Advances in Cambodian Health Care
Cambodia is a country located in Southeastern Asia, bordering Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and the Gulf of Thailand. The Khmer Rouge regime and its actions brought the nation’s mostly positive trajectory to a definitive halt in the 1970s. However, the nation has been rebounding. The recent advances in Cambodian health care illuminate the country’s gains and foreshadow the possibilities for this economically developinging country.

Cambodia’s regression in the 1970s was significant in its health care field. This is because the Khmer Rouge explicitly targeted the educated and elite in Cambodia during the reign of the regime. In fact, one could easily qualify the regime’s activities as genocide. By the end of the regime’s four-year rule, it is estimated that only 12 doctors remained in Cambodia.

Regardless of the strife and hardships Cambodians faced, those in Cambodia have not lost faith. The Cambodian health care system has made advances from a multitude of angles. Through its work with NGOs and making advancements within its own government by way of reform, Cambodia is developing a just and proper health care system.

Transform Healthcare Cambodia

There are a variety of NGOs offering assistance with the health care crisis in Cambodia. Transform Healthcare Cambodia’s work highlights these efforts. The goal for Transform Healthcare Cambodia is to protect the region from diseases the Southeastern Asian population do not receive treatment for.

With Khmer Rouge eliminating almost all of the country’s doctors, the number of doctors has remained limited. However, by training physicians to diagnose, treat and manage diseases prominent in the region, the organization is taking action against diabetes and many infectious diseases plaguing the region.

The charity accomplishes this by sending its partners to Battambang Provincial Hospital where they train the Cambodian staff in instances of health care. In turn, the existing staff trains future medical professionals.

Governmental Reforms

A health care system is only as strong as the government that supports it. That is why the Second Health Sector Support Program Project (HSSP2) has taken on the task of governmental reform in Cambodia. By improving the coverage and quality of health care, it gives the government a quality guideline to uphold.

By supplying and supporting these health programs, it gives the health care system legs to stand on. Since its involvement, the project has accomplished much in the region, including the following:

  1. Newly trained professionals have successfully delivered 85 percent of babies in Cambodia.
  2. Vaccines administered to children increased by 10 percent from 2010 to 2015.
  3. All of Cambodia’s impoverished receive health care, at approximately 3 million people.
  4.  HHSP2 has added 121 health centers, five health posts, 79 delivery rooms, 15 maternity wards and one pharmacy.
  5. The project has improved water quality, electricity, sanitation and 280 preexisting health centers.
  6. The project established 12 non-communicable disease clinics.

Through strife, struggle and hardship to the extent of genocide, the Cambodian people have persevered. Although Cambodia still requires much work in regards to regulating and sustaining its health care system, the advances the country has made are a clear indicator of growth and a sign of a brighter future.

– Austin Brown
Photo: Flickr

Reconciliation in Post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia
In August 2019, Nuon Chea, one of the leaders responsible for the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, passed away at the age of 93. His death resurfaced reports of the atrocities experienced in Cambodia between 1975-79, under the rule of the infamous dictator Pol Pot. Yet, Nuon Chea did not undergo prosecution for his crimes until 2018 — 40 years after he committed them.

Due to its scale and recency, one cannot write off the Khmer Rouge as an atrocity of the past. The pursuit of peace and justice for over 2 million victims of the Khmer Rouge continues today. Friends of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in Cambodia is a group that has continued to push for peace in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia — despite a government, population and international community that wants to forget.

A Community Frozen in Time

In the Anlong Veng region of Cambodia, which housed regime leaders as late as 1998, others still venerate Pol Pot, Nuon Chea and other mass murderers as national heroes. The regime may have fallen 40 years ago, but families who enforced the regime’s brutality on their fellow Cambodians are still unaware of their wrongful actions. Some citizens simply have misinformation or claim to have supported the regime for the promise of security after decades of poverty. Other families followed strict orders on death threats and see themselves as victims — despite committing genocide.

Understanding the perspective of the citizens’ support to the regime is key to longterm peace. R2P member Pou Sovachana advocates for knowledge of the ex-cadre perspectives to yield reconciliation in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

Friends of R2P’s Dr. Bradley Murg, a political scientist and senior research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP), emphasized in an interview the need to break Anlong Veng members out of their bubble. For decades, “governments have left them to their own devices, afraid to open that box” of reconciliation, Dr. Murg shared. Most were “isolated and genuinely believe that their side was right.” Scarred from the Khmer Rouge’s inadequate leadership and raised with educational “curriculum centered on hatred, anger and revenge,” ex-cadre members need therapy — not prison.

