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Helping the vulnerable in Cambodia

Two of Concern Worldwide’s staff in Cambodia survived the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Their experiences influenced how they help people today. 

The killing fields

During Pol Pot’s reign from April 1975 to January 1979, an estimated 1.7 million people died, either by execution in the notorious killing fields or through starvation and disease. Many others were forced to work in labour camps controlled by the Khmer Rouge.

Tragic history

Concern’s programme manager in Cambodia, Bona Hang, is all-too familiar with his country’s tragic past. His father was executed and when Bona was just five years old he was sent to live in a labour camp where he was ordered to collect dung for fertiliser. Bona told us the hunger he experienced forced him to steal rice. On one occasion, he was caught by a Khmer Rouge soldier. As punishment, Bona was undressed, his face covered in pot ash and he was marched around the village by the soldier. His mother was only able to free him by giving the soldier a small bottle of perfume.

Enemies of the state

Piseth Pel, national advocacy and emergency manager in our Phnom Penh office, also lost his father in the early days of the regime. Piseth and his family were sent to labour camps in a remote area of Pursat province. Like Bona, Piseth lived in a camp with other children and was forced to work hard with little food.

Firsthand experience

Many of Concern’s staff in Cambodia have shared Bona and Piseth’s experiences. They show that through resilience, resourcefulness and with the help of others, it is possible to pick up the pieces and build a better life. Our programme in Concern focuses on education and training, capacity building and the provision of water and sanitation. Today, both Bona and Piseth work to help vulnerable people to lift themselves out of poverty. 

View photos of Concern's work in Cambodia: