Residents in one of the slums of Poipet, Cambodia, feel helpless in the face of a lack of basic sanitation and safe water resources

After his retirement, Bill Gates founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

One of the most important missions of this foundation is to investigate how toilet facilities can be improved, as most people in the world do not have access to sanitary toilet facilities.

A person who lives in a well-developed area might find it difficult to imagine just what it’s like to live without toilets, but I finally understood what it meant to have no toilet when I visited Poipet, Cambodia.

Poipet is a small town on the border with Thailand.

It takes four hours to drive from Siem Reap to Poipet, which is only four kilometers away from the Thai border.

The town may have a casino, but it is worlds apart from Las Vegas.

With the help of local pastor Koemsieng, I visited a small village that used to have trains running by, a place we would consider a slum.

It was a very warm day with a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius.

The humid air was filled with odors.

I stood outside a small tin shack with sweat running down my face and back and talked to some of the villagers.

One of them invited me to come into her shack, but it was too small to fit another person.

I smiled and said that I was fine.

The shacks there were a hodgepodge of wooden boards and corrugated tin.

Most of villagers used the river as a toilet; they were too poor to build one of their own.

According to Koemsieng, it costs about $250 to build a toilet.

People were hesitant to do so because most of them rented their homes and they would not be able to take the toilet with them if they moved away.

Most villagers can barely afford the thirty-dollar monthly rent; they don’t have the time or energy to think about acquiring a toilet facility.

Yet, toilets are not the only problem. Once you realize what the villagers’ lives are like, you understand that everything we take for granted is an impossibility in Poipet.


Canon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400


Trains used to run past here.

Although the government came up with an alternative development plan and already removed the railway, negotiations with the residents regarding compensation stalled and they continue to live in the same place.

They don’t have any real hope for the future.



Canon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400


Mamiya 645 / 80mm / Kodak Tri-X 400


This bike technician injured his foot when he was young.

The side effects of the multiple injections the doctor prescribed to treat the injury were so severe that he can no longer straighten his spine.

He fixes bikes and sells them secondhand for a living.

In the photo, he sits in his simple home.



Canon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400


This lady lives with some kittens in a leaky shack.

She usually cooks and sleeps there.

When it rains, she visits her neighbors for shelter and sometimes makes short stays at their homes.

She hopes to have a small house without any leaks soon.



Canon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400


I’m guessing that this lady sews for living—she has two sewing machines in her home.

She also has an old television and so kids often gather around to watch cartoons.

She saw us coming and came out to sit by the door.

However, her eyebrows were always knitted together in a frown.



Canon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400


Perhaps it is because this family has recently welcomed a new member that the mother, seated behind her baby, looks a lot happier than the other villagers.

However, her joy wasn’t enough to wash away her tiredness.

With her child continually sweating in the heat, she kept wiping it with a wet cloth.

I did not want to ask or know where the water she used came from.



Mamiya 645 / 80mm / Kodak Tri-X 400


The villagers are simple and genuine.

This father was taking a nap but he quickly changed clothes and came downstairs when he learnt about our arrival.

He looked weary.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether he has always looked that way or whether he was trying think of an alternative source of money other than farming.



Canon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400


Mamiya 645 / 80mm / Kodak Tri-X 400


This man is a farmer and also plays a traditional Cambodian drum.

He looks for opportunities to perform at weddings when he is not farming.

The heavy rains had created a small pond around his home, making it look like it had been built in the river.

His two-month old infant had died two weeks before in a drowning accident in that small pond.



Canon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400


This lady and her grandchildren share a small shack. She makes money recycling, especially coke cans.

She welcomed me to have a seat, but I couldn’t find a space to do so.



Canon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400


Pastor Koemsieng prays for a boy who was involved in a traffic accident.

One side of the boy’s face was already swollen but he had no money for medical treatment.

He had to recover at home.



Mamiya 645 / 80mm / Kodak Tri-X 400


This man is not as old as he looks.

He is only around forty.

His life experience has not only helped build his muscles, it has also aged him.



Canon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400


After a few days of rain, parts of the area became swampland, which the children used as a playground.

It is not difficult to imagine the level of hygiene in such a place.

When I was in Singapore, I suffered from dengue fever. I hope conditions in Poipet are not so bad.



I’m not sure how many other similar slums there are in Poipet.

When I was leaving, Pastor Koemsieng said that he hopes to build more toilet facilities to provide local villagers with basic sanitation and clean water.

Koemsieng’s eyes shone with confidence but his face looked tired.

I don’t know how much it would take to complete such a task, but surely it must wear a person down.





Victor Tai | Freedom is a Right

  • LocationPoipet, Cambodia
  • CameraCanon F1 / FD 24mm S.S.C / Kodak Potra 400
    Mamiya 645 / 80mm / Kodak Tri-X 400
  • Other Language繁体中文

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