Helping Cambodia Embrace its History

Besides working with ex-members of the Khmer Rouge, Friends of Responsibility to Protect is working to promote justice among Cambodians. Unable to understand their past, many Cambodians live in denial of their history. Tourists almost exclusively visit the Khmer Rouge history museum in Cambodia’s capital city, Dr. Murg noted.

The genocide directly impacted the nation’s population over the age of 40, many of whom still struggle with untreated PTSD. Parents began to raise their children in the shadow of atrocity without an explanation. Ultimately, continued ignorance is detrimental to Cambodia. Both Dr. Murg and his colleague, Professor Sovachana Pou — who works at the CICP and is a Khmer Rouge survivor himself — agree that work is still necessary to help the Cambodian population heal from the past. This is why R2P promotes education and acknowledgment about the atrocities among the younger generation. Its work includes field trips with students to Anlong Veng and stories of ex-Khmer Rouge perpetrators in local newspapers; an effort to encourage mutual understanding.

Finishing Justice

People must recognize Friends of R2P’s work for reconciliation in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia in the context of delayed criminal justice. Dr. Murg explained how, due to the political dynamics of the U.S. and Cambodia, many of the Khmer Rouge leaders did not receive charges for their crimes. The sentencing of Nuon Chea by a U.N. court in 2018 – 40 years after the crimes – exemplifies the uneven justice delivered to the Khmer Rouge perpetrators. Even the head of the Khmer Rouge regime, Pol Pot, never received a sentence – and died of natural causes in his home in 1998.

In an effort to fix its past mistakes, Cambodia established a court in the first part of the 21st century to bring justice to the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Pou reminded the Borgen Project that legal justice is only the first step to the real justice that needs to be felt in the hearts of Cambodians. The peace between mainstream Cambodians and ex-Khmer Rouge members, like those living in Anlong Veng, is the next step in the journey to justice. This is why the Anlong Veng Peace Center and Friends of R2P are promoting education, historic preservation and communication between ex-Khmer Rouge members and the families of victims.

While 2019 marks the 40-year anniversary of the Khmer Rouge’s fall from power, reconciliation in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia continues.

What is most hopeful, however, is the willingness for reconciliation among Khmer Rouge victims. People like Sovachana Pou, who narrowly escaped Cambodia and saw the deaths of their family, have offered forgiveness for the sake of rebuilding Cambodia. The key is to recognize that there are victims on both sides of the Khmer Rouge. Friends of Responsibility to Protect’s work is beautifully acknowledging the stories of all Cambodians to rebuild social trust.

Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Developing CountriesEducation is a determining factor in a country’s economic and political success. The more educated the population becomes, the more a country will flourish. Traditionally, women’s education in developing countries has been pushed to the wayside due to gender stereotypes and traditional household roles. Lotus Outreach International supports girls’ education in developing countries to help them break through these boundaries and gives them a voice to change the environment around them.

What is the Lotus Outreach Program?

The Lotus Outreach Program, founded in India in 1993, began as a way to aid Tibetan refugees in India. It then expanded its focus to neglected groups in developing countries worldwide, and now has an affiliate in California which supports efforts to improve women’s education around the world. Lotus Outreach International is currently working in India and Cambodia to empower women and has broadened access to education in the two countries.

Lotus Outreach International has provided 1,449 high school scholarships for female students in India, along with 327 university training scholarships. The organization has also provided 2,500 bikes to female students as transportation to and from school. Lotus Outreach International has also donated 409,020 kilograms of rice for educational programs.

Educational Statistics from India

Since Lotus Outreach International primarily operates in India, it is important to understand the scope of the educational system in the country. India has one of the largest school-age populations in the world, with around 270 million children between the ages of 5 and 17. Education is required from 6 to 13 and the educational system has four tiers: pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary. Pre-primary is for children from 3 to 6 years old, primary is between ages six and 10, secondary is between ages 11 to 17, and tertiary is between ages 18 to 22. The current primary to secondary transition rate is high for female students, with 90.37 percent of females continuing to secondary education in 2016.

The country still has low secondary and tertiary female enrollment, however, which Lotus Outreach International is addressing through programs and aid outreaches in rural areas around India. Many students are struggling in both math and reading, as seen through mean achievement scores from 2015. During that year, the mean achievement score for math in rural areas was 247, while the urban score was 256. In English, the mean score was 19 points higher in urban areas than in rural ones. For these reasons, Lotus Outreach supports rural women’s education to close the urban/rural gap.

