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15-1980 K.I.D-18.jpg

© Colin Grafton 1981

Introduction to “Refugee Camps”

This group of photos has long been in limbo, but after 5 years in Cambodia we have finally got them out. For me it is a release because there are no more old pictures of Cambodia to deal with. For my wife Keiko Kitamura, who did all the website design and photo data, it must be a relief because she has worked so hard dealing with technical problems and frustrating demands. It is now exactly forty years since I took the photos along the Thai-Cambodian border. Around that time, a baby was born in Khao I Dang. She was named “Y-Dang” and it is to her that we would like to dedicate this little offering.

A few years ago I went to a screening of David A. Feingold’s 1988 film about Site 2, “Waiting For Cambodia”. During the film, I was aware of occasional gasps and excited noises. They emanated from an attractive young woman sitting behind me. After the showing, there was a Q&A session, and this young woman said: “ I enjoyed this film very much because I was born in Khao I Dang…but I’d like to know if there is any film from the early days there in 1980, because I have never seen any”. I turned around and said, “I was there in 1980, and I have lots of photos…” It was the beginning of a friendship, and here, Y-Dang Troeung, are those photos nicely arranged and captioned at last.


Ms. Keiko Miura and I arrived in Aranyaprathet in May 1980 as JVC volunteers. Our first 'mission' was a delivery of basic medical supplies to the hospital at Mak Mun. We were then hired as UN volunteers to work for World Food Programme as assistants to the nutrition team. Keiko became logistics officer and I served as Khmer-English interpreter. I was hardly qualified to do this, but there was nobody else at that time. I did a self-study crash course in “food vocabulary” and went to work. One of my most dramatic tasks was to stand up in front of hundreds of Cambodian refugees and try to persuade them that CSM (Corn Soy Milk) was edible and good for them. There was a great deal of merriment among my audience and they did not throw old fish cans at me. We worked with two Swedish nutritionists, Monika and Christine, and one British guy, Brian. Our main work was monitoring food aid to KID and the border hamlets of Nong Chan and Nong Samet. We also did nutrition surveys in Thai Affected Villages near the border. In September, WFP was rocked by a scandal involving bribes demanded from the seed supplier by an American USAID official, George Warner, and operations were effectively dampened. With nothing useful to do, we quit.

Colin Grafton - 16 May 2020

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