During my time in Cambodia from 2015 until 2020, I was involved and worked as photographer/videographer for local and international NGO’s in Cambodia. (NGO stands for non governmental organisation) Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of being an photographer is to be hired and contribute for Oxfam-Kinderpostzegels or Cambodian Children’s Fund and other NGO’s. Proud to have worked for Cambodia.
Happy to share here some reflections on those projects with amazing powerful images and background story’s from the land of wonders Cambodia!
Cambodia is home to more than 3,000 non–governmental organisations, these NGOs in Cambodia provide a wide range of services to communities across the country.
Perhaps an obvious thing to do as a photographer is to record the most visible condition of the local population in Cambodia namely intense poverty.
For me the reality of real life is to show respect and attention to those in need and SEE them! Open a dialog and help where I can. Call it my social consciousness and desire to capture life at its most extreme form of survival. Provide a platform to people in need, not to exploit but to expose and to make life a bit better a day or a dollar at the time. NGOs do good work at best but also over look those at the bottom of their privileged feet, as I experienced many times in the capital city Phnom Penh.
The pictures I present here are the ones close to my heart, mostly unpublished and part of a personal story.
2015 Stichting Kinderpostzegels (Children Stamps org)
The Netherlands Children’s Stamps Foundation gives vulnerable children in the Netherlands and abroad opportunities for a better future.In 1924, the Netherlands was the second country to start selling children’s stamps. Since then, children’s stamps have been issued every year. The sale is organized by the Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland, which uses the proceeds to support charities for the benefit of the child. In 2015 I was hired to shoot a video promotion clip in Cambodia. Watch it here.
The assignment for Kinderpostzegels was to shoot a video clip for dutch audiences. I had to stick to strict guidelines in order to match the video clip part that was done in Holland. The basic storyline was about two young boys, both orphans living in different parts of the world. In need of the same care, love and education. Different cultures and different circumstances, but the same loss of natural parents. Living in a foster home. The boy in Holland is living with a foster family and the boy in Cambodia with his elderly grandparents.
During the shooting in and near the provincial town of Pursat we also went to a children’s orphanage school compound, where I found these kids waiting in anticipation for the foreigners. Clearly the children are dressed up into new pajamas and the whole scene has been set up for our purpose.
Through all of this I was very deeply emotional touched by the children when I looked deeper and closer into their faces and eyes, as you can see in the images here. There is something disturbing and neglect about these kids when I look back. Bless them!
Deep rooted corruption and imbalance of wealth in Cambodia has been the situation for decades, even centuries to be honest.
The United Nations, the EU and US Aid, have invested billions into Cambodia since 1992 to promote a form of democracy and to keep divided political fractions (Khmer Rouge) from fighting.
The result in 2021 is still immense poverty. Especially now during the 18 months of Covid-19 lockdowns and forced closed borders. This has hit millions of people already on the edge into a free fall and enormous poverty, social unrest and domestic violence
During those decades after the Khmer Rouge extremism and recovery years many NGO’s and aid organisations have stepped into Cambodia. Always follow the money. UNICEF resides at the most prestigious office building of Phnom Penh, where there is a world of air cons sweetly humming and the view over the city is splendid. Good for UNICEF!
Whatever the reason, or motivation of the NGO’s, the outcome is very often the same. A selected group of people will benefit and those who need the help the most are being looked over. NGO projects are targeted towards selected groups or political or religious goals.
During 2020 the words ”woman empowerment” and “diversity” were the catch phrases for immediately NGO funding for example.
At the same time smaller local NGO’s like the Cambodian Children’s Fund are working relentlessly for more than 17 years on grassroots level doing an incredible job and providing daily education programs and real support for the most vulnerable children in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian Children’s Fund
Pictures below show the progress made for these children after 3 years after taking the into the CCF nourishing and education programs. Two life’s with a decent future. (I made these two pictures separate between 2010-2013 and was present when Scott Neeson found them during his daily community walk at the Steung Meanchey garbage dump in 2010.
Criticism and cynicism aside, the video’s and images that I was proudly assigned to shoot for NGOs in Cambodia are my testimony to the wonderful Cambodian children and people I captured with a smile, dignity and hope for a better life.
Most of my assigned videos and images ended up into an annual reports, online for websites, magazines to raise awareness and the main goal, get funding!