Having risen from the ashes of the Khmer Rouge genocide and its long civil war, Cambodia has experienced a steady – and some even argue healthy – economical growth over the past decade. There are vast signs of development across the nation – construction sites have become a clear sight over the country and cafes, bars and restaurants seem to open up on a daily basis in Phnom Penh, which thanks to the huge rising numbers of luxury cars has often been called ‘the Lexus capital of the world’.
Nonetheless, Doeum Sleng – one of the capital’s most impoverished communities is only 15 minutes away from the heart of Phnom Penh. In many cases having been evicted from their previous homes or simply having no other choices, residents have found amid the gravestones of this Chinese Vietnamese cemetery a quiet place to rebuild their lives.
Coming from different backgrounds and at different times, residents have adjusted to their new environment and have learnt to coexist with the dead. The initially stigmatized gravestones have now become part of their daily life and are used as benches, tables or other practical pieces of furniture.
Some residents rent their homes for a US$3 monthly fee, whilst others claim to have lawful rights to their land. Yet others have placed their wooden huts wherever they can, squatting amongst the graves.
Despite their resilience and adaptability, residents have found themselves isolated by their living conditions and poverty levels. Like other impoverished communities across Cambodia, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other chronic diseases are widespread. However, a high rate of mental illness seems to be a particular characteristic amongst Doeum Sleng’s residents.
This ongoing project aims to document the daily lives of this community focusing on the social issues caused by their forced unusual living conditions.