Lotus Outreach International Programs

The organization has created multiple programs to support girls’ education in developing countries. Some notable programs include Blossom Bus, Lotus Petals and Education Quality Addition.

  1. Blossom Bus provides female students with safe transportation to and from schools, as it is widely believed to be unsafe for females to travel alone in many parts of India. Fears about safety often end female education at the primary level, and girls are kept at home without the chance to continue learning. This program, specific to Mewat, Haryana, India, provides bus transportation to secondary and tertiary educational facilities with trustworthy drivers. Blossom Bus aims to counteract the extremely low female literacy rate in Haryana, which currently stands at 36 percent. The program currently provides transportation for over 300 female secondary students and 48 tertiary students, helping to break the cycle of early marriages and supporting young women as they try to get an education.
  2. Lotus Pedals targets women who would be easily susceptible to sex trafficking and abuse. The program helps to provide affordable, safe and reliable transportation to young girls who would otherwise have to choose between a meal and a taxi ride to school. Lotus Petals supplies all-terrain bicycles to girls living more than a mile away from the nearest schools and has provided more than 2,316 bicycle scholarships so far. The Lotus Petals outreach helps female students in Cambodia as well. These bicycles help further girls’ education in developing countries by giving students a safer way to get to school.
  3. The Education Quality Addition program is an after-school enhancement program for migrant worker students to ensure that these girls are able to keep up with educational standards. The program enrolls students into all core classes needed to ensure that their education level is where it should be based on their age. EQU+ works with students in Delhi, India who would otherwise be unable to attend classes due to high tuition prices. Currently, the program is serving 25 to 30 students under 14 in the Delhi area to ensure that these girls are able to keep up with their education and prevent them from dropping out of school entirely.

Lotus Outreach International has worked tirelessly through multiple programs to support girls’ education in developing countries. These three programs and many more are increasing female enrollment and helping more women finish their education.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Wikipedia

programs through the US embassy in cambodia
The purposes of embassies around the world are to represent different country’s governments in another country and facilitate relationships between them. It is the responsibility of government agencies to address current global issues. As a result, many embassies assist in development initiatives in the countries they are based in. Embassies do this in many ways, especially through collaborating with local organizations, sponsoring organizations or creating new embassy-based programs. Below are two of the most sustainable and beneficial programs that the U.S. embassy works on in Cambodia.

SHE Investments Incubator Program

Women run 65 percent of the micro-businesses in Cambodia and most of those businesses do not have the resources or the engagement to propel them to their higher potential. In fact, women only account for one percent of formal business owners, whether small or large businesses. The mission of SHE Investments is to support women business founders in a male-dominated industry with the goal of impacting Cambodian communities both socially and economically.

SHE investments started as an idea in 2013 and fully launched in 2014. USAID Cambodia sponsors this organization through the Development Innovations (DI) Cambodia project, one of the programs through the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia.

In 2016, the organization applied for the DI grant through USAID. SHE Investments received a small grant that went towards the development of Ngeay Ngeay, a free database to help women-led businesses register with their local government agencies, such as the Ministry of Commerce. This helped to transform the organization’s possibilities with technology because it had not tried to utilize those resources to the fullest extent prior to the grant. The DI grant also provided workshops in social media and branding, which opened the organization’s network to different corporate partners.

“I didn’t have any skills for video before. It looked really hard. But [the DI trainers] made it really simple for someone who has never edited before,” said Seng GeachLeang, the Communications and Community Engagement Officer.

With the support of USAID and the programs through the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, SHE investments was able to expand its inaugural program, the SHE Incubator Program. It works to assist micro-businesses with five paid employees or less in order to give them personal training and preparation for running a larger scale business one day. The workshops, delivered over the course of six months, are in the Khmer language.

In order to create sustainable change, SHE investments tracks the growth of the small businesses over time to determine the impact of their assistance, whether or not there is an increase in household income, women’s empowerment and comfort with decision-making as a result of their assistance.

Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI)

Another one of the programs through the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia not only reaches the country’s own youth but also those in neighboring countries. The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) supports and provides opportunities for youth across all Southeast Asian countries.

In 2013, YSEALI began its movement to engage young adults from 18 to 35 years old in leadership development and relationship making. The program is unique because it connects young adults from different countries in the region with each other. This is to promote unity and belonging as well as strengthen diplomatic ties between Southeast Asia and the U.S.

