Alastair Dutton: Wee Box that can help bring about big change for Cambodia’s poor

Fishing in the Sekong River are Lang Phong, daughter Thongtheng and son Nuden.
Fishing in the Sekong River are Lang Phong, daughter Thongtheng and son Nuden.
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Cambodia is one of the world’s fastest growing tourist ­destinations with more than five million visitors – almost the entire population of Scotland – flocking to its capital Phnom Penh and attractions such as the legendary Angkor Wat temple each year.

The south-east Asian country has become particularly popular with young people but many know very little about the millions who ­continue to live in abject poverty or the ­genocide that caused the deaths of around 1.7million people during the four-year reign of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

SCIAF Director Alistair Dutton

SCIAF Director Alistair Dutton

The truth of the matter is that, while the latest figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council show the industry brings in roughly £3.2 billion a year to the economy, the poorest never reap the benefits.

Most of Cambodia’s population of 16 million struggle to survive on little more than two dollars a day and the country ranks as one of the poorest in the world. The rights of many poor families are being pushed aside, and the rivers and land they and future generations depend on are under threat.

SCIAF’S 2018 Wee Box, Big Change, Lent appeal – launched today on Ash Wednesday – focuses on how Scottish donations are helping poor families affected by poverty and illegal fishing in one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia, Stung Treng. This year, all donations made to the appeal before 8 May will be doubled – pound-for-pound – by the UK government. It means people across Scotland will be able to help those living with hunger, poverty, war, disease and disasters in some of the poorest countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Previous UK aid match money has provided life-changing practical ­support to cattle herders in Ethiopia and women farmers in Malawi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Working with our local partner agency, Development and Partnership in Action (DPA) in Cambodia, we’re helping some of the most vulnerable groups in Stung Treng work their way out of poverty and fight for their rights, so they can live with dignity and support ­themselves.

Scottish donations have helped to change thousands of lives around the world including the Cambodian ­family of Lang Phong, his wife Toma and their five children, who feature on this year’s Wee Box.

The Langs depend on fishing and farming to survive but they were ­badly affected by criminal gangs who used dynamite and electrocution to harvest huge numbers of fish in their local river, leaving the family struggling to feed themselves.

We’ve been helping the Langs and their neighbours form a Community Fishing Association to work closely with the police and local authorities, and set up regular patrols of the river to prevent illegal fishing, so fish stocks can return to levels which can support local families and future ­generations. The Langs were also trained to increase their rice ­harvests and vegetable seeds, so they could grow more food.

The money given by the UK government will help 20,000 more Cambodians in 50 villages affected by poverty, illegal fishing and land-grabbing. This includes providing seeds, farm tools and safe drinking water.

The Langs told us how grateful they are for the help they received from Scotland. “We want to say thank you to the people of Scotland who have provided this support,” Lang said.

The Lang family’s story of how their lives have changed since becoming involved in our project is very ­compelling. Lang said: “We get more fish now. Before, people used to dynamite the fish and stocks declined by around half. When I saw it I was really angry. I felt helpless because I wasn’t able to stop them. It stopped here after the Community Fishing Association became active. The police join the ­river patrol each month.”

Toma said that before training helped them learn new and more ­sustainable farming methods, they were extremely poor, struggled to grow enough food, and couldn’t afford to pay for their children’s school fees, uniforms and clothes.By supporting SCIAF’s Wee Box, you’ll help many more people like the Langs stand up for their rights and work their way out of poverty.

We can all work together to make sure people in Cambodia and ­other poor countries can protect their rights, feed their families and support themselves, so they can not only ­survive, but thrive.

To get your own Wee Box, make a donation, or find out more about the appeal, visit www.sciaf.org.uk or call 0141 354 5555.

Alistair Dutton, director, SCIAF.