Koh Chamroeun is one of the four villages of Kampong Phnom commune, Loeuk Dek district in Kandal province. Located about more than 50 km southeast of Phnom Penh, the village covers a total area of more than 52ha, and is home to 529 families, who make their living from farming and fishing.
The lack of infrastructure, as well as limited transportation options, have caused difficulties to the villagers for the past 40 years. This is especially true during the rainy season, when the Mekong River swells, and cuts the village off from the mainland.
Heang Soy, chief of the village, told The Post that most of the villagers making a living growing crops. Some of the villagers are engaged in fishing.
“The villagers are diligent and patient in growing their crops, but the lack of markets for agricultural products as well as the costs of transportation, mean that their produce is sold at low prices,” said Soy.
According to Soy, during the rainy season, the villagers travel by small motorboat. During the dry season, from mid-December to the end of April, villagers and other visitors can travel in and out of the village by bicycle, motorbike and car.
To get to National Road 1, the villagers have to use a private road, which requires them to pay 200 riel per time for bicycle travelers, 500 riel for a motorbike and 3,000 riel for a car.
Yong Chamroeun, 42, a resident of Koh Chamroeun village, told The Post that he and other villagers were happy to pay the owner of the private road owner because it made it easier for them to travel and transport agricultural products to market.
“If we do not pay, where will we get the money to support our families? The land they used to build the road was their family’s farm and the price they ask us to pay is not expensive,” he said.
Villager Var Ratha said that over the years, her family as well as the entire population of the village have worked with the village-commune authorities to solve many problems, improving the roads in the village and building a primary school for the young children of the village.
“Although the livelihoods of the villagers remain limited, we are all involved in the development process with the local authorities – because we all want public services to be close to our community,” she said.
According to the woman, for all public services to be close to the community, a bridge to the village must be built. She says this dream will only come true with the direct support and encouragement of the head of the Royal Government of Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But Sovath, who recently lost a beloved daughter in the recent ferry sinking, told The Post that in the past, the villagers, including village-commune authorities, filed a petition to the district authorities to appeal to the provincial authorities to help build a bridge to connect their village to the downtown area and provide access for students to travel safely to school.
“So far, I and the people of Koh Chamroeun can only dream of it. Recently, one of my daughters and the children of some of the other villagers drowned because the boat they were travelling in on their way home from school sank,” said Sovath.
On the evening of October 13, a boat carrying school students between the ages of 12 and 15 sank, drowning eleven of the 15 students aboard.
“Even though it will be too late for my daughter, I still want the government to help build a bridge for our villagers, because as long as there is no bridge, the journey is not safe, especially for pregnant women and school students,” he added.
Heng Hun, principal of Hun Sen Koh Chamroeun Primary School, whose son was one of the few survivors of the accident, spoke to The Post about a time when his wife – pregnant at the time –had a terrible pain in her abdomen. There was heavy rain that night, and the only way they could make it to the wharf was to carry a rubber tent for shelter from the rain. Once they had made the harrowing journey to the dock, they woke the owner of a boat to take them across the river to the hospital.
“Traveling by boat at night with heavy rain, high winds and big waves is not easy. Since then, whenever a meeting is held in the village, I ask the authorities to help us build a bridge to make it easier for us travel and to reduce accidents,” he said.
District governor Chap Chanvithya told The Post that the district administration had already determined the ideal location for a bridge to Koh Chamroeun village and had submitted detailed reports on the project to the provincial and national level authorities.
“The project is already prepared – it is just pending evaluation and approval by the National Joint Commission. As far as I know, the national committee will issue a decision later this year. Once construction is approved, the district administration will begin immediately. Hopefully, the bridge will be completed before the New Year,” he said.
He added that the ideal location is between Koh Chamroeun and Ampil Teuk village. In the meantime, the Kandal Provincial Administration has provided life jackets to the students of the village and announced that Khieu Samphan, who has the largest and strongest boat in the village, will be responsible for transporting students to school.
12-year-old Vy Chanbora, who survived the sinking of the ferry, still wants the authorities to build a bridge as soon as possible.
“Even though we now travel on a bigger, safer boat, I am still scared. As I board the boat to go to school, I still hear the voices of my friends calling out for help on that tragic night. I want a bridge to be built so I can learn to live without those fears,” she said.