During my Phnom Penh photography walks I regularly came across a small community of the poorest.
On a small plot of waste land, right on the edge of the Mekong River. Named Areyksat, its located next to a busy ferry crossing. There are about twenty five or more huts built of waste wood on stilts because the river rises several meters during the rainy season.
The poverty there is so appalling and the energy of the residents so admirable that I loved coming here to take pictures.
There was always a welcoming atmosphere, not hostile or dismissive.
Actually, nowhere in Cambodia is that the case.
I gradually got to know a number of residents more intimate and saw their children grow up in a period between 2013 and 2020. Often donated food or some money here and there and offered support when possible.
In one of those huts I saw a young boy lying on the ground in a dark hut and once outside I noticed that he had a serious eye defect.
A whole family lived in the hut, mother, father, some brothers and sisters, plus a grandmother.
After a few times I went to have a chat during my visit and I took a good look at the boy in that dark hut. What struck me was that he was not blind at all. His eyes position weren’t right, he couldn’t see straight. Because of that, he seemed to make spastic movements with his head, which in fact what he did was fixate for brief moments to be able to see anything at all.
Cambodia is the land of ten thousands NGOs looking away
A multi-billion dollar do-good-industry with multi million dollar players and hundreds of smaller aid organizations.
Unfortunately most of the NGOs work according to their own programs and it was not possible to find anything locally in Phnom Penh to help, only banners to donate money to these NGO’s.
Fortunately, I had already worked with Scott Neeson and his Cambodian Childrens Organization.
After sending some pictures and contacting Scott Neeson and his CCF chief doctor in charge, I was allowed to register the boy at the CCF for a doctors consultation. A 30 minutes drive to the opposite part of Phnom Penh. If you feel inspired to help out and donate to the CCF, click here. Thank you!
The ensuing treatments and ultimately cataract surgery have ensured that the boy called Tri Trey, can now function well, he can go to school and have a relatively normal childhood and ultimately no longer be a burden for his poor family and can give an financial input later in life.
The gradual process of getting the boy out of the dark hut, convincing his parents of the meaning and what we are going to do was a special experience. Once reassured and actually helped with a number of additional basic living necessities such as 10 kilos of rice and other food supplies and some medicines, I was fully trusted and was getting all cooperation from his mom to help her son.
Good people, warm and grateful. But also fear and insecurity – within the boy- who started to hate me as soon as he noticed me, because that was meaning going to the doctor and move out of his private life in the dark.
The photos shown here are not intended to illustrate my meddling but rather the reality of what a little bit of attention and help can mean to those who don’t have the means.
These photos from 2014 remind me personally also of the work of Eugene Smith, an American photographer who became famous with his pictures in LIFE magazine and with the series about Minamata, a mercury-poisoned fishing village in Japan.
This series is my tribute to Eugene Smith and to all the children of Cambodia in need.
Now at the end of 2021 I relive the moments and re examine the images with more distance to reflect. Back then I was always moving forward and on to the next thing. This photo story was very real and profound experience, even more so today.
Emotionally it was great to see the boy named Trin Tray a few weeks after the surgery walking, running around and watching other children busy.
Unfortunately the procedure did’t work on both eyes 100%, one eye was upgraded for 50%. Together good enough to improve his awareness and eyesight much better to function.
Just an ordinary sweet boy, born on the wrong side of the river with a whole life in Cambodia ahead of him.
Satisfaction is the right feeling to have been able to give just that little push.
Best of luck to you Tri Trey.