John Fago      
 

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In 1990 the American Friends Service Committee invited me to Cambodia, to teach prosthetics in a country "closed" to all but 200 foreign-aid workers.  At that time I could not have gone there as a photographer.

Phnom Penh was the last grand colonial city built in Asia and once had a population of over one million.  After the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, anyone left was forced into "re-education camps" outside of the city.  Using children armed with automatic weapons, Pol Pot created a genocidal pre-industrial agrarian nightmare where being overheard speaking a foreign language could mean death.  Culture and infrastructure were smashed, temples sacked, lives gutted, bridges destroyed, water, sewer, electricity, all gone.

Arriving there in early 1991, the population was still under one hundred thousand but life was returning to Phnom Penh's stately shell.  Despite tragedy and loss, the Khmer people were restoring themselves, their art and their culture.  It was humbling to be there to do some good, teaching prosthetics and documenting this moment just before global capitalism arrived, bringing another tidal wave of change and displacement.

 
 
     
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