Phnom Penh Internship – food poisoning and acid attacks
4 January 2010
Reporting a pandemic at the WHO
4 January 2010

Phnom Penh Post Internship – week 3

Zela Chin, a Master of Journalism student, has been on the beat at the PhnomPenh Post in Cambodia for her winter internship. The Post is Cambodia’s oldest English language newspaper, providing news and analysis of current issues.

Here is her account of her third week:

‘This week I learned as much outside of work as I did at work.

I visited the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh.  During Pol Pot’s regime in the late 1970s, the former high school was the site of the largest incarceration centre in the country.  The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are 14km outside of the capital, and are where many Tuol Sleng prisoners were killed.  It was a very somber experience especially when I saw the glass stupa filled with 8000 skulls, bones, and clothing of the victims.

The visit to the prison and the killing fields was an educational experience that I needed to do to try and understand the national psyche of Cambodians.  It has only been thirty years since the days of Pol Pot and so many people were affected.  Almost a quarter of the population died during the Khmer Rouge regime.  Even the taxi driver lost two of his sisters to starvation at that time.

My work days were filled with following the series of acid attacks that have been happening in Cambodia.  There had been three attacks on seven female victims in eight days time in December.  My reporting led me to the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity.  The organization helps to rehabilitate acid attack survivors and empowers them to reintegrate into society.

Upon arrival, all bags are checked – including those of employees’ – for acid.  I had braced myself mentally to meet with these victims.  Some had minor burns on their hands while others had burns on their torso and face.  I thought their will to survive was a beautiful sight to see.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom this week.  My colleagues and I had Christmas Eve dinner at Cantina, which is a bar/restaurant opened by an ex-Post staffer.  As the owner said, he was providing the free buffet as a “soup kitchen for journalists.”  I was happy to celebrate the holiday with the Post family.’

—-Zela Chin