Cambodia Bunong Fact File
General factsCountry name: Conventional long form: Kingdom of Cambodia. Conventional short form: Cambodia. Local short form: Kampuchea
Area: Total: 181,040 sq km
Terrain: Mostly low, flat plains; mountains in southwest and north
Population: 13.5 million
Age structure: 0-14 years: 37.3%, 15-64 years: 59.7%, 65 years and over: 3.1%
Life expectancy at birth: Total population: 58.87 years male: 55.92 years female: 61.96 years
Ethnic groups: Khmer 90%, Vietnamese 5%, Chinese 1%, other 4%
Religions: Theravada Buddhist 95%, other 5%
Literacy: Definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 69.4% male: 80.8% female: 59.3% (2002)
Capital: Phnom Penh
Languages: Khmer (official) 95%, French, English
Government type: Stable multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy established in September 1993
International airports: Phnom Penh & Siem Reap
Currency : Riel (US$1 ~ 4000 Riel) - US$ are used for most transactions with Riel used as small change.
The Bunong Centre is located in Sen Monorom, the provincial capital of Mondulkiri province, Cambodia. The topography is high grasslands that feature a more temperate climate compared to the rest of Cambodia. Sen Monorom is a small town that was only connected to the electricity grid as recently as November 2008.
A new road connected Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri in 2010. Whilst this means that access to the town is now much easier for the volunteers, it has also exposed the town and the traditional culture to much more outside influence. The town is growing quickly with logging as the main regional trade and tourism, particularly in high season (July-September, November-January) also becoming a mainstay for local people.
Whilst much of the local community are aware of the longer term damage of logging, many have little choice and are driven to it through poverty. The effect for Bunong people who traditionally rely extensively on the forest is dramatic not only in access to food and medicine but also in support of their lifestyle as their spirituality, ancestral grave sites and knowledge bases are all located within the forests.
Those looking for fast food chains or a developed nightlife will be left wanting. Volunteers with a sense of adventure, eager to meet new people, comfortable experiencing a different culture or those keen to escape the ‘rat-race’ will enjoy the experience of Sen Monorom.
There are several tourist-friendly restaurants where you can order pizza, pancakes and burgers to balance out any rice-overload. Volunteers must be content spending time on their own although there are an increasing number of tourists and volunteers visiting Sen Monorom and staying longer. The town is quiet, particularly in the evenings, but is safe for independent volunteers to walk on their own. It gets dark early here, between 6 and 7pm depending on the season, so be prepared for early nights and bring a torch. Electricity is also unpredictable with frequent power cuts. When it does work there is a fairly-good wi-fi connection at several of the restaurants in town, enough to send a quick email if not Skype!
Mondulkiri province is host to extensive forest with many endangered species including Asian elephant, near-extinct species of deer, primate species including gibbon and many monkey species, sun and moon bears, increasingly rare wild cats, tropical birds from hornbills to eagles. The forest hosts extensive important biodiversity in the form of its plant species, many of which are increasingly under threat from logging and plantations.
Volunteer AccommodationVolunteers stay in a private room in a guest house in Sen Monorom. The room is en-suite with hot water. The rooms have fans but can be upgraded to air conditioning for an additional charge. Cable TV is available in all rooms with some channels in English. There is no restaurant on site however the town is quite small and local services are only a short walk away.
Mondulkiri has a cooler climate than the rest of Cambodia:
1. April through October - hot and wet in the day and cold at night.
2. November through December - light showers but generally cooler, particularly cold at night.
3. January through March - dry and hot in the day and cold and dry at night.
At an average elevation of 800 metres, it can get chilly at night.
You will be provided with accommodation in Phnom Penh on the first Saturday night and transferred overland on Sunday morning to Sen Monorom. You will have Sunday afternoon to explore the town and settle in and will begin with a full orientation on Monday morning at the project.
Your week will be based in the shared office with local staff cataloguing information which they have collected. There may be field visits to local villages to collect information on all aspects of Bunong culture and to assist staff and aid the volunteers' understanding and learning. This may be in the form of interviews but also through recording songs and videoing traditional aspects of the culture.
Depending on the time of year, volunteers may also assist with conversational English and basic computer skills classes. There is also a strong focus on increasing computer, internet and other media literacy for Bunong youth. The volunteers will also assist with updating social media and the website.