The leaders can apply to become members at any time. Once in the group, they focus on topics and issues that youth in the regions determine themselves. This has included but has not limited to, professional women empowerment, food security and foreign relations. Programs within YSEALI include professional and academic fellowships to the United States, regional workshops and grant funding.

It is evident that the benefits of YSEALI are on an even larger scale than it seems. According to the Huffington Post, during the 2015 and 2016 academic year, over 55,000 Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) students studied in the U.S. and their economic contribution to the U.S. economy was $1.7 billion. This mutually beneficial relationship ensures the prioritizing of the future of personal development of ASEAN youth. These young adults are the future change-makers in their region of the world.

Still, including these programs, there are a number of other programs through the U.S. embassy in Cambodia and each is unique. Many of the programs provide avenues of support for young adults as they make up approximately 65 percent of people in the Southeast Asian region. With the help of organizations and programs like those in this article, there are opportunities to make lasting change for the better in Cambodian communities.

– Melina Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

Democracy in Cambodia
Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia that has struggled to maintain a robust democracy for nearly its entire history. For decades, military coups and civil war have made democracy difficult to implement in Cambodia. Generally, the international community has struggled to find a way to successfully institutionalize democracy within the country. Back in January 2019, U.S. congressman Ted Yoho introduced the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 in order to deal with this problem. However, before delving into the details of the legislation, it is important to understand that democracy in Cambodia has a troubled history.  Furthermore, it is essential to understand how those troubles have prompted a response from U.S. lawmakers.

History of Democracy in Cambodia

Prime minister Hun Sen is a key piece in understanding why democracy has struggled to firmly take hold in Cambodia. He became prime minister of Cambodia in 1985. At the time, various armed factions had plunged the country into civil war.

In the early 1990s, a massive United Nations peacekeeping force attempted to disarm and bring ceasefire between the various factions, run national elections and promote democracy in Cambodia. Nearly 20,000 military, police and other personnel made up the force.

In 1991, the Paris Peace Accords officially brought the conflict to an end, which outlined basic protections for human rights. The agreement also promoted free and fair elections within the country.

The 1991 agreements led to the creation of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). The UNTAC facilitated national elections in 1993. During these elections, guerillas carried out violent attacks on U.N. peacekeepers. The Hun Sen-led Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) engaged in a massive campaign of violent intimidation against people who might vote against them.

The royalist Funcinpec party won the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Norodom Ranariddh, the son of the former Cambodian King Sihanouk, led the party. Hun Sen and the CPP did not accept the results of the election. As such, they were able to force their way into a power-sharing agreement. This ultimately allowed Sen to serve as deputy prime minister alongside Ranariddh.

However, this agreement broke down in 1997 when Hun Sen seized power from Ranariddh in a coup. Cambodia then elected him prime minister in the following elections. The CPP would go on to win elections in 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018. In order to preserve his grip on the country, Hun Sen has wielded increasingly autocratic power to crush the opposition. In 2017, authorities arrested the leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the leading opposition party to the CPP, on trumped-up charges of treason. Two months later, the Supreme Court suspended the CNRP entirely. In the 2018 elections, which international observers considered illegitimate, the CPP won more than 100 of the 125 contested seats in the National Assembly.

The Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019

Following Hun Sen’s crackdown on dissent prior to the 2018 elections, U.S. lawmakers became increasingly vocal about promoting democracy in Cambodia. Ted Yoho has been chief among these lawmakers. He is a Republican congressman representing Florida’s 3rd congressional district.

Yoho introduced the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018 during the 115th Congress. The bill managed to pass in the House, but the Senate did not pass it. Yoho re-introduced the bill during the 116th Congress as the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. Five Democrats and four Republicans co-sponsored the bill.

According to its description on GovTrack, the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 aims to “promote free and fair elections, political freedoms, and human rights in Cambodia.” Specifically, the bill would authorize the president to impose various sanctions on Cambodia’s security, military and government senior officials. It would also authorize sanctions on those who might be undermining democracy in Cambodia and controlled by said individuals. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act outlined these sanctions. It includes economic sanctions such as asset freezes and visa restrictions. Penalties for undermining democracy would be the same as those under the IEEPA, which can reach fines of up to $1 million.

