Helping a fire station in Sihanoukville, Cambodia

by Doug Mendel, Jan 13, 2004 | Destinations: Cambodia / Sihanouk Ville

Cambodia has captivated my soul since my first visit in June 1997. A three day excursion to the country at the tail-end of a five week adventure in Asia sounded like a great opportunity for a novel experience in South East Asia. Three days in Cambodia produced a collage of my senses, taking in the sights, sounds and tastes of being in a Third World country rebuilding after years of civil strife. Visiting Teoul Sleng and the Killing Fields, both places memorialized for the victims of the Khmer Rouge atrocities that took place from 1975-1979, helps to put a literal, stark face on the atrocities. Seeing the Khmer people with their colorful dress and friendly demeanors made me feel at ease, welcome in their culture and curious as to how they could move on from their dark and unfortunate past.

Over the ensuing six-and-a-half years, I would make four more trips to Cambodia. A volunteer firefighter, I would visit fire stations wherever possible. Visiting the lone fire station in Phnom Penh, the capital city of 1.2 million, was an experience that made me want to visit other stations in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. I wanted to get a feel for how they operate and maybe how I could somehow help a station.

When I visited the station in Sihanoukville in June 2001, I told myself that on my next trip I would bring stuff from my fire department to donate to the Sihanoukville station. On my next trip in February 2003, I delivered 3 boxes of clothing (pants, button-down shirts, windbreakers, and boots) that my fire department didn't need anymore, but were more than sufficient in a Third World country. While there, a firefighter told me that they really needed radios. I told him that within 12 months I would be back with their radios, and that it would be an ongoing venture for me to help them out.

In October 2003, I went back for a week to deliver the radios, and felt really appreciated by the fire captain, that I was welcome in their community. A week was short, but I knew I would be back within 6 months to continue helping my 'adopted' station.

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