This is a very varied and dynamic project and volunteers' skills will be used to the best of their abilities to support the project.
Due to unpredictable nature of the weather, the seasonal tourism industry and school holidays volunteers may find their timetable subject to change without much notice.
This is an unavoidable reality in the remote provinces. Around half of the Bunong students stay in Sen Monorom during the school holidays in July and August. At this time there are more opportunities for additional education and recreation but the rain can put a dampener on things! Those who are flexible and able to adapt to a rapidly changing work environment will be a great asset to the project.
During Khmer new year for two weeks in April there can be a lot of down time as many students go back to their family for a couple of weeks. Please bear this in mind as their will be limited teaching opportunity.
Getting to the projectThe nearest airport to this project is Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Airport code PNH).
To help you find the best air fares Globalteer has formed a partnership with a division of The Flight Centre Group who will tailor make your travel arrangements for you at a competitive price.
You can contact them for a free, no obligation travel quote by calling 0844 560 9944 from within the UK, or if you are outside the UK you can call +44(0)203 056 1146. Make sure you mention Globalteer when you call and if you do purchase your travel through them, Globalteer will receive a small donation. However, don’t forget that it’s up to you to make sure your travel arrangements are right for you and your project.
Extra ActivitiesMondulkiri is renowned for its village visits and some of the largest waterfalls in Cambodia.
Trekking forms the backbone of tourist activities in Sen Monorom, with incredible waterfalls, valleys and views all within easy reach of the town.
The Globalteer DifferenceThese days there are a great many opportunities to volunteer overseas, but not all organisations are the same.
Watch our short video presentation to see what makes Globalteer different from your average volunteering organisation!
Health and SafetyMondulkiri is situated on the famous 'Ho Chi Minh trail' which was used by the Vietnamise to reach the South of Vietnam. As a consequence, this area was heavily bombed between 1969 and 1975 and the area still has unexploded ordinance. Although things have drastically changed due to the dedicated work of organisations such as CMAC, visitors to the area should be aware that UXO's exist in Mondulkiri. It is believed that the area will never be fully cleared in the same way as UXO's are still being found in Europe from the 1940's. There are virtually no land mines in this area of Cambodia.
For your vaccinations you will need to consult a doctor for up to date information. Due to the protected forest location there are a number of potentially dangerous animals that you should be aware of, although are very unlikely to encounter.
BuddhismThe predominant religion in Cambodia is Buddhism. Buddhism is a rather flexible religion which teaches that nothing is eternal and everything in the world is subject to change, only aging, sickness and death are certain and unavoidable. Buddhism has no unique creed, no single authority, no single sacred book. It focuses on the potential of the individual to obtain enlightenment or "nirvana".
Buddhism was founded from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, born in 566BC on the Indian - Nepalese border. He was from a privileged and wealthy family but became disillusioned with his life and left home to embark upon a life of wandering on a spiritual quest. As he sat meditating under a tree he had a profound experience called Bodhi or "awakening". He had a deep understanding of the nature of suffering, its cause and a way of stopping it. The Lord Buddha then devoted his life to teaching the way to cease suffering. By his death at the age of 80 he had a considerable following and a well organised community.
The eightfold path teaches the moral principles that all Buddhist should practice. Following this path helps a person realise that greed and selfishness cause all earthly suffering, with this understanding one's own suffering may end. Buddhism is a very peaceful religion that teaches morality, meditation and wisdom.
A Brief History of CambodiaFor 600 years powerful Khmer kings dominate much of present-day Southeast Asia, from the borders of Myanmar east to the South China Sea and north to Laos. It was during this period that Khmer kings built the most extensive concentration of religious temples in the world--the Angkor temple complex. The most successful of Angkor 's kings, Jayavarman II, Indravarman I, Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, also devised a masterpiece of ancient engineering: a sophisticated irrigation system that includes barays (man-made lakes) and canals that ensured as many as three rice crops a years. Part of this system is still in use today.
As the Angkor period ended, Cambodia's capital moved south to Lovek, then to Udong and finally to the present-day capital of Phnom Penh. Among the main features of the post-Angkorean era, besides the movement of the capital, was a widespread conversion to Theravada Buddhism, illustrated on temple carvings, where Buddhist features gradually replaced Hindu features.
