Sitthixay Ditthavong

NOT LIKE HOME

A large number of my friends are increasingly preoccupied with buying houses or having kids. Some are better at one task than the other, but the numbers steadily grow. House. Baby. Baby. House. One day we’ll leave this house to our baby. Maybe if we buy and sell enough houses, we’ll be able to buy more houses.

I know that not everyone is this lucky. I know this because in January this year, a team of over 100 police and security guards from the development company Phanimex  demolished more than 200 homes in Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community in a brazen act of land grabbing with the approval of the Cambodian Government.

Despite failing to fulfill a 2003 agreement to provide sufficient alternative housing for the residents, the company then forcibly moved them to Phnom Bat, Oudong, some 45 kilometres away from the city. Tears erupted when they arrived to discover that they were being dumped on a patch of land with no clean water, electricity or sanitation. Back in Phnom Penh, policemen used tear gas and rocks to quell residents who managed to stay behind to protest. Thirty-eight people were ultimately locked up in unlawful detention.

On the same day that the Borei Keila residents were unceremoniously trucked in and dumped at Oudong to fend for themselves, an enterprising local family set up a stall on the site to sell food and supplies to the newly homeless. I wonder when our appetite for profiteering from the vulnerable will be sated.

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SITTHIXAY DITTHAVONG  studied photography at the Sydney Institute of Technology and marine biology at James Cook University before embarking on a career as an Australian diplomat, covering political and economic developments in Asia, the South Pacific, and the Middle East. He returned to Griffith University’s Queensland College of Art where he is currently completing a Master of Visual Arts (Photojournalism). He is on the editorial board for the 2012 issue of The Australian Photojournalist.

Sitthixay was a finalist in both Asian Geographic’s Asia Without Borders photo contest and the 2011 Zeiss Photo Contest. He has been exhibited both locally and abroad, been published in Danish paper, Kristeligt Dagblad, Queensland’s Courier Mail, and counts the University of Melbourne and The International River Foundation among his clients. He was an official photographer for the 2011 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Sitthixay has been selected as Documentary Arts Asia’s 2012 Artist in Residence and will spend three months in Chiang Mai, Thailand, completing a documentary series and running workshops for local practitioners from February 2012. His work will also be exhibited in the 2012 Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival.

More of Sitthixay’s work can be seen on his website.