There is a 4 percent chance that Cambodia will enact the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. This is an estimate according to Skopos Labs. However, Congressman Yoho is still confident about the bill’s prospects. In a phone interview with VOA Khmer, Yoho said, “We had a lot of bipartisan support last year and I think you’ll see the same amount this year…”

U.S. Support of Democracy in Cambodia

Overall, the fact that the legislation is drawing support from across party lines is an encouraging sign that the U.S. is willing to promote democracy in Cambodia. Additionally, there is a possibility that the U.S. could pressure the Hun Sen regime to put an end to its autocratic abuses of power.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

blockchain technology for rice farmers

In 2018, Oxfam, a global organization that works to end the injustice of poverty, introduced a Blockchain technology for rice farmers in Cambodia called Blockchain for Livelihood from Organic Cambodian Rice or, more simply, BlocRice. This blockchain technology will connect rice farmers in the Cambodian village of Reaksmei, in the Preah Vihear province, with other people in the supply chain to ensure that poor farmers get a fair deal.

Rice in Cambodia

Rice is Cambodia’s major crop with roughly 80 percent of Cambodian farmers cultivating rice. Many small-scale rice farmers lack the necessary information to negotiate prices and conditions with middlemen and others in the supply chain. Oxfam is hopeful that this pilot project, which will include 50 organic rice farmers, will expand to other provinces and varieties of farming.

While rice farming accounts for 25 percent of Cambodia’s economy, the average monthly income for these farmers is only $108. It is particularly tough when farmers do not have return customers or vehicles to take the product to a market. With these small-scale farmers struggling, the application of BlocRice will hopefully enhance their bargaining powers and selling prices.

Implementing Blockchain

Bitcoin is digital money that is stored in the digital wallet app on any smart device. Blockchain, a public list, records each transaction to make it traceable. No government issues blockchain, nor are banks required to manage accounts. This makes BlocRice a cheaper payment system with a transparent recording of transactions.

This project will focus on introducing the blockchain technology to rice farmers. In doing so, it will register all participants in the rice chain with a unique identification code. These include agricultural cooperatives, export and import companies, retailers and consumers. A contract between these actors will ensure proper payment and transparency. This connection between actors allows for a better chance for farmers to alleviate themselves from poverty.

The farmer will sell their rice through the cooperative called Reaksmey Lekkompos Kaksekor who then forward the rice to AmruRice, the exporter. AmruRice will then sell and ship the rice to SanoRice, the importer in the Netherlands. SanoRice will then make rice crackers out of the rice and sell it to retailers. The BlocRice application will allow farmers to ensure they get correct payments, are paid on time and that the conditions of the contracts are kept. Consumers are also able to see this data through the same app. The app provides transparency and traceability, allowing consumers to make informed decisions regarding fair production standards and conditions. As a result, the app helps contribute to fighting global poverty.

The Need for Smartphones

While the BlocRice project has helped Cambodian farmers, there is a downside. Access to smartphones presents one obstacle in bringing blockchain technology to rice farmers. Most farmers do not own smartphones, which are needed to access the BlocRice application. However, agricultural cooperatives, such as Reaksmey Lekkompos Kaksekor, do own smartphones that can be used to assist farmers to access the application.

While this pilot project was implemented from April 2018 to March 2019, the success could allow BlocRice to be expanded to other provinces and used with other crops as well. Regardless of any minor setbacks, BlocRice could be an important step in helping rice farmers in Cambodia out of poverty.

Andrea Rodriguez
Photo: Pixabay

the lingering effects of genocide
The causes of genocide are vast but include dehumanization, national crises and government power. In countries where there are deep grievances between groups, it is probable one group will ultimately be victimized by the other. Moreover, groups may blame each other for tragedies within their country. Plus, some governments constrain their power, limiting the fair representation of its people.

Rwanda and Cambodia offer two case studies of genocide that occurred in the last 50 years. Additionally, both populations combated realities of poverty and inequity even before the atrocities. Halting any development these countries may have experienced, genocide left lingering effects in Rwanda and Cambodia. Currently, both countries face hardship. However, their peoples are busy rebuilding their environments to sustain a neutral state wherein cultural, political and economic growth can flourish.

Rwanda

Rwanda lost 800,00 people during the genocide in 1994. Since the genocide, Rwanda is trying to develop services and opportunities that were lost. The drive behind this redevelopment has come from tea and coffee exports, foreign aid and the tourism industry.

Rwanda has always depended heavily on agricultural production for family consumption and state revenues. But rural poverty and land issues created a dissatisfied climate before the genocide. This is still seen through rising land inequality and decreasing possibilities for income outside of the farm sector. And both are lingering effects of genocide and threaten economic stability. Subsequently, commodity prices have dropped rapidly, especially in 1989. Then, government revenues from coffee exports declined from $144 million in 1985 to $30 million in 1993.

