When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new. – Dalai Lama
I have listened to countless stories of families decimated by the Khmer Rouge during the years of 1975-1979. I have heard innumerable slurs, degrading remarks, and generalised judgments about certain ethnic groups residing in Cambodia. I have seen vitriol commentary hurled back and forth aimed at both sides of the political spectrum that wields its power in Phnom Penh. I have participated in many meetings expressing the voices of indigenous communities torn off their land and forced to survive on nothing in Cambodia’s northeast. I have sat with garment workers whose colleagues were shot in front of them for protesting for a small pay raise. Listening is so overwhelming.
It’s wonderful to go to a new place and find yourself with an adopted family. Long-time expats and global wanderers will understand how a local family deciding to take you on as one of their own can do wonders for adaptation, understanding, and overall happiness.
I can say that apart from my biological family in Canada, I also have adopted Mexican, Ecuadorian, and Japanese families. I consider them my first go-to people and those that allowed me to join them and feel like I’m at home. After over two years in Cambodia, I now have a Cambodian family. Continue reading
On the road again. Moving my furniture and myself from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap on a shifting new journey.
And so ends the final week of my volunteer placement. After a bit over 14 months, I’m finishing up the final details of a year that has whizzed by. A year that has drastically altered my life and taken me in a new direction.
I’m in a van with all my belongings en route to Siem Reap, the land of Angkor Wat and the heart of the Kingdom of Wonder. I have about 5 more hours on a bumpy road that I think will be the end of my wine glasses.
Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves’.
– Lao Tzu Continue reading
Categories: Development, Personal, Volunteer
Tags: Angkor Wat, Burma, Cambodia, civil society, Cuso International, Myanmar, peace building, Siem Reap, volunteer
Land-grabbing is such a tragic activity in developing countries. A land grab is essentially a large-scale acquisition of property, either buying or leasing, by a company, government, or person. We are talking the big boy elite here. Step back and imagine you are living off the land. Maybe land-ownership isn’t a clear concept to you, or maybe you just assume the land is yours. Your family might have been there for generations. You might have your house, your farm, your animals. But one day some agents for the big boys come and tell you it’s time to go. A foreign company is setting up a serious cash crop enterprise or a big tourist resort that doesn’t need you or your chickens. Or a well-financed project is about to come and take all the timber that lays between vast parcels that your house happens to sit on. Maybe you receive some compensation for your loss, but you quickly find out you aren’t going to go far on that once you’re homeless and have no land to cultivate. Continue reading
At my office a poster reinforces to staff how to properly greet in Cambodia.
Every place has its own way to greet somebody. In many Western countries a shake of the hands or a kiss might do the trick. In Japan, a bow can determine levels of respect and formality. In Taiwan they usually start with “have you eaten?” while in Benin they snap their fingers as they shake hands. Many people know that in this region of the world, many Southeast Asians put their hands together in prayer gesture and greet each other. In Cambodia, although it seems simple enough to carry out, there are traditional complexities that say much more than words could express while performing “the sampeah”, Cambodia’s local greeting. Continue reading
My first month in Cambodia can be summed up simply as “feeling hot”!
Today is special day for me. It is one year since I got on a flight from Vancouver to Seoul, en route to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I remember so clearly the morning of June 3, 2013. I woke up with a knot in my stomach. I had big plans, but I couldn’t shake the profound sadness I felt to leave the life I had built up for myself over the last five years since I had returned to Canada in 2008. I knew that this journey would be taking me on a new path. Continue reading
Sometimes innovation is simple. This hospital provides mosquito nets, cooking facilities, and clean water in the waiting room where some patients wait overnight.
When you think about healthcare in a developing country you probably imagine pretty rudimentary equipment, long waits, questionable doctors, and lots of other challenges that might put your health at risk. I can’t deny that much of Cambodia might fulfil that vision. Healthcare is really a huge issue here. Even for me, if anything major comes up I will be whisked away to Thailand for proper treatment. But where does that leave the common Cambodian? I have heard many stories of people who simply died because they could not get to any facility. Clinics are popping up around the country, often funded through development aid projects. But building a clinic in a rural area doesn’t always override major obstacles. Continue reading
It’s a new year. It has also been six months since I actually started my work in Cambodia. I have been blogging about quite a few things, but haven’t touched on the bulk of my daily life in Cambodia. This has been deliberate. Most of you that also know me professionally will recognise that I am very careful about interpreting my work. I wanted to really take the time to deeply understand my work and the environment before attempting to explain what I’m doing and how it fits in the larger picture. Continue reading
In Cambodia, like many development aid recipient countries, a ‘per diem’ allowance to participate in a workshop can be a major incentive for attendance.
Unlike many of my colleagues working with grassroots in the field, this is an issue that I haven’t reflected much upon before coming to Cambodia. As an employee, I’ve received ‘per diem’ allowances for lots of travel with organisations. Per diem is the term used to call a set amount of money that has been calculated to cover expenses for work-travel. Sometimes that amount includes accommodations, food, transportation, incidentals, or a combination of these expenses. If I think back to some of my per diems, they were often very generous. I might not have been able to spend the full amount even if I tried. Continue reading
Categories: Development, Volunteer
Tags: accountability, accounting, Cambodia, corruption, development, international aid, participatory approach, per diems, project management, sustainability, transparency, travel expenses, workshops