The nation of Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia, between Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. It is home to approximately 14.5 million people. From the 9th to the 15th century, Cambodia's Khmer Empire held sway over much of Southeast Asia and was based in the magnificent royal palace of Angkor Wat. The Khmer kingdom gradually declined and became a protectorate of France in 1863. Cambodia achieved independence 90 years later but soon became entangled in the Vietnam War. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge Regime and its leader, Pol Pot, seized control of the country. In an effort to "cleanse" the population, hundreds of thousands from the educated middle-class were tortured and executed. Approximately two million people, a quarter of Cambodia's population at the time, died from execution, starvation, disease or exhaustion inflicted by this corrupt regime. Factional fighting continued for the next fifteen years, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Following intervention by Vietnam and a U.N.-sponsored peace accord, Cambodia returned to relative stability in 1991. However, the legacies of war continue to plague this once magnificent country. About 40% of the population lives in absolute poverty. The World Health Organization reports that Cambodia has the highest child mortality rate in the region, with one out of seven children dying before the age of five. Nearly half of children under five are undernourished. Many of Cambodia's most educated people fled Cambodia or were killed during wartime, and today nearly two-thirds of Cambodia's adults are functionally illiterate.
For more information on Cambodia, we recommend these links:
BBC Timeline: Cambodia
Beauty and Darkness: Cambodia in Modern History
World Health Organization - Mortality in Cambodia (PDF - 178KB)
Yale University Cambodian Genocide Program
Literacy in Cambodia (PDF - 474KB)
For information about Future Light Orphanage, our first partner in Cambodia, click here.