A Painful Decision



Life in Cambodia is incredible. We have reasonably good weather most of the time, when we are not in a drought or flooded. It is relatively safe and the cost of living for most expats is cheap!

Living without the little luxuries of life back home, is not such an issue. Cold water showers, dust and litter everywhere, insane drivers, nonexistent traffic rules, chaos and more are things, which eventually become the norm.

You miss the little things… e.g. – having systems that work. Order. Power that for the most part is constant and stable. Treats. Rules that although sometimes appear draconian are there for everyone’s good and which rules cannot generally be bypassed simply by depositing a small wad of cash on the table.

Everyday hassles are outweighed by the happy smiles of the people in our community, but it is still a daily uphill battle and struggle to get things done.

I think the past year has been a difficult one for us & MaD as so many just seem to take the easy route of paying for the convenience of having things done their way, or getting what they want – even in the NGO field, justifying it as a means to an end which ultimately helps Cambodia!

But does it???

All these justified payments of ‘advisor fees’ or whatever they are called, gives the perpetrators’ more reason to carry on ‘screwing’ the people. It happens to everyone not just NGOs or us. The only difference is the amount!!!

As I have said to many a volunteer – if the returns were not really worthwhile, the beggars would NOT beg! They do it BECAUSE it is so worthwhile…

The same is the case with many different places, people, officers, organisations etc. that we have had to deal with.

What is this about?

MaD entered in to a 3 year partnership in 2008 with a UK Charity VPO – within a month they had walked away from their agreement costing us personally, just short of US$30,000. JUSTIFIED because THEY were going to lose money! Not even a negotiated settlement! Just screw you we made a mistake and we are leaving you to carry the biscuit.

It knocked us for six & we have still not fully recovered from that loss.

Then during the later half of 2009 the APSARA authorities started to move in on us and our activities in Bakong, preventing, delaying or stopping us doing many projects to help the community.

Currently we have permit applications awaiting decisions lodged in June 2009. Applications to build a number of homes and sorely needed sanitation units. However this was not to be thanks to the intervention of APSARA.

In May we started the foundation footings of a new home for a young family who have the land and have since April 2009 been living in a converted pig sty – Father, mother [who is now pregnant with their 3rd child] and two young kids. They live in a shack barely 3m x 2m – which over looks the start of their new home. Piled high in front of their shack, covered by a blue tarpaulin is all the timber to build them a beautiful, simple home (see 2nd photo album below).

APSARA stopped us dead in our tracks in May 2009 and insisted we make application for a building permit… Despite numerous telephone calls and personal visits to their offices the application has progressed no further!!! Status Quo remains as it was in April 2009… With the very real likelihood the family’s 3rd child will be born in a pig sty!

The same is true of our sanitation program… Foundations dug and concrete pouring stopped mid way through – sites abandon with materials still on site – in the hope we would one day, eventually be granted the permits to build simple shower and compost toilet units for poor and needy families! But alas this program too has been foiled by our good friends at APSARA.

Needless to say the resentment within the community has grown as these rural village folk have had the very simple and basic requirements for a clean, hygienic way of improving their lives taken away from them!

MaD tried every avenue of diplomacy to resolve the  deadlock without success – the old saying if you can’t beat them, join them was considered, but in the end we decided that this would cause more harm than good – not only would we be perpetuating the problem, but once you open the floodgate to paying your ‘advisory fees’ (bribes), who knows when it will stop?

During December the whole situation reached exploding point… we are now not allowed to do a thing in the community without APSARA approval… our activities have been severally curtailed and we are not able to do what we set out to do in the community.

Permission must be obtained for everything – installing a water pump, building a sanitation unit, refurbishing a poor families home, even building a chicken coop is prohibited.

This is farcical!

We have had endless meetings onsite with APSARA to reason the decisions, seek solutions and find compromise – to NO AVAIL!

We have had a titanic ding-dong with them: resulting in six threatening officers & a 90 min standoff with Palynath over some thatch umbrellas that we built for our tea garden. We were told to destroy the umbrellas ourselves, or the police would be called to destroy them…

YES the conclusion is – we stood up to them and they have not taken it kindly! But we probably should have known they would simply make up new rules to use against us.

The long and short of it all is that our eighteen months of work in the community has been compromised and we are now subject to the whims of APSARA. We are required to obtain permits for everything and anything including, it would now appear, for many of the projects we completed more than a year ago. Without these permits we face the real risk of the work being destroyed!

Petty as it sounds – we must have a permit to erect a birdbath in the front garden! YIP a birdbath!!!

Our Bakong Tea Garden is under threat, as is the orphanage, the very essence of us being a community based organisation in Bakong is now no longer possible!

APSARA are needless to say creating many enemies amongst the community, which seems bizarre given their legal mandate, but they are so influential and corruption is so rife it would be impossible to ever gain the advantage. Palynath met with the Chief of Bakong Commune the other day and he related to her how angry and disappointed he is with APSARA as they have essentially robbed him of his power to make decisions within his Commune and his ability to help the people he is supposed to be responsible for.

Therefore we have had to make a VERY DIFFICULT & PAINFUL decision.  We love Bakong, its people, the way of life and our lovely home and farm, but we are left with no choice but to move MaD to a new property. We have found a small property on the outskirts of Siem Reap which looks very promising.  However it requires a huge investment to get it in to shape for us to move there and relocate MaD.

We need your support and help in this please, as we are incurring huge unexpected costs at a time when we are just recovering from the massive loss inflicted by VPO and a year of extreme financial pressure.

Once it is established, we all believe that the new base will be a great aid to our future development.  It is on the main road, near the airport and Angkor Wat, so our garden cafe should be able to attract more customers, and likewise give us more of an opportunity to publicise our charitable work.  There will also be considerably more space for volunteer accommodation. You can check out photos of the new property in the top photo album below.

Below is a shopping list of everything we need to get the new base up and running.

* Building materials alone will cost us at least US$2,800

* Moving our whole family of kids, animals, team and tools, plants etc. will cost us US$500 DONATED


* Funding for the lease of the property for 12 months US$4,800 payable in 12 instalments of US$400

* Move the internet and other such services US$150

* Making new signs, printing new cards and stationery, receipt & invoice books etc. US$600

As the property has no furniture we need to buy new/second hand furniture tables, chairs, beds, cupboards etc.  Some of these items are listed below:

* washing machine US$450

* fridge US$350

* freezer US$480

* 4 bunk beds US$500

* stove & oven US$650

Conchetta & I have funded MaD for the most part, over the last 2 years.  But even with your generous support and funding we find ourselves increasingly incapable of carrying the financial burden.

This is MaD’s hour of need, and we urgently call for all the support we can get.

If you are able to assist us, please do get in contact.  Every little really does help!  You can:

* Donate online via our website

* Set up your own personal fundraising page on our brand new First Giving account, and get your family, friends and work colleagues to sponsor you

Thank you in advance for reading this request and we will all be very grateful for any assistance you can offer.  Every pledge of support no matter how small aids us in our mission to help the Cambodian people.

Many thanks & Best Regards

Phillip Starling, Founder

MaD – Making a Difference for Good!

PS.  We now have more than 200 fans on our facebook page.  Check it out now and become a fan!