide Museum. Understanding the slaughter that occurred during the genocide is critical towards understanding how Cambodia is today. Our trip to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum give us just small glimpses into the brutality that swept the country and the aftermath that still plagues the country today.
Pol Pot was a dictator who desired to set up a completely interdependent and equal Communist state, following the same ideals as Mao Tse-tung. His forces captured Phnom Penh in 1975, and he remained in control as Prime Minister for four years until 1979. Initially, the people of Phnom Penh welcomed his soldiers, because they came saying that they would lead a revolution to end the suffering of the people (at the time, Vietnam was trying to overthrow the Cambodian government and US bombs were destroying both Vietnam and Cambodia.) Shortly after taking control of the city, Pol Pot’s forces evacuated the cities to the countryside and made everyone participate in brutal work camps, slaving 12 hours a day on very thin gruel. Many died of starvation. At the same time, the Khmer Rouge began targeting anyone educated or with Western knowledge. Doctors in particular were targeted, and anyone who could read. Many were taken to a prison or execution site. Over four years in power (though the Khmer Rouge was recognized by the UN as the only official representative of Cambodia until 1990), the Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of about a quarter of the population, or about 2 million people. Those who were not directly executed starved in the work camps or died of illness, because medicine was no longer allowed.
How can this inform us about Cambodia today? The Cambodian genocide happened in the late seventies, so the people directly affected are the parents and grandparents of today’s children. Anyone who could read was executed. Anyone who studied science was executed. Before Pol Pot, Cambodia was not well off, and the destruction of education set them back immensely. Today, children go to school, but the teachers themselves are not particularly well educated. Many people do not have jobs, and few people have the ambition to get one — presently there is not much opportunity for upward momentum, for change. Liger hopes to change Cambodia through education, and the Cambodian people are excited when they do see progress made. In particular, STEM is becoming increasingly important to the country, and the first local STEM competition was held recently. Right now Cambodia is a victim of a vicious cycle that prevents education and progress, simply because there are not people who know how to teach more effectively. However, Cambodia is ready to change, and it will be exciting to see how much can be accomplished.
On a much lighter note… the lizards have been named: Spectacle, Howard, Cheerio, and Sneaky.
Expect posts soon about our weekend trip to the river towns of Kampot and Kep, and also a profile of Liger!
Next weekend we will be traveling to Angkor Wat!