Thursday, 11 September 2008

Back home...

So I returned from Cambodia on Sunday, but the job isnt done yet. There is lots of work to be done on our budget and proposal - millions of dollars going back and forth and lots of work to create a strategy. Because the scope of this project is so huge, it really includes a lot of thought into how we can best use these resources to help Cambodians. That means working out what programs work best, how often they need to be extended and by how much. It also means figuring out where our organization and work fit among other organizations and bodies working in Cambodia - the public sector, the private sector, social marketing organizations, social franchising initiatives and private clinics and pharmacies. Like many things in the developing world, quantification is a bit of an oversimplification, as most private doctors are simply public sector doctors enhancing their regular income.

In true developing world form, there are a never ending supply of anomalies and contradictions. Siem Reap, the tourist-friendly province with the vast temples, and deluxe hotels, is also the poorest province in an all around poor country. Everywhere, people ride little motorbikes ("moto") and motorbike-drawn rickshaws ("tuk tuk"), usually in a state of perpetual chaos. Hardly anyone wears helmets, though you'll see people wearing masks to protect their lungs from polution!

One thing that has taken me aback is the closeness of the Khemer Rouge genocide. As a Jew, Ive always heard stories by or about elderly people being the only members of their families to escape Europe alive. The only one from a family of five, eight, ten, or the only one from a street, a neighborhood, a ghetto. Along with their stories of loss there are glimmers of ingenuity and survival. In Cambodia, these stories are told by people in their 40s. Many westerners wonder how Cambodians can recover when justice in the western sense has so long been delayed - tribunals are only recently underway, after the death of the genocidal leader Pol Pot. Its not hard to see why the tribunals would be so difficult here - unlike other massacres, here the perpetrators and victims look the same, live in the same towns and a few short decades later work in the same offices and send their children to the same schools. In purely technical terms, its not even a genocide by definition, as people were killed based on their class, not on the terms of their race, religion or language.

Cambodia is one of those places that attracts long-term expats, and it was great to hear from them about the improvements that they have seen in recent years. When my boss moved there 6 years ago, there was only one paved road, no ATMs and no postal service. Now there is still isnt a reliable postal service or constant electricity, but there are many paved roads, international banks, a growing middle class and education available for most (though not all) of the younger population. NGOs (both native and imported) are everywhere, and Cambodians seem dedicated to improving themselves. Its inspiring to see, and I hope that our project can contribute somewhat to helping these people take control of their lives.

1 comment:

Meg said...

So glad I found your blog! I can't wait to read more!