New Growth

However, according to the World Bank, Rwanda is developing its private sector to ensure more economic growth and reduce the lingering effects of genocide. Since 2001, Rwanda’s economic growth was bordering an average of 8 percent. In 2010, the World Bank named the country as the top reformer for business. After two successful Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategies from 2008 to 2018, Rwanda’s per capita gross domestic product annually grew around 5 percent.

The Rwanda Development Organization has ongoing projects that empower the Rwandan people to help improve socio-economic development in their communities. One project includes the Farm to Market Alliance. FtMA provides institutional support to 24,000 farmers among 80 cooperatives. The project has sustained many small farms and created support groups. So far, 20,000 farmers have been trained by other farmers to learn the best farming practices, like post-harvesting and handling.

Cambodia

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge genocide period took place from 1975 to 1979. Now, the country is still grappling with the past. The Cambodian People’s Party took power at the end of the genocide, instilling conservative values. Currently, there is still a generation of political leaders making it difficult for communities to have open discussions about the Khmer Rouge genocide. As such, it is hard to create strategies for growth and healing.

Legacies of Poverty

Poverty in Cambodia remains widespread, largely due to the lingering effects of genocide and the unfair distribution of wealth. The genocide led to the death of much of Cambodia’s educated class. Additionally, the majority of surviving Cambodians were farmers, subsequently unable to sustain the services affected by the genocide.

In rural areas, poverty is still a lingering effect of genocide because of ongoing corruption and the lack of government help. Similar to Rwanda, Cambodia faces challenges in jump-starting modern agriculture and irrigation techniques. This has made it difficult for Cambodia to keep up with developed countries.

Nevertheless, the future does appear hopeful according to statistics. General poverty rates in Cambodia have decreased from 50 percent to 35 percent between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. As a result, many provinces have seen improvements. Development strategies and nongovernmental organizations have done a lot to assist Cambodian communities.

Voluntary Service Overseas is one such NGO that has worked to restore developmental growth in Cambodia by improving the education system, quality of teaching and people’s livelihoods. It works alongside government entities to research inclusive education policies. In 2015, VSO supported the training of 540 senior education officials. This creates a sustainable opportunity for more cohesive management of schools and contributes to future economic development.

A Shared Experience

After the genocide in both Rwanda and Cambodia, a majority of the population was comprised of young people. A large part of the healing process has been to educate younger generations about the country’s history and why knowledge is so vital in making sure genocide never happens again.

Both countries have tried tackling the skills gap that could greatly affect the future of the country’s growth in economics, politics and education. Enrolling more children in school proves to be a successful strategy in combating poverty. However, these children must also attain employment opportunities as adults, too. Creating these foundations will reduce the lingering effects of genocide and give future leaders the resources to build better lives not only for themselves but for their country as a whole.

Melina Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Tourism InitiativesThe United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) notes that tourism is capable of driving high economic status in developing countries. Three of the below initiatives are examples of how sustainable tourism can best support developing communities.  

