Happy New Year Everybody

Happy New Year Everybody

This year I challenge everyone I meet to nudge up your giving-level by a notch or two! Discover the joy of supporting a young student in Cambodia and helping them achieve their potential. Contact me – I don’t bite, I don’t heap sob stories onto you. But I do need your help.

My job is simple: to connect you with a needy rural student. duncan@kudos-dynamics.com

Happy New Year!

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The Great Divide: Life of a Teacher

MITTY STEELE

Mitty Steele is an excellent insightful blogger, based in Phnom Penh and well worth following.

Mitty Steele is a Cambodian-American writer, photographer, and overall communications professional. She was born in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was five years old.

Her blogs are beautifully written, and what I admire is how she digs underneath the surface to bring well-researched stories that also reflect on her own family background.

In this article Mitty examines the life of a teacher before – and after – the Pol Pot years, and shows why the current education system in Cambodia receives too little investment from the State. Well worth reading. The Great Divide: Life of a Teacher

Traps in the rice fields.

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“What are these?” I asked as I entered Mouencheat’s house up the ladder to the main room, raised on stilts above potential floodwater levels.

“Those are traps for frogs.”

In fact frogs are a common supplement to the diet, as they are throughout Asia. In the wet season (May to July) children are sent into the rice fields and streams to catch frogs either by hand or by trapping. The gill traps, pictured, can catch up to 8 frogs in an evening, and a typical household – as this one is – may have between 5-15 of these traps.

Frogs are served either dried and on sticks , or stuffed and grilled in a dish known as Kangkeb-bauk.

An outstanding Cambodian documentary – Enemies of the People

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Investigative journalist Thet Sambath is a reporter with the Phnom Penh Post and over 10 years he went about interviewing victims and soldiers in search of why Pol Pot and his generals did what they did. After all, there is a rich collection of literature telling the story from the point of view of the victims, but the story from the Khmer Rouge point of view was greyed-out, even during the time of their reign of terror in the 1970s. It took more than a year before Pol Pot even revealed himself to the public – preferring to rule by secrecy until 1977.

Sambath is an amazing journalist who digs into the story in a characteristically Cambodian way: preferring not to be confrontational but to win the friendship and trust of those he interviews. I found his treatment of two soldiers, youngsters at the time they carried guns for the Khmer Rouge, particularly moving. At first the soldiers say they weren’t involved and cannot remember the details, but gradually the journalist takes them to the point where they realise that confessing what they did – one of the two men recalls throwing babies in the air and bayoneting them with the sword on the end of his rifle – is the only way to release themselves from the nightmares they have nursed for decades. The men weep with horror and shame at what they did. “What will I return as?” one asks rhetorically, recounting the rules of Buddhism.

Following a trail that emerges with each time he asks: “who gave your the orders? Why did so many people die in the killing fields?” Sambath eventually finds himself at the doorstep of  former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, Pol Pots’s right hand man.

Chea insists that the regime had to get rid of “enemies of the people” but he cannot adequately address the core fact: that those in power were simply executing everyday Cambodians. Who, if not these leaders, were the real enemies of the people?

Nuon Chea is a arrogantly proud man, deluded perhaps, but through the lens of Sambath’s camerawork still human. Not a monster, but a deeply flawed man who, ultimately, is arrested to face trial.

This is a stunning movie, and has won multiple prestigious awards since being released in 2011. One hurdle, it has had to overcome, is that the Cambodian Government decreed it was too sensitive to release in Cambodia. The producers were working last year to ensure that at least through DVD release it might be viewed by Cambodians themselves.

Watch the trailer – click here.

More on Khmer film click here.

Many roads to Cambodia’s development – an interview with Dr Wayne McCallum

WAYNE McCALLUM

Dr Wayne McCallum (far right) has immersed himself in both the social and natural environment of Cambodia since 2003. He sees challenges ahead for the nation’s development and the need to adopt the best from several pathways to development.

I’ve referred elsewhere to the book I found at the Monument bookstore at Siem Reap airport called ROADS TO DEVELOPMENT – a very insightful discussion that weighs up different pathways to the development of Cambodia.  Published by the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) the book  focuses on the experience in the Sre Ambel District of Southwest Cambodia, and while the main topic involves development of the local economy through agriculture for example; the lessons are applicable in a wider sense to NGOs in every sector including ours, in Education.

The book discusses whether the economic development road, for example is the best path (creating jobs through investment and new methods of agriculture,) or whether it leads to compromises (farmers losing their land, worker rights abuses, environmental degradation).

So the title, “Roads” is a good summation because it looks at a diversity of approaches tracing strengths and weaknesses and common pitfalls including one that struck me as particularly important: to deliver on promises. It appears that when NGOs or investment organisations promise to “consult and listen” few do this effectively or honourably.

The book is jointly authored by a Cambodian, Meas Nee, and by a New Zealander Wayne McCallum, and their Cambodian/Western perspectives generate rich insight.

Recently I contacted Wayne to ask him a few questions about what he has learned in Cambodia and whether he is optimistic for the nation’s future given the developmental problems he has witnessed first-hand and through interviewing locals.

Wayne – how did you first get involved in Cambodia? Was there a personal connection?

