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    March 8, 2009
    Fake US Dollars and what you can do with them
    Filed under: Daily Life, Blogroll — admin @ 3:48 pm
    This happened to me before Pchum Ben. I was tending to the Russian Market shop as all Bloomers were off to the provinces to see their families during this important festival. I was about to shut it when a Khmer woman entered the shop. In hindsight, I should have been more alert. All the signs were there: She wore a hat which she didn’t remove, she didn’t look at me, and she spoke in a very small voice. Not that she was shy—far from it. When it was clear that I hadn’t a clue that she was about to scam me, she became confident and even demanding at the end.

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    Volunteer Scams in Cambodia
    Filed under: Blogroll — admin @ 3:47 pm
    I have decided to write about the scam volunteer project after enough customers have told me about their bad experiences. The last one was a young woman in her early 20s from Canada who paid, get this, USD6000 (!) for a 6 weeks volunteer programme with an organisation here in Siem Reap.

    Anyway, so this poor woman found this organisation via a “Volunteer abroad!” website. There are many out there and I am writing this as a cautionary note for other travellers. There are too many entrepreneurs who set up NGOs, orphanages and the like in Cambodia, preying on the kindness and generosity of travellers who feel for this country and want to contribute.

    In the case of this woman, the USD6000, which works out to USD1000 a week, was to cover all her living and food expenses. She arrived in Siem Reap to be put up in a room in the NGO house, where six other Cambodian men lived. She told me every evening the men would be drinking and gambling or watching TV. She felt so unsafe, she left after a week. She then checked into a hotel but had to cut short her trip as she had spent almost all her money after paying for the volunteer programme.

    This other Canadian woman found an NGO while she was holidaying here in Siem Reap. She saw a notice in one of the more established cafes here and decided to join this particular NGO. Upon arrival, she was asked to pay USD50 as an “administrative fee”. She was also asked to stay at the guesthouse run by the NGO and to use the tuk-tuk provided by the NGO.

    This meant she would have to move from her USD5 a night guesthouse to a USD10 one, and she would have to pay USD12 every time she used the tuk-tuk. The NGO was out of town but this young woman decided she could cycle there instead of spending USD12 per trip. When she suggested this, she was told she could pay a cheaper price for the tuk-tuk. “Well, why wasn’t I told this before I mentioned biking here?” she asked. Good question. Another good question is where did the USD50 admin fee go to?

    USD50 is what your typical waitress in a restaurant gets for working 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, so you know USD50 can go some way in this country. All the NGO referred to here needs is 2 innocent victims a day and they bring in USD3000 a month. This excludes the money they get from their other revenue streams, like the guesthouse and restaurant.

    As I have written many time, corruption in this country taints everything. The rule of law does not mean much here because the salaries of government officials here are pitiful (to give you an idea, a senior member of staff at the Foreign Affairs Ministry told me in 2006 that his monthly salary was USD40). So policemen and other men in uniform need to find other ways to make money.

    It is a sad thing when innocent young people who want to help this country get fleeced and go away disappointed and betrayed.

    I used to be upset with these people, whom I variously labelled as “dumb”, “lazy” or “irresponsible”, for not doing their homework, for not doing due diligence. I thought they should have exercised better judgement. But having met a number of such travellers now, I feel sorry for them. And I recognise how difficult it is to know the truth when you do not live here. For how many people have the time to investigate or even know where to begin to investigate?

    I also think many young people are idealistic and want to believe in the good of people, which is why they easily believe when others tell them about the supposedly good work they are doing. Sadly there will always be bad people who will exploit this innocence and naivete.

    So if you are planning to volunteer in Cambodia, please be aware that exploitation works both ways: it is not always the richer person who exploits the poorer ones; sometimes it can be the other way around.

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    The Dangers of Volunteering in Cambodia
    Filed under: Blogroll — admin @ 3:42 pm
    Can volunteer scams get any worse than this? A day after I wrote about the bad experiences of travellers who come to this country to help Cambodians, another young woman told me about her encounters.

    This young lady has been working 14 hours a day helping this orphanage, run by a Cambodian man, whose entire family lives at the orphanage. The first time we met she gushed about the orphanage. I was sceptical, and asked her if she knew the orphanage was legit, but she seemed so sure. She said the main reason she was impressed was that the kids looked well-fed and happy.

    Less than 2 weeks later, she found out the truth. The first thing that happened was money was stolen out of her bag which she had left in the staff room. Later, on the very same day, she was asked if she would like a locker to keep her bag. She took the locker and the next day, more money went missing–someone had broken into the locker and stolen her cash. She was basically set up by the thief.

    Things came to a head when she was asked to sign up for a full-time volunteer position, because she is so damn good at promoting the orphanage. She gives speeches to visitors who come watch the children at the orphanage perform their dance routine every single night of the week. You can imagine the impact of having a Westerner give a nightly testimonial to foreign visitors–one guy donated 1,000 euros on the spot.

    She said she’d be happy to work there for free on a longer-term basis, but would like to mention a couple of things. One is that she would like for the children to perform only 3 times a week, instead of nightly. This is because the kids are exhausted and they have to practice every single day and they end up falling asleep during their English lessons with her. [Honestly, how are such orphanage managers who make the orphans perform every single night for their supper different from parents who force their children to sell books or beg on the streets for money, leaving them with little time and energy for school?]

    The other thing she mentioned was the missing money. She did not realise at the time the management by now had decided she was trouble and had to go.

    When she checked her email account from the office computer one day, a staff member told her a child was crying for her and she had to go immediately to see what was wrong with the child. She left the computer and rushed to the child.

    When she returned, she found the computer was now password-protected and she could not get back in. The staff refused to give her access to the computer, saying while she was away with the child, an Irish donor had called up asking them to password protect their PCs. So now, the orphanage had access to her email account, which she had left open when she left to attend the child. Presumably, they were trying to see if she had alerted anyone of her suspicions, and possibly to use such “incriminating” emails as evidence that she should be kicked out. Fortunately, this young lady has always only said good things about the place in her emails to friends and family.

    The next thing she knew, she heard from another volunteer. The management had told some other Western volunteers that this young woman had stolen money from the orphanage and had been bad-mouthing the place. They said they were going to call the police and have her deported from Cambodia.

    Imagine how upsetting and scary this is for a foreigner and first time visitor to this country. I am furious, furious! with these bastards. These young people, all in their twenties, come here full of hope and idealism and want to help people less fortunate than themselves, only to get intimidated and threatened and cheated out of their savings. Imagine the impact it has on these people. I would not be surprised if many of them decide to screw it and never help another less fortunate person again.

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    June 25, 2008
    submit content – write for Scambodia
    Filed under: Daily Life — admin @ 8:36 am
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