3 Examples of Sustainable Tourism Initiatives

  1. Cambodia’s Phare Circus
    First unveiled in 2013, the Phare Circus has drawn a large tourist and local crowd over the years and has even organized tours and private performances across the world. The stories they showcase through their acts are an authentic look into Khmer history and culture. By telling stories through performance, the circus promotes Cambodian art both domestically and overseas. The Phare Circus is an initiative of Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang (PPSA), which translates to The Brightness of the Arts, a nonprofit school founded in 1994 with the mission of helping young people cope with war trauma through art. All students are able to participate for free and can even move on to work for the Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE), the parent company of Phare and the Circus. Both the PPSA and the PPSE are true definitions of sustainable tourism. The circus returns 75 percent of profits to the educational program and school, who in turn work on creating employment opportunities for Cambodian artists. Like the circus, Phare’s other social businesses under PPSE, such as the Phare Productions International and the Phare Creative Studio, create a reliable income to sustain the school. 
  2. Hotel Bom Bom on Príncipe Island
    Hotel Bom Bom is a bungalow resort situated on São Tomé and Príncipe, an island nation located 155 miles off the northwestern coast of Gabon. The hotel promotes water and recycling projects launched by the Príncipe Island World Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO and invites tourists to take part in these programs. Hotel guests, for example, can participate by exchanging 50 plastic bottles for one “Biosphere Bottle,” a reusable type of water container, which guests can fill up at one of the 13 water stations around the island. In total, 220,000 plastic bottles have been collected since December 2013. Preserving the local environment positively influences the livelihood of the native community.
  3. Prainha do Canto Verde, Brazil
    The native land of Prainha do Canto Verde, a coastal village located in the northeastern Brazillian state of Ceará has been threatened by illegal fishing and tourism development projects. As a result, the community decided to create its own tourism council in 1998. Since then, community tourism has come to represent 15 percent of the town’s source of income. Many of the initiatives they offer include “posadas,” or community inns, workshops and crafts, cooking, cultural activities and native fishing. The posadas are a true example of community-based tourism. Local residents offer up a few rooms in their homes to tourists. One posada, “Sol e Mar,” features a restaurant, garden, and six rooms which can accommodate up to 18 guests. Many families that run posadas end up registering with the Ministry of Tourism and joining the community’s council. It is an enriching experience for the locals that also improves living standards within the native community. Additionally, it allows locals to craft tourism activities and opportunities themselves so that there is little risk of endangerment to their culture. Overall, this tourism initiative in Prainha is actively working towards large goals to redistribute income and preserve the surrounding ecosystem of the village.

The Big Picture

When tourists support sustainable tourism, they are actively taking steps to meet locals, hear their experiences first-hand, and participate in greater causes to combat poverty in those regions. Sustainable tourism allows people to make a social impact on the place they are visiting and the initiatives mentioned above are just some of the few that are providing that opportunity.

– Melina Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

The Brightness of The Arts
The room is dark with a spotlight and hard bleachers. One young person enters from stage left juggling three red balls. Another performer helps the juggler onto a cylinder. Barefoot, the juggler is now balancing and juggling. Soon they add another cylinder at a 90-degree angle to the first, followed by another cylinder and another. The juggler is now five feet off the ground, still balancing and juggling. Phare Battambang Circus is a human-only circus in Battambang, Cambodia with goals well beyond entertainment that involves its idea of The Brightness of the Arts.  It strives to fight poverty in Cambodia through the arts.

The Phare Battambang Circus

The Phare Battambang Circus runs through a Cambodian nonprofit, Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) or The Brightness of the Arts, which provides a “nurturing and creative environment where young people access quality arts training, education and social support.” Sparked in 1986 in a refugee camp on the Thai/Cambodian border, Phare Ponleu Selpak uses a whole child approach through arts, education and social support to break intergenerational patterns of poverty steeped in the long history of state-sponsored violence. While the violence of the Khmer Rouge has retreated, children in Cambodia still struggle with extensive social problems such as poor school retention, drug abuse, poor working conditions, domestic violence, illegal migration and exploitation.

Now a must-do for visiting tourists, high season at the Phare Battambang Circus means at least 150 visitors a night. About 40 percent of nightly circus revenue goes to the youth performers themselves. This income supports families around Battambang and keeps youth out of more destructive industries like human trafficking in Thailand. PPS estimates that over 1,000 lives should positively change every year through its free-of-charge artistic, general education and personalized social support. Its arts education and artistic performances are changing the lives of families living in poverty in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge Regime

Under the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, the party’s radical Maoist and Marxist-Leninist agenda governed all aspects of everyday life in Cambodia. In its effort to render the country a classless agricultural utopia, the Khmer Rouge asserted that only the culturally pure could participate in the revolution. As such, the Khmer Rouge “executed hundreds of thousands of intellectuals; city residents; minority people such as the Cham, Vietnamese and Chinese and many of their own soldiers and party members, who were accused of being traitors.” Recent estimates place the death toll between 1.2 and 2.8 million.

The people the Khmer Rouge found to be nonconforming went to prison camps, the most notorious being S-21 where the regime imprisoned over 12,000 people and only 15 survived. Such widespread violence forced millions into refugee camps for years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

At Site II, a refugee camp on the Thai/Cambodian border, a French artist and humanitarian worker named Véronique Decrop started offering informal drawing classes for the children at the camp orphanage.

How Site II Grew into PHARE

Classes at Site II grew into PHARE, a French association and acronym meaning Patrimoine Humain et Artistique des Réfugiés et de leurs Enfants (Human and Artistic Heritage of the Refugees and their Children). Communications and Marketing Coordinator for Phare Ponleu Selpak Morgane Darrasse said, “The original idea was to develop a form of art therapy for them to escape and overcome the traumas of war.” Over time PHARE grew into Phare Ponleu Selpak or The Brightness of the Arts.