I came to Cambodia in December 2003 as a VSA volunteer. I had first developed a desire to travel to the region in the mid-1990s and although I really wanted an assignment in Laos, the Cambodia project that VSA advertised was just too perfect to pass up on. So I applied and got accepted.

You had an academic interest in Cambodia via your main academic subject of Environmental Sociology. What is the main emphasis of this study?

I was a ‘born again’ student. I went back to university to complete my PhD after several years of work. My study involved a ‘post-modern exploration of community environmental management’ through the frame of several place-based case studies (Phew!).

I ended up going down the pathway of how the way we give meaning to the environment and environmental matters (social construction) shapes our actions.   This includes how we respond to ‘environmental issues’. In the end I really got into political ecology and how this shapes the way the groups I studied interacted with each other, other people, the authorities and the world around them.

It is a short step to apply these ideas to ‘development’ thinking, something that we sought to capture in ‘Roads’.

How did you meet Meas Nee? How did the Sre Ambel study come about?

I had come across Nee’s work and was impressed by it. I really wanted to work with him as we shared a common approach to development. I was asked to work on the book and suggested Nee as a counterpart. The AFSC had been thinking the same thing and were keen to have him on board as well. We both aligned well, with different strengths and abilities. Add to this the fact that my VSA placement had been in the Sre Ambel area, which meant that I knew the place and people well.

You two arrived at an interesting and I feel balanced view about the strengths and weaknesses of different forms of community and nation development – whether development through Economic Growth, Human Rights development or community or environmentally based development.  Different emphases, different strengths and different weaknesses.

a.       What are some of the worst pitfalls of development have you witnessed since 2003?

In Cambodia I am definitely concerned at the way economic land concessions have been enacted and the way that social and environmental considerations have not been factored into this process. The lack of any rigorous environment and social impact process is a continuing cause of concern and adds to the issues raised by both concession developments and other projects.

b.      What’s your recipe for the successful, sustainable development of Cambodia?

I guess the point we come to in ‘Roads’ is that there is no magic recipe. What you should look at, instead, is a process that ensures all voices, including those of the environment, are brought into the planning and decision-making process, that adverse impacts are recognized and managed for, that risk is accommodated and that ecological, social and economic resilience is maintained and improved.  It sounds easy.

I guess having some agreement on what ‘sustainable development’ means and the goals and aspirations that underline this are a good starting point. That sort of dialogue has not happened here in Cambodia though, that said, I do not think it has happened in NZ either!

For me development needs to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘sensitive’.

In the book you and Nee discuss the cultural collisions between NGOs and communities. Nee twice refers to the “Logical Frameworks” used by foreign-based NGOs and how this kind of western business thinking runs counter to local ways of thinking. What advice would you give to an NGO if they want to work successfully in Cambodia?

Oh that’s a BIG question.  In short, read ‘Roads’ and think about how its ideas could apply to you and your work.

What do NGOs frequently get wrong? I suspect you’re going to mention their lack of community input…

‘Wrong’ is a subjective term, while NGOs do not operate in isolation. The reality is that development is a challenging and complex process. Recognising and managing this process is probably the first thing that you need to do. That this does not always happen is probably one of the leading errors.

From there things get more complex. Funding cycles, output focus, conflict, are all challenges that lead to NGO ‘failure’. The list is a long one and I wonder about the ability of some organisations to step back and reflect. There are a few that are good at this. I was impressed by AFSC while I worked for them, both as a volunteer and as a consultant.

Finally, you’ve remarked that Cambodia gets more complex the more you work here. We see a nation undergoing rapid change – what are the main issues that you feel the nation will face in the next few years?

There are many issues and Cambodia does not always have control over its own destiny. Issues over the damming of the Mekong in Laos and China illustrate this.

From a societal perspective the coming ‘youth quake’, whereby the majority of the population will soon be less than 30 years of age is going to put enormous pressure on the country, as rising aspirations are confronted by limitations in the ability of the state and the Kingdom to accommodate these.

Environmentally, a recent climate change report identified Cambodia as in the top-10 of nations vulnerable to climate change. This really is the ‘elephant in the room’ for the Kingdom and is not being factored into decision-making.

There are a host of others but these are a good starting point.

Are you optimistic for Cambodia?

I love Cambodia and I am a pragmatic optimist. The country and its people invigorate and infuriate me in equal measure, at times, but they remind me that I am alive and keep me honest.

Thank you Wayne. 

 For a 30 minute interview on SEATV Cambodia’s Global Dialogue, Dr Wayne McCallum discusses the environment and how it’s protection in Cambodia can generate positive tourism.

In fact after his experience in the Sre Ambel District, Wayne has taken up the role of environmental director of the Song Saa Private Island’s Conservation and Community programme.

Savong Organization Cambodia – Sign of the times

Savong Organization Cambodia - Sign of the times

Savong just sent me this photo, and it tells me three stories. The first story is about the children who are supported through the SOC. There they stand – a fun community of friends. I’ve seen first hand how some of these children from very poor backgrounds have gained in health and grown in confidence.

The second story is about great progress this past 12 months, with new buildings, new roofing, new footpaths and now a new sign to ‘crown’ the achievements of 2013.

Finally the sign itself tells a big story. It demonstrates the coming shift in the work of SOC – with a focus on outreach and support for children in the local community. This includes meals, support with education and other assistance.