The Big Issue : Edition 504
26 THEBIGISSUE5–18FEB2016 EVERY YEAR, MORE than two million people grab their cameras and head with unbridled eagerness to Siem Reap, a small city of less than 180,000 people in the north of Cambodia. They may spend some time in the city – probably drinking buckets on the notorious ‘Pub Street’ – but are usually only there for one reason: Angkor Wat. The breathtaking complex of elaborate and resplendent temples was built in the 12th century and is the largest religious monument in the world. Last year Lonely Planet named it as the Number One tourist attraction in the world. But there is more to Siem Reap than centuries- old temples (and I’m not talking about amazing drink specials). It is also a place where people live; where they work and go to school. When photographer Emma Davies was travelling through Southeast Asia in 2010, she wanted to see this other side of the city. She decided to volunteer for ABCs and Rice, an organisation aimed at ensuring the kids of Siem Reap get an education. In the Siem Reap province, one third of the population live below the poverty line, existing on less than 45 cents a day. With a burgeoning young population, education has been severely impacted. “The Cambodian Education System is supposed to be free, but families cannot keep up with the costs associated with going to school,” says Davies. These costs include things you would expect, such as uniforms and books, but according to an article in the Phnom Penh Post, there is a larger, more pervasive cost for students. Due to desperately low wages for teachers, corruption is widespread, and it has become an accepted norm for teachers to charge children for “extra classes” that are essential for passing. ABCs and Rice works to ensure all children in the area can clear these hurdles. Classes are 100 per cent free, and the organisation provides healthcare, rice rations to take home (to discourage struggling families from pulling children out of school to work) and a vital breakfast club and lunch program. When Davies first came to the school, she was only planning to be there for a few weeks. But she quickly decided to cut the rest of her trip and stay for another couple of months, volunteering and taking photographs. It was confronting to be so exposed to the reality of poverty in the area, especially as tourists lounged in five star hotels down the road. But the positive impacts of the school were undeniable. “Poverty is always confronting to see. It reminds me to be thankful for what I have and drives me to continue working with [those] who are helping to break its cycle.” by Katherine Smyrk » For more, see abcrice.org and emmadaviesphotography.com.au.