Thursday, June 14, 2012

At the resettlement site

This is a month of "lasts."

This week, I spent a few days at the resettlement site outside Phnom Penh with our research team.  These are days spent talking to people, sitting on floors, parsing out each translated word, all under the heat of a glaring blue sky.

I met this community before it was displaced.  I visited them when they were resettling to this site last autumn and now, during this last visit, I witnessed their lives 8 months later.  Their houses are more or less built, their babies are bigger, and a shred of normalcy has returned - except it hasn't really.  They are more in debt than before and poorer than ever, having borrowed money from private lenders to rebuild their homes (often at usurious rates and according to ambiguous repayment schedules).  With very little livelihood opportunities at the site, they eke a living from random jobs around the site and typically do not have sufficient income to pay back their debts. 

The other day, a woman (not the one pictured above) cried to me and asked for help: the moneylender had come to confiscate her house and land, where her extended family of 15 lived.  What could she do?

On the quiet tuk-tuk ride back to the city, I murmured to my colleagues that she will likely lose her house; all we could do is document it.  Here, solutions, if and when they come, are slow.

I didn't speak another word for that entire ride back home. Neither did my colleagues.  I sometimes wonder how I've been able to manage this line of work. For some reason, that day more than any other, the wave of helplessness really hit me. And I was exhausted.


  1. It's so hard. It always feels like you are letting people down but, since there is no way for you to help everyone who needs help, I think you have to just keep plugging along with the mindset that what you are doing is contributing to good on the whole. That's how I've tried to deal with the countless occasions that I've had to walk away from riddled with guilt but feeling helpless all the same. I think just the fact that you are reflecting on this says that you are more apt to continue to contribute toward finding solutions. Nice post:)


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