The author – Duncan Stuart


That’s me, Duncan Stuart, wearer of the New Zealand t-shirt and author of this blog. I first came to Cambodia in 2004 and never expected to meet Svay Savong, let alone get involved with an NGO which has grown in size and scope over the next 10 years. I set up a website for Savong’s School (Click here) but blogs offer the chance to ruminate and think about the wider questions of education and social justice in Cambodia.

By day I’m a market researcher and self employed.  I live in Auckland with my partner Susanna and get to Cambodia when I can. Each week I phone or Skype Savong and I remain in awe of how this young guy has made such a lofty dream come true.

After the tax man takes his share, pretty-much all of my income goes to Cambodia. However this has to change – with the growth of the project and (I might add) the decline of my health. So please don’t take offense if I ask for assistance from time to time.  (We have a project right now in fact.)

When it comes to writing about the work of his NGO I’ve always tried to write well-researched pieces. To be honest I can’t stand charities that pull at the heartstrings without supporting their story with facts. “Help the children of Cambodia!” (Okay: How? Which children in particular? Give me the details!) For this I thank my editors at the Sydney Morning Herald and several NZ-based magazines for whom I freelanced many years ago. Their consistent advice: support your case with evidence.

Part of the role of this blog is to assemble, slowly, a broader picture of Cambodia’s development in the education sector. So my articles may range around such themes as arts and film, history, culture as well as around the personal insights and stories I get to hear.

When I first arrived in Cambodia I was in the middle of a mental-health crisis and frankly, I did not expect to be alive by that Christmas. The moment I arrived in Cambodia from Bangkok my explosive heart-rate slowed noticeably and I experienced an unexpected sense of peace. I felt as if I had arrived “home.” I cannot explain this, but I experience the same sensation each time I journey to Cambodia.

Perhaps you have the same relationship with this complex, warm-hearted, striving little nation. Thank you for reading this blog.

For a taste of what this blog is about try clicking here!

7 thoughts on “The author – Duncan Stuart

  1. I was given a link to your blog. I too have lived the past 11 years in Cambodia and still live here. I came with the same feeling of heart racing and uncertainty and over time living here I have found myself. There have been times when I’ve cried, been angry and wanted to leave this place but somehow I seem to be still here. There were times when I lost my love and sense for Cambodia for some reason it all came back. So I understand your connection to this place too. I hope we can get the chance to meet some day.

    • Hi Paddy – thanks for your kind words. For sure Cambodia can be a frustrating place. I don’t live there, but I notice when I visit it takes me a few days to “slow down” to Cambodian time, and to not get grumpy when even simple things take s-o-o-o-o l-o-o-o-o-ng to achieve. My total time in Cambodia is pretty scant compared to yours so wow, you must have a really deep and complicated relationship with Cambodia. Are you in the NGO sector – or in business or other?

      • Kia ora Duncan, I really enjoyed reading your blog. I’ve worked in the NGO sector but the good thing with my work, is that it is very local and very small, which in many ways is a good thing. We don’t get caught up in the typical NGO culture here of money, power, position etc. If we ever meet for coffee I’ll explain in detail.

        I came to Cambodia from Hong Kong in 2003. I was working for the Asian Human Rights Commission as an internship program. But when I fist came here I was working with students on human rights issues at a very small level. It has been many of these students that I now call family.

        If there is one thing that I have learnt is that I have learned a lot about myself and how stubborn I can be at times and my own insecurities. This place does that to us. Amidst my own frustrations I am 100 percent grateful for being here. I love this place just as much as I can get angry at times too. I know this sounds ironic. Its a roller coaster ride but somehow this place reminds me of who I am and why I am here.

        Keep up the good work you are doing to help flourish the education of young people here. There is so much potential among the young here who don’t have opportunities as we might have back home in NZ.

        I try to go home at least once a year to see my whanau back on the East Coast, Waipiro Bay. Every time I travel home I also have to remind myself how far and different my worlds are. And it is this difference that keeps me centered and focused when I can.

        I hope we can meet one day when you come to Cambodia next time.

        regards, Paddy

      • Great to “meet” you Paddy. Now I know who all those rice fields around SR have been named after. You hit the button about the frustrations that can hit us in Cambodia – and Kiwis are supposed to be laid back! Actually I think being Kiwi helps a lot: that egalitarian attitude where nobody is above us or beneath us – which help us navigate through the layers of Khmer society, rich or poor, old or young.

        Wow – Waipiro Bay (I’ve cycled through there) – what a different world! Sometimes you must pinch yourself for living in such a pair of parallel universes.

        What I miss most about SR is the quiet, sunset hour of Bakong – the insects, the murmur of families preparing dinner, the sweet tang of charcoal cooking fires. To me, that chemistry is sublime.

        Would love to catch up with you, and wouldn’t mind doing an interview with you as well: to ask about the things us westerners should learn or be aware of, if we plan to live in Cambodia. Would you be interested?

      • Kia ora Duncan, sorry for the late reply I just managed to catch up on my blog etc. Of course you can interview me when time and place permits. Yeah for the past 11 years I’ve always been amazed in how my two worlds have clashed, for the good at most times but also for the struggles too. But I’m here with a smile. Its interesting though, back home my family and friends still hold on to the old me, whereas I know that I am not that same person 11 years ago. And a great contribution to my growth is definitely Cambodia and other things. But I’ve learnt a lot about myself along the way. Okay lets keep in touch. regards, Paddy.

  2. Oh yes you are right about the Kiwi thing. I think that is what has helped me. The egalitarian thing is so me. But here in Cambodia there is definitely a difference of sorts especially among the rich and poor. What makes me angry here is the impunity that those who have money and power can get away with most things.

    I so agree with you about Siem Reap is the sun sets, but as you know Siem Reap is very touristy, too, but it is said that Siem Reap is the poorest province in Cambodia. Hard to imagine given that tourist revenue and Angkor Wat revenue brings in millions but it goes to one or two people.

    I think though if we look through the lenses of skepticism all the time we lose ground of ourselves. but if we have a balance we can work well with the locals. They are people that really teach us a lot and its very humbling at the same time.

    Okay, lets keep in touch.

    • Paddy you are at once humble and inspiring. I think your self-awareness as well as your immersion in Cambodia would open many doors of understanding. I’ll write some questions and take you up on the interview idea.

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