Christmas at the Dump

Nick – our one-and-only tuk-tuk driver – and I rocked up to an unsuspecting little shop; the owner thought all her Christmases had come at once. IMG_2467We stocked up on 45 presents – balls, stuffed toys, rubitz cubes, trucks, plastic badminton sets. A wild and wonderful variety of stuff for kids.


The hats and the balloons were a great hit and set a festive tone for the morning.






The kids were so excited because they have never had their very own personal toy before. Vichika lined them up and played Santa Claus.


They squealed with delight when they got their presents.

Some promptly went home to stash them. Many of them shyly thanked me. It really was a heartening morning. And the total cost of bringing so much joy to such deserving kids was $140, gracias to the money donated by Iris and Dennis.




On the good news front, Vichika has a cleaning job at a factory not far from the dump. She makes $80 a month so life has gotten considerately easier and she doesn’t have to go and scavenge through the garbage every night. I’ve contacted the people at Cambodian Children’s Fund — – and will set up a meeting in the next week or so for Vichika and her daughter to visit. There are a couple of other dump kids I’d like to get into the residence there.

The last time we went to the dump Paul gave Vichika $20 to get some steps built for her shack.IMG_2515 There used to be a ramshackle door with a rotting piece of plywood over a hole and a couple of horizontal pieces of 1×2-s for traction to get in and out of the house. Take a look at the new-improved entrance.

The next visit will be with 50kg of rice and some tinned fish. We are also lining up an ice-cream visit for the 87 kids at A New Day Cambodia – cost about $27 – and then going on to the dump with the same treat for the kids there.

Down in The Dumps is such wonderful fun. It is humbling to see how much can be done with so little. IMG_2520


Jody, the honourary Christmas elf


“Life Is” by Daniel Rothenberg

According to photographer and philosopher Daniel Rothenberg,IMG_2337 “Life Is? Life is work. Life is struggle. Life is learning. Life is shopping, eating, moving from a to b and back again, all this and more, many times everyday. Life is fear. Life is hope. Life is play. Life is celebration. Life is friends. Life is family. Life is love. Life is what it is and if we try to be a quiet, gracefully involved witness, if we think like a child, every moment viewed with curiosity, then every moment will be a new one, unique and filled with wonderful elements for us to enjoy and grow from.IMG_2379IMG_2331

For me, photography is a community art, it is about the relationships between the subjects, the photographer, and the audience. When it works it opens awareness and understanding and respect and hopefully entertains too. It is about seeing the beauty, struggle, joy, and pain that makes up all our lives and trying to grow relationships through sharing these moments with others in images. It is an ongoing conversation.”IMG_2370IMG_2364

Daniel Rothenberg, a New York born (1959) and raised photographer, calls Phnom Penh home. After 20 years working in the art/design, camera, and production aspects of the independent film making world Daniel decided to move to Cambodia in the late 1990s to pursue some of his other passions, sculpture, photography, and his growing love for this healing land and her people.


While living here, Daniel has worked with many great partners. Previous photo projects include work with Angkor Hospital for Children, Cambodian Living Arts, The Cambodian Youth Arts Festival, The Lake Clinic, Cambodian Childrenʼs Education Fund, Tiny Toones, Epic Arts, Phare Ponleu Selpak, and many many others.


Daniel Rothenberg


Down in the Dumps: Not An NGO

Frankly, when it comes to run-away self-importance, questionable office politics, general backstabbing, random empire building andIMG_2223 impressive inefficiency, non-government organizations (NGOs) often rival the most ineffective bureaucracies.

That said, the project of working with the people at the dump has no aspirations of expanding, setting up an office or doing any forward planning for grants. Rather we – that translates as whoever happens to be around that particular day – want to stay small and only work with people we know. Someone suggested I recruit volunteers to help out with organized programs. Given the choice between that and chewing on broken glass I would opt for the latter.

The administrative set-up for Down in the Dumps is slack. Nick is the official tu-tuk driver, Vichika is our person-on-the-ground and she gets five-percent for being our contact and distributor. Frankly, I wouldn’t have a clue about how to fairly divvy up 50 kgs of rice amongst the 35 households. My share is that I cover the costs of the tuk-tuk rides — $10 a visit – and the photographs. IMG_2191Other people involved include: Paul, who comes along to help and make the collages; Skip who offers ideas; and Todd, who is about to become our official photographer.

What does the Down in the Dumps do with the money we get? Although book-keeping doesn’t exist in my personal life, I am fastidious about accounting for every riel spent on the dump project.IMG_2204

When Bank Iris donated $400 we bought a 50 kg bag of rice and some fruit. The next time we showed up with some nutritious packages of seeds and nuts with packages that doubled as toys. We asked Vichika what she thought the people could use and she said “books.” Armed with the pictures of the kids, I marched into the bookshop and got an immediate 10 percent discount. With $261. left in the budget the request was for more rice, tins of fish and fruit for the kids. Tick. I divide the money into three runs – spreading it out over the next month or so – and we did the first one today and still have $171.IMG_2202

Then Dennis checked the shipping costs and found out it was cheaper – and easier – to send money than books. We tweaked the idea and he is now going to be a silent Santa. The kids at the dump don’t have any toys. There is one battered ball, but mostly they kick around an empty plastic water bottle. No dolls or trucks or skipping ropes. So his donation is going to make the 40 or so kids exceedingly happy.

What, exactly, can you do to help? Send $40 and we’ll take out a bag of rice with your name on it and send you the photo. Send $100 and specify that you want us to buy kids’ clothes. Done – complete with happy snaps. We don’t want massive donations that require tax receipts and accounting. Helping by dribs ad drabs is effective and doesn’t burden anyone with overwhelming responsibility. Nor does it create a dependency.IMG_2225

If you have $25,000 please send it to A New Day Cambodia. The people there run a low-overhead project, have the infrastructure in place and are doing great work. Check out A New Day Cambodia. Then continue on to the You Tube clip.  If you want a personal account of what life is like at the dump, click on Chen Sokha.

Join us for the Down in the Dumps project. You contribution will be gratefully received and you’ll have a photo to remind you that you made a donation that counted.IMG_2248

Donations can be made through Paypal ( Thank you.



The Quest: life, land and loss in Cambodia” Exhibit Opening – 29 May 2013

“The Quest: live, land and loss in Cambodia”

On Wednesday 29 May 2013, John Vink’s exhibit of 30 pictures opened at Meta House. Vink has been documenting forced eviction in Cambodia for the last 11 years.

Collage credit: Paul Rolston

The exhibit hit a raw nerve as this is exactly what is going to happen to the people I’ve gotten to know at the old dump.

Photos from the "Quest for Land" exhibit.
Photos from “The Quest” exhibit.

As Lay Vichika said, “Yes. I’m worried. We don’t know when they are going to kick us out. And we have nowhere to go.”

Here is the link to the iPad app where you can order a copy of Vink’s 720 photographs that tell the story of the homeless and desperate in Cambodia.

Tony and Scott at the opening.IMG_2095

And here is a clip from the invitation.

Magnum-photographer John Vink covered Cambodian land issues for the last 11 years. The work, about 750 photographs divided into 20 chapters and accompanied with a text by Robert Carmichael, was bundled last year in an app for the iPad, called ‘Quest for Land’.

 For the first time in Cambodia, a selection of 30 photographs will be exhibited at Meta.

At 8PM, we’ll screen Nana Yuriko’s CAMBODIA FOR SALE (2009, 57mins, Khmer/Engl.). The German filmmaker tells the powerful story of communities that struggle against forced evictions.