srei kmornh village, Takeo province – Long Thornh would give his life for the CPP, but it hasn’t done much for him lately.
“People here live because of the CPP,” Long Thornh, the village chief in Srei Kmornh, says with arm-flailing conviction. “After three years, eight months and 20 days [of Khmer Rouge rule], they saved us from the Pol Pot time.”
But when talk shifts to today, the praise ends. Srei Kmornh’s ramshackle schoolhouse of bamboo and palm has holes in it. Inside, six rotting benches are already giving way, and there’s a fist-sized gash in the chalkboard. Only half of the village’s 90 children can even squeeze inside.
Four times he’s sent messages to the government for assistance. He’s never heard a response.
“We are so far away no one comes here,” Long Thornh said, shaking his head. “The government has forgotten about us.”
It’s the lament of many in Soam commune. Economics and its distance from Phnom Penh have kept the government from being able to help, depressing even die-hard CPP members who see life in terms of strong schools and healthy crops.
Wells, dike repairs and new buildings in the commune have been done with the help of local villagers who made their fortunes in Phnom Penh and returned with donations. Commune Chief Long Thay, who is not related to Long Thornh, speaks glowingly of the twice-annual rice farming system that has elevated much of his commune out of one level of economic hardship. But that was through a European Union NGO.
Long Thornh’s plight is magnified. His village is the last outpost in Soam Commune, Takeo and even Cambodia before crossing into Vietnam. A trip to Srei Kmornh involves either motoring through centimeters-wide trails in the midst of rice fields, or barren dirt fields that sprout small ponds after a minor rain. Srei Kmornh is isolated even from its own commune.
Once there, though, Long Thornh pulls out a book recording progress on farming and social programs. A program funded again by the European Union has helped with irrigation and similar agricultural programs.
But rarely did the villagers connect the ruling party with the problems they have with the government. To a member, every CPP ally interviewed said they owed their allegiance to the party’s role in ending the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
SPOT FOR THE GOVERNMENT UP HERE.
“The government will listen to us when the request is made at the commune level,” Long Thay said.
But when asked if there’s anything else they’d like to add, villagers often give thanks for being heard — “You are the first to come down here and talk to us,” one Pang Pong villager said. Others villagers, including the commune chief, would ask to get a message to the government for more aid.
“In most of my commune, the land can be farmed twice a year instead of one time,” Long Thay said. “Right now, I’d like to make an appeal, to the government or the anti-parties, if they have any ideas to help. Please help us develop those areas where we cannot farm twice a year.”
Long Thornh’s concerns remain with his schoolhouse. “Can you tell the people up there that we need some tables for our school?” Long Thornh said. “I have asked three or four times already and I have gotten no help. I am asking you to ask the government to help. Could you do that for me?”