Poverty in Cambodia

How to Deal With Poverty in Cambodia


Poverty in Cambodia is unfortunately rife due to years of terrorism and civil war on the part of the Khmer Rouge regime and corruption within the government.

As a tourist it can be hard to know how to help, but there are many reputable NGOs that you can help either through donations or volunteering.

Fortunately due to support from people just like you there is renewed hope in Cambodia and political stability for the first time in 30 years.


What Caused Poverty in Cambodia?

Until recently Cambodia had been ravaged by three decades of civil war and torn apart by the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge regime and Pol Pot. The Maoist government and its subsequent terrorism on the country held Cambodia to ransom and led to starvation, economic disaster and immense poverty in Cambodia.

Thankfully the dark days of the Khmer Rouge are behind Cambodia and its people look towards a more hopeful future. Unfortunately, Cambodia still finds itself in economic dire straits, with the average annual wage only US$256. Corruption within the government has also been a major cause of poverty in Cambodia since the expulsion of the Khmer Rouge.

Judged by the standard of the UN Human Development Report, Cambodia is among the poorest countries in the world: it ranks 121 out of 164 on the human development index. When you're there, this poverty rises up and slaps you squarely in the face, there is no avoiding it.

You will be approached by children and adults selling all manner of things, while you sit and try to eat your lunch at a café. And you will be confronted by land mine victims who are missing limbs, blinded: or both. That is the sad reality of Cambodia.

How to Deal With Poverty in Cambodia

No one who comes to Cambodia remains unaffected by the troubling sights of beggars and people who are desperately poor. What makes it even harder to accept is that Cambodians deal with their struggles with incredible good humor and fortitude. The problem of poverty in Cambodia can be overwhelming and it can be difficult to know how to deal with the poverty you witness.



Most travelers can see their way clear to give a few coins to beggars, or shout a street urchin a free meal.  It may also be helpful to locals, to pay a little above the odds for services and products, but still within the reasonable price range.

These measures are kind and helpful, but some say that the best way to help ease poverty in Cambodia and to develop a deep sense of satisfaction as well as getting to experience more of the “real” Cambodia may be through volunteering or donations to reputable charities operating in Cambodia either before you come on vacation, during or after you return home.

In Siem Reap it is also helpful to ensure that your hotel is locally run and the money you spend is going to the people who need it most desperately and not wealthy foreign entities. It pays to do a little research before you go.

There is also a different school of thought about this whole business of helping the Cambodians. Since there are so many NGOs and charity organizations, some people say that these good intentioned people are not actually helping the people in the long run. To be so dependant on foreign aids may have a negative effect on the people's own sense of empowerment and in turn passively waiting for help and handouts.


The Future

Cambodia's poverty is certainly grim, but things are slowly improving throughout the kingdom. Foreign investment in tourist towns such as Siem Reap and Phnom Penh has led to more jobs and hope.

Plus, there are several foreign agencies and non-governmental organizations that have developed programs to train poverty stricken Cambodians and equip them with skills to gradually haul their way out of extreme poverty.

There are programs such as “Seeing Hands” in Phnom Penh that trains blind Cambodians in massage and then places them in one of their six massage centers in the capital. These disabled people are able to earn a decent local wage with their skills and slowly move towards better lives for them and their families.

There are many schools that are being sponsored and built by foreigners just like you who have been affected by the land of smile and their enthusiasm for life with limited prospects for many.

So In Short...

Cambodia's poverty still touches much of the population who struggle to survive on their meager incomes, but with continued support from committed citizens and non-governmental organizations it is hoped that the next generation will begin to see improvements in lifestyle, health and education.

Corruption needs to be taken firmly in hand to ensure that public funds so urgently required for schools and health are not gobbled up by greedy bureaucrats or politicians.

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What Other Visitors Have Said

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A Better Life 
I have made two trips to Cambodia, the most recent lasting just over three months. When I visited my tuc tuc driver's family in their 8x10 foot bamboo …

Cambodia Family Support Not rated yet
Cambodia Family Support is one of many non governmental organization committed to improve quality of life of the most vulnerable children and their parents …

Foreign tourist view on poverty in Cambodia Not rated yet
It's awful to see old people, in their late 60's, 70's, and even 80's still working in order to make just enough for food. I saw an 80 year old lady working …

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When I was in Cambodia I went to a market/restaurant to eat with my dad and uncle and sister and cousin. Then an old poor women came up and said "Please …

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Education in Cambodia
A look in the education system that is currently in place. NGOs play a big part in educating the children.

Cambodian Language
Learn simples phrases that earn smiles from the locals. It's a great ice breaker and perhaps, just perhaps, they'll be extra nicer to you for learning their language.

Cambodia Adoption

Why go to the trouble and additional expense of an international adoption when there are children in need much closer to home? And if someone does decide to do an adoption, how does the process work?

Cambodia Economy
Apart from tourism, there are other thriving industries in the country.

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