Money – friend or enemy?

“Money is numbers and numbers never end. If it takes money to be happy, your search for happiness will never end.”

Money has two sides. It can transform people into “monsters” which don’t care about anything else, but money. It can make you greedy, selfish. It can become like a deity, more important than other people and relationsships, leisure activities, formerly important values. Money has power. Power to destroy…

…and power to create and restore. it can lead to generosity. Money can change lives in a positive way. Not only is it a means to buy food, water, electricity, clothes. It can also be invested in people and organisations helping other people helping themselves.

100 Riel = USD 0.025

100 Riel = USD 0.025

Financial situation in Cambodia

Cambodia is a poor and underdeveloped country. You might not realise it when you only go to the sights and stay in the relatively modern town where they have lights, music and stone houses. They sure don’t like to show their poverty. Everything is made as nice as possible – mostly for the tourists.

As soon as you step out of the centre you cannot miss it anymore. You see wooden huts with only one room where huge families are living. You see stalls where they try to make a living by selling food, drinks, self-mixed gasoline. You see dirty and torn clothes. You see children who play with improvised toys. You see slums where they sleep in hammocks which are – during the rain season – only a few centimetres above water level. You see people hunting rats and eating them for dinner.

*These details below are approximate and refer to the town Siem Reap. My sources are locals.*

Even in the city, if you asked some people working there about their salary and expenses, you would be shocked. Locals are monthly paid as following:
– $20-30 as cleaner
– $40-80 as a waiter in a restaurant
– $50-80 in a massage centre plus around $0.50 for every customer
– $60-150 at the reception of a guesthouse/hotel
– $100-120 as primary or secondary teacher
– People on a construction side earn about $150 which may sound like a lot compared to people working in a restaurant. However, their working conditions are insane: it’s hard, dangerous work, they don’t have any protection, they are exposed to the burning sun or the rain, security precaution doesn’t exist.
– People who sell stuff on the tourist market, can make quite a lot of money as long as they’re good sellers. The difficulty is, that their profit is extremely depending on their customers. That means, they don’t have a regular income. It is different and more difficult on food or local markets.

Don’t forget, mentioned people are mostly working 9-10h a day and 6-7 days a week.

It is completely different with high school teachers who earn about $300-500 or even more, depending on how famous they are. Also, doctors and other people who had studied a lot, earn more and belong to the middle or upper class.

Now, you sure say, well, the costs are also much lower than in western countries, aren’t they? Yes, they are. However, it’s not proportional.
– The rent of a 1-2-room apartment, often wooden is at least $50 (for a really basic one) up to $300/month. It’s not including warm water, air-con, electricity.
– Gasoline costs at least $1.15/liter
– Primary/Secondary school fees $0.12-0.25/child and day, not including lunch
– Hard to tell, how much food costs. Assuming a family of 7 people pays $0.75/meal and person, they’d pay over $470 a month. Sure enough, that wouldn’t be much more than rice, a bit of chicken and vegetables.

Needless to say, that – if possible – both parents are working and sometimes even some of the children. Furthermore, they don’t have money left for additional things like consulting a doctor or so. And – by the way – there are many even poorer people.

kids collecting carbage

kids collecting carbage

Sadly, many do not know how to handle money carefully. Desperation is often stronger than common sense. When they don’t have enough money, they would just go into debts at a rich neighbour or kind of a friend. To those they would then have to pay way too high interests. That, again, can lead to more debts and so on. In their entire life they would carry this burden. A circle which rarely ends. Sometimes, it’s impossible to come out.

There is a lot of corruption, human trafficking, virginity selling, …, – many other bad things which are closely connected to money. In fact, that is a topic on it’s own, which is complex and shadowy.

Wrong generosity

Giving money or gifts to beggars is never(!) the best thing to do. There is many reasons for that and I try to cut it short. Be aware, this is a summary of research and my opinion.

1. Why no gifts? You mean, tooth brushes or such things would help them? No, most don’t know how to handle such things and would only sell them. And then we are at the point 2/3. Moreover, to give kids candy hurts more than it helps. Beside it being unhealthy, it can also cause more teeth problems.

2. Beggars are often sweet children or disabled/crippled people who are most of the times used by a kind of Mafia. In fact, it is possible that those children were kidnapped or even sold by their desperate parents. (I don’t know if we have many cases in Cambodia, but I can imagine, that this happens all over the world.) That means, that all of them won’t be allowed to keep anything but those in the background are making profit with suffering people. It’s said, that the kids are often starved in order to look gaunt. Furthermore – and even worse – criminal groups increase their profits by amputating a limb, cutting out an eye. That is awful. As pitiful as they look, you don’t help them by giving money. Sure enough, there is also a dark side to it, since those kids would be beaten or punished for not bringing money home. However – and I know that is horrible to read – you actually encourage the cycle when you give.

