I believe that our work at NIBC was well worth it. I worked at the Kontrack (not sure of spelling) school. The crew there mainly dug a ditch, to keep the school road from flooding in the rainy season, and put up fence posts while some spent time picking up trash and playing with kids. I believe our time was well spent. It was often frustrating work. The ditch became a pet project of mine. The first day was spent literally scratching the surface. It was not uncommon for the pickax to bounce off of the rock hard ground. We poured water on the area hoping to soften the soil, the plan seemed to work but it was then time to leave. Before departing we soaked the area hoping that it would still be mildly moist the next day. Digging did turn out to be easier using this method.
The job was also frustrating to me because of the lack of good tools. To begin with their weren’t many tools to go around. Of the tools available only 3 were tools that I would keep in my own garage, the rest were rather shabby. The heads of the pick axs and hoes would rotate mid swing and the shovels were less than ideal. The amount of time we worked also frustrated me, I realize that we aren’t on a work trip but I still like to finish tasks. There was a real concern that we would only get the ditch halfway dug.
The project made me realize what a western mindset I have. The job was not well planned out for us nor were we given ideal tools to complete it. The idea that the tools we had were what the subsistence farmers live with was not what immediately entered my mind. I looked at the ditch from a point of completing a task, not necessarily engaging locals. The first day one of the villagers did come help us dig, I was able to have a limited conversation with him, he said he was a Christian and that he had spent his entire life in the village. For me completion of the ditch was emblematic of American relief efforts. There is a stereotype of sorts among the Khmer people that Americans and Koreans will start relief efforts but not necessarily see them through. After having thought more about development I’m not sure that not seeing a task through to the end is necessarily a bad thing.
Engaging with the people is more important than finishing a task in Cambodia. Many people here have often come to expect a handout, I think that the exit of many NGO’s has been an effort to get the Khmer to take control of their own situation. Perhaps these exits are what give Americans and Korean efforts a poor reputation. As far as the ditch goes, we did complete what was originally planned, however they told us to did it farther on the last day. I feel satisfied with the job we did. I would of liked to have seen some of the villagers dig alongside of us to promote good interaction and relationship building. I realize that the language barrier and time constraint would seriously limit a relationship but it would have been nice. In reality the villagers were much to busy fishing or tending to other business to help with the ditch, a reality I am at peace with. I am glad that I was able to serve them in a small way. For those of you who have read this far into my ramblings, thank you, I’d love to talk more coherently and in depth with anyone who is interested.