Photo Essay by Vandy Rattana
Additional reporting by Mom Kunthear
As the sun rises over Boeung Kak lake, a young family resumes the long process of packing up their possessions and dismantling what has been their home for the past ten years. Som Kosal, a 35-year-old contract worker, his pregnant wife So Srey Aon and their 10-year-old daughter Pisey are one of many families that have chosen to accept the US$8,500 compensation package offered by City Hall and local developer Shukaku Inc, in return for vacating their lakeside properties.
“I decided to take the money and leave because I have land in Kampong Speu province,” Som Kosal said. “Even though I reject leaving I cannot stay forever because the area will be developed soon, and we do not know what kind of action the government will take to deal with people [that stay].”
As the day continues, Som Kosal and a team of uncles, nephews and cousins tear down the family home plank by plank, working through the heavy afternoon rains. Srey Aon and Pisey make the most of their last moments with friends and neighbours as the slow deconstruction takes place around them.
As he removes the last roof plank, Som Kosal expresses concern about finding a new school for his daughter and finding work in the province, but he is hopeful that with this money he can build a good life for his family. Ten years ago, Som Kosal says, he paid $300 for his home at the lake. Today around $2,000 will be needed to build a house on the land he owns in his home province of Kampong Speu. The remainder will be used to launch a new business.
“I want to buy a house in Phnom Penh but I don’t have enough money. But I will buy one when I have money because I don’t want to live in the province forever,” Som Kosal said. “I will come back to live in Phnom Penh because it is easy to work and find money.”
Housing rights advocacy groups estimate that 4,050 families will be affected by the Boeung Kak development. All now face the same decision as Som Kosal and his family: stay and fight the eviction, or take the money and leave their homes behind. “There are some of my neighbours in the lake that asked me why I don’t take my protests to the governor of Phnom Penh Municipality, but I think it is useless for me to protest anymore.”