3. Even when they are healthy people who are nothing but poor, it doesn’t help them too much. You’re finally supporting the idea of sitting on the street and begging. These might be hard words, but think about it. Don’t they deserve a job? Don’t they deserve an education? Was anybody on this earth born to sit on the street with dirty clothes, begging for money? Anybody??? No. Nobody!!!
Giving money sure helps them to survive another day, however, it is not at all a long-dated investment. The secret of good generosity is, not to give them what they’re asking for but what they actually need.

What is mentioned above might be surrounded by controversy, however, I reckon, this quote makes a very good point.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

How can we react?

An option might be to buy a healthy meal and make sure the beggar eats it. Obviously, this is also not a long-term solution. What some might reply to that, is that it could motivate them to keep begging. On the other side, at least they have once a full stomach, right?! However, it’s not easy; experience from a friend showed, that they sometimes would reject it for some unknown reason.

The challenge is, how to be generous without supporting criminal groups. It is about teaching a man to fish. I reckon, as a foreigner or tourist it is best to support an organisation. Those have more experience, knowledge and weight, say a bigger impact on the situation. Beside many NGO’s* whose visions are such as integrate orphans and abused children, support education, fight human trafficking, …, also we – ICF Cambodia and Elevate Campus – want to change people’s life. We want to break the circle of poverty!

(* Be careful, there is some NGO’s with ongoing corruption and criminality…)

1. They practice English while speaking with us. In a tourist city like Siem Reap, good English skills are necessary for applying for many jobs.

2. We have fantastic events which drag them away from their daily life. There, they can be connected to us and each other. We want to be one huge family. We want to show them that we care about them. We want to show them real love.

3. Through different projects we help practically:
– Our dental project shows children in villages how to brush their teeth, we send them to our dentist, who had already fixed loads of teeth and made it possible for some people to smile again. Some patients had actually been ashamed of laughing because they thought their teeth were not nice enough.
– Our cycling team attracts lots of boys and young men, they have many trainings during the week, experience team spirit and build friendships. Last but not least, we give them the opportunity to take it serious and send them to tournaments. We can proudly announce, that one recently won first place in the national road race and another one won second place in the national mountain bike championship. And they had had some other great successes. Imagine, those guys are poor and would rarely be able to own a professional bicycle, not to mention to pay the race fees. Without help, they couldn’t live their dream!!
Teachings like first aid, how to handle money, how to be a great leader, photography, art, …………..
– There is much more to come.

4. Encouragement is something very important. They don’t hear much from their surroundings. We motivate them to go to school (and if necessary support financially), to study, to apply, to keep applying, not to give up.

5. To those, who are employed, we pay a fair salary.

6. Last but not least, we are convinced, that people who turn to our God, Jesus Christ, will not only find a new, awesome sense in their lives (of which many are lacking), but also unending joy, love, blessing, satisfaction, courage and a lot more.

How I use the money you donate

As you might know, I need more than a few hundred dollars a month. I was asked many times why. “Costs to live in Cambodia are low.” – “Khmers would never need so much money.” They said or thought. And they are right!
However, firstly, for me as a foreigner it is not possible to live like a local:
– I need luxuries like Internet and air conditioner at home. I want to keep in touch with people around the world, to work, to update my website. During the hot season, it’ll be up to 45° C, being Swiss I only had that once or twice in my life. I’m not used to the climate here and it’s definitely hard to adjust, despite that, I sure want to give 100%.
– They sometimes charge higher prices for expats than for locals.
– I have expenses like insurance, visa, ….

Secondly – and that is the most vital point – I want to help wherever it is needed. The need is immense and I want to make a difference. Here are only a few examples how this looks like:
– Pay a part of the doctor or hospital costs
– Birthday presents like a guitar
– School fees, e. g. for an IT course
– Support to buy a bicycle or motorbike
– Generously giving tips
– Buy stuff (like clothes, shoes, …) for charity events on which we distribute them well-directed to those in need

Additionally, when I’m working with a team of volunteers I love to invite them for lunch/dinner. That way, I not only get to know them better, but also appreciate them personally and their work. Or I pay their gasoline, buy some drinks during the day, etc.

Your support changes other people’s life!



Furthermore, I want to start a new experiment: Since I should do more sport, I thought, that it could motivate me, if you decided to pay a certain amount for every kilometer I cycle. I got this awesome application, which will count the kilometers and then I would tell you monthly, how much I had ridden. Interested? E-Mail me:

Bank account – Post Finance, Switzerland:
IBAN: CH16 0900 0000 8773 8037 8
Vivien Bachmann
9213 Hauptwil