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Prak Kadam: A day in the provinces

I slept deeply, really deeply, till about 5.30am as my body clock is still on European time. My guess is that if I shifted a little I would have drifted right back to sleep but the events and sights of the previous day came back to me in a rush: "To let you live is no gain, to kill you is no loss." How can people be so cruel?

Now anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not the most outwardly sentimental or emotional person around, but we are meeting older people who actually lived through the Pol Pot era, and behind their easy smile there is a palpable sadness and their eyes still glisten whenever the cruelty of the past is dredged up.

However, barbaric cruelty always seeps down from the top and most of the perpetrators were mere children themselves - still in their early teens, they were torn from their own families, groomed in the worst possible way, and threatened that if they did not do the things they did, blindly, for the State, they too would be considered enemies and tortured and killed along with their families. Many of the victims at S-21 were in fact young teens who just couldn't do what the government demanded of them, so they themselves were destroyed.

The horrors seem almost medieval in their cruelty, yet this is still happening today in Africa and places like Syria. The Islamic Group ISIS, unheard of until just a few years ago, is grooming teenagers to carry out heinous crimes against humanity and I fear the true face of these atrocities will surface some time in the future. Then we'll all be shocked and we'll visit memorials to the millions that perished, and we'll ask ourselves whether we did enough at the time.

Sunday is the last "free" day before we start working with the kids, so the group divided into three. Obviously, I can only write about my experiences today as Chiara, Martina and myself were taken outside Phnom Penh to Prek Kadam province to visit yet another of the LRDE projects.

We had spend an hour or two with the children at Prek Kadam when we were here last year, and it was gratifying that everybody remembered us and, judging by the roaring welcome, were genuinely happy to see us again. Our colleagues from LRDE set about distributing blankets, books, school supplies and even pocket money to the community, and we rounded up our visit with a couple of high-energy, impromptu drama games which the children absolutely loved.

It was time to tear ourselves away from this wonderful community and head further afield. We were going to accompany some of the children, sponsored by Do Cambodia, to their homes on the outskirts of town and the one thing that I will be taking back today is that when life takes a dump on you, it really does take a dump on you and the story of six-year old Ratanah (not his real name) is a particularly sad one: his mother abandoned the family of six when Ratanah was just three months old leaving the father, a construction worker, to bring up the children.

As if that isn't bad enough, a couple of months ago a truck-driver lost control of his vehicle and smashed into their rickety home, killing one of the cousins and rendering the family homeless. Today they live on an elevated plank of wood in a corner of a field.

The older children are sent to school because their father is determined that they should have a better live than his. The younger children are, as yet, too young for school but we we hoping to find a couple of sponsors to help this family out of this dark hole.

Before we said our goodbyes Chiara cleaned and dressed the open sores on the feet of young Ratanah and we gave the boy a pair of shoes and a couple of t-shirts that we happened to have with us.

Back in central Phnom Penh we rushed to the Russian Market to buy new shoes since we had a good four centimetres of mud stuck to the ones we were wearing during the day. And that's when the monsoon struck and we got soaked to the bone. Not a bad thing seeing how none of us were smelling particularly pleasant. Plus it's a great way to cool down.

As I close this epistle for the day, I've got Ms Katherine to my right taking some of our teachers through tomorrow's lesson plan, whilst Chiara takes the rest of the group through the choreography of the dances we will be doing tomorrow.

Our jet lag is over, our sleeves are rolled up - tomorrow we take Phnom Penh by storm.

Alan Montanaro

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