The 15th to 17th centuries represented a time of foreign influence, when expansionist Siam and Vietnam fought over Cambodia. By the mid-1800s, Cambodia, like most other countries in Asia, came under increasing pressure from European colonial powers. In 1863, the country agreed to protection from France. King Norodom signed a Protectorate Treaty between King Norodom and the French. There are two dynastic families within the Cambodia Royal Family -- the Norodoms and the Sisowaths. With the death of King Norodom in 1904, the dynasties switched. The heir apparent, a Norodom, was replaced instead with a Sisowath.
In 1941, the throne switched back to the Norodoms with the crowing of Cambodia's current king, Norodom Sihanouk. He was 18. In 1945, the Japanese briefly ousted the French. Encouraged, King Sihanouk campaigned tirelessly and in 1953 he succeeded in winning independence for Cambodia, effectively ending 90 years under French protectorate. King Sihanouk abdicated the throne to his father and took the reins of government himself as head of state. Throughout the 1950s and ' 60s Cambodia was self-sufficient and prospered in many areas.
However, the quagmire of growing war in Vietnam spread relentlessly, and in 1970, as war spilled over into Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol. Then, 17 April 1975, Lon Nol 's weakened government was itself overthrown by the Khmer Rouge. They immediately emptied the capital of its residents and brought Prince Sihanouk back, only to hold him under house arrest. The ensuing four years "reign of terror" under Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.
In 1979 the Khmer Rouge were overthrown and the Vietnamese-backed People's Republic of Kampuchea was established. Throughout the 1980's Cambodia began to rebuild with the assistance of Vietnamese military and political advisers whilst under Vietnamese political protection.
In 1989 the Vietnamese withdrew the last of their troops and the government renamed the country State of Cambodia. The SOC ruled independently until the Paris Peace Agreement 1991 created the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC). Supported by the presence of some 22,000 UN troops, UNTAC in May 1993 supervised general elections in Cambodia. A second general election was held in 1998. Cambodia today enjoys a parliamentary system with one prime minister.
A constitution was adopted in 1993, the same year King Norodom Sihanouk returned to the throne. His Majesty remains a symbol of national unity to his people.
Today Cambodia is still a poor country but there is reason to be optimistic about its future. The Cambodian economy is growing quite rapidly. The fastest growing industry in Cambodia is tourism. The country is politically stable and a safe place to visit to enjoy the wonderful Khmer people and the beautiful Cambodian attractions.
For an understanding of the recent tragic history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge you could simply watch the award winning movie The Killing Fields.
Many books have also been written on the subject including -
First they Killed my Father by Loung Ung - a moving story about a young girls experience under the ruthless rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
Brother Number One by David Chandler - A biography of the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. Refugees International
Ultimate Cambodia - travel guide
The Bunong of CambodiaIn recent years the Bunong have found their way of life increasingly under threat. Bunong language, culture and traditions face an uncertain future as Mondulkiri becomes more easily accessible to the outside world.
Deforestation, land-grabbing and the introduction of a cash-based economy have undermined the Bunong livelihood. Sen Monorom is increasingly host to other groups living and working in the area including the ethnic-majority Khmers, Thais and Vietnamese. Without urgent action to defend the basic rights of these indigenous people, their way of life will soon disappear.
The Bunong people are also often regarded as an uncivilized and ignorant people by the rest of Khmer society and are subject to frequent discrimination, intolerance and neglect. Due to inadequate infrastructure school completion rates among the Bunong are the lowest in the country.
Many Bunong drop out after primary school, especially females, and education is heavily Khmer-based, including the language. Their own unique culture is only passed down verbally through their own family and elders in their village.
Bunong minority people in Mondulkiri have faced historic discrimination and difficulty. Their lifestyle is traditionally forest-based with animist religion. This is heavily dependent on access to extensive forest, something which is becoming increasingly rare in the region as logging and cashew and rubber plantations are rapidly being established on a large scale.
The 61,000 residents of Mondulkiri province have access to only one upper secondary school.
A Bunong Chief visited the children studying in Sen Monorom to give them this shocking advice - "Take your studies seriously children... you will not be coming home". The Chief had realised that the Bunong would no longer have their traditional lands and the children's only option for their future was through education.