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Life in Cambodia: Village Life

There are perhaps 50 adults and 250 children living in and around Osdao, a village that is about 2 square kilometers in size in the province of Pursat. The two nearest villages are Svay Ath and Krangpophlack. Each is slightly smaller than Osdao, with approximately 150-200 people. Pursat town is approximately seven kilometers from Osdao.

There is a great deal of transit that takes place between the surrounding villages and Osdao, with methods of travel including bicycle, motorbike, lorries on train tracks, walking and carts pulled by motorbike or oxen. The people transport fruits, vegetable and rice for sale in the markets.

Roads that connect the villages are the primary transportation corridors for the population. In the central business district of Pursat town, homes are connected to the city water treatment facility, yet most homes beyond the central business district, including those in the village of Osdao, get their water from the nearest water source: Pursat River, small ponds, or from rice paddies. There is a general inaccessibility to water for the majority of the people in Pursat province.

For those living outside the central business district, water from lakes, rivers and irrigation networks is transported in buckets typically carried by the families. Most people boil the water and use it for non-human consumption. Otherwise it is untreated. Those who can afford it collect rain water in large clay pots or buy bottled water.

The community needs better connectivity to clean drinking water and irrigation for crops during the dry season. This means improvement and expansion of water pipelines, expansion and improvement of the treatment facility to ensure the water's safety and rebuilding and improving the irrigation networks. The best thing we could do is to build them some deep wells. We have spoken with the CARE office in Pursat and they said the ground water is clean.

There is one major road through Osdao, Highway 5, which is gravel and dirt in Pursat and paved in various sections of Phnom Penh. Many smaller roads intersect with the highway, primarily dirt roads, connecting the communities in and around Osdao. There are approximately 10 of these smaller roads in total in and around the village.

Homes in Pursat are primarily built facing the roads, with the backyards primarily used for agriculture. A small percentage of people own their land, but many rent it from landowners. The average plot of land and home site is perhaps 100-200 square meters. Each plot of land is titled, like in the U.S., and the title is registered at the Sapovmeas district. The landlords who rent out land are wealthy Pursat residents.

Villagers who are not involved in agriculture work in the market or local stores. Pursat is famous for its stone carvings of cultural relics.

Cows are very valuable to villagers as they can help with farm work and are a source of meat. In Pursat farmers also raise chickens, pigs and ducks, which bring much needed income to families. All animals are valuable to these poor people. Around 80% of the villagers own animals of some kind. About the only domestic animals in ample supply are chickens and ducks, but there is a need for more cows and pigs because they are in short supply.

Most land in and around Pursat is used for rice cultivation, so farm animals are only a diversification of farmer's income. The residents could not handle large-scale animal husbandry operations because of they lack education in that area. The very limited amount of land each family owns would make it difficult to accommodate a large increase in farm animals.

Unfortunately there is crime in and around the village. The issues, ranging from domestic crime to political violence, regrettably extend to the children through forced labor.

From David Pred
“I am composing this message from Osdoa Village in Pursat, Cambodia
. Right now I am sitting on the porch of the Sylvia Lasky Memorial School in Pursat, perched above a lotus garden, munching fresh papaya and watching the people roll by on the dusty dirt road in front of me. Today is the last day of the month-long Buddhist ceremony when the Khmer (Cambodian) people, who have the means, make a pilgrimage from their villages to bring offerings of food and clothes to the monks at the main pagoda in the countryside. The monks pray for the souls of the dead relatives of the villagers, take a little bit of the food for themselves, and then distribute the rest of the offerings to the most destitute families. This is the rural Cambodian welfare system.

The pilgrims pass by on bicycles, motorbikes, ox-drawn carts, or are piled onto the backs and roofs of pickup trucks. One family of six just crept by on a single motorbike, and behind them was a small truck with at least thirty people inside, on top and hanging off. This incredible sardine-like quality is one of the things that amazes me the most about people in poor countries. It is a trait that we, in the more comfort-adoring wealthier countries, can only gawk at in wonder.

It is 90 degrees and the air is thick with humidity, although winter has just begun here in Southeast Asia. I hear pigs squealing, roosters crowing, children laughing, monks drumming and chanting and the passing trucks honking incessantly. Directly behind the bumpy road, which leads to Phnom Penh, a train is inching by at a laughable speed, with thousands more pilgrims and monks crammed inside and on top of the cars. Beyond the road and the train tracks are bright green rice paddies with sparsely situated palms and wooden shacks built on stilts tall enough, their residents hope, to clear the floods which will come with the next monsoon.”