When Site II closed in 1992, Veronique and nine of her students moved to Battambang to create a sustainable school for the most affected children from the surrounding area. By 1995, the school accepted its first students and to this day, four of the original founders are still active in PPS.

Thanks to state-wide violence, all founders of PPS grew up in refugee camps segregated from their own cultural traditions. When it came time to implement music and dance programs at PPS, the founders chose to spotlight Cambodian traditional music. Derasse said, “They felt it their duty to revive the dying Cambodian arts” while fighting poverty in Cambodia.

Phare Ponleu Selpak Supports Its Students

Even though drawing classes with PHARE were the first seed, Phare Ponleu Selpak now has a thriving visual and performing arts curriculum as well as a strong outreach and social work foundation to support students find job placements and networking opportunities through and after their education. In its efforts to create a sustainable arts community, PPS ensures that 100 percent of students who complete their secondary or vocational training with it achieve employment within three months of graduation. This sustainable long-term approach lessens the intergenerational hold of poverty in Cambodia.

One student, Monisovanya RY, studied visual arts and graphic design through PPS. Upon graduation, PPS hired her into the PPS communications team to coordinate product design and production. In her free time, she creates performances in local galleries to cultivate an understanding of the environmental dangers of plastic waste.

Morgane Darrasse for PPS boasts, “We provide our students with communication and life skills, and also a complete set of technical skills, a strong fundamental and cultural knowledge of the arts, and the ability to understand, analyze and respond to a given problem with professionalism and creativity.”

The organization’s graphic and animation graduates work in advertising, marketing and animation production, and all local circus instructors are graduates of the program itself. Its goal is the creation of a sustainable arts community.

PPS’s Child Protection Program

In addition to pursuing arts programming, PPS’s Child Protection Program (CPP) asserts the inherent value of children’s rights. It wants communities to be safe and to provide families with the tools to care for their children. These programs extend into the three communes surrounding Battambang.

In collaboration with 32 NGOs based in Battambang and generous international donors, CPP follows, tracks and supports students and their families through a family needs assessment process and a monthly student sponsorship program. Most PPS participants come from these local communes because of the intense time commitment their programs require. PPS established a scholarship program for its visual arts program recently, which has made it accessible to young people from other parts of Cambodia.

Phare Ponleu Selpak or The Brightness of the Arts saves lives and combats poverty in Cambodia. In 2013, PPS received a royal award of $31,000 from the Netherlands. The Dutch Ambassador said PPS gets at the heart of their award requirements “to promote the use of culture as a means of development.”

Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Health care in CambodiaThe Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia is currently experiencing its worst in maternal mortality rates. In Cambodia, maternal-related complications are the leading cause of death in women ages 15 to 46. The Minister of Health has created several partnerships with organizations such as USAID to help strengthen its healthcare system. Here are five facts about women’s health care in Cambodia.

Top 5 Facts About Women’s Health Care in Cambodia

  1. Health Care Professionals and Midwives
    USAID has provided a helping hand when it comes to educating healthcare professionals and midwives. Since USAID’s partnership with the Ministry of Health, USAID has helped raise the percentage of deliveries assisted by skilled professionals from 32 percent to 71 percent. The Ministry of Health was also able to implement the Health Sector Strategic Plan to improve reproductive and women’s maternal health in Cambodia.
  2. Health Care Facilities
    Between 2009 and 2015, the number of Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care (CEmONC) facilities increased from 25 to 37. With more access and an increase in healthcare facilities, 80 percent of Cambodian women are giving birth in health care facilities.
  3. Postpartum Care
    The Royal Government of Cambodia renewed the Emergency Obstetric & Newborn Care (EmONC) Improvement Plan and extended the Fast Track Initiative Roadmap for Reducing Maternal and Newborn Mortality to 2020. This aims to improve women’s health care in Cambodia to improve the lives of women living with postpartum depression. It is also used to improve newborn care and deliveries.
  4. Obstetric Care
    Obstetric care has improved rapidly. According to a 2014 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey, 90 percent of mothers receive obstetric care two days after giving birth, and three-quarters of women receive care three hours after. Intensive obstetric care has helped drop Cambodia’s maternal mortality rate significantly. In 2014, Cambodia’s maternal mortality rates decreased from 472 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2005 to 170 deaths per 100,000 live births.
  5. U.N. Women
    U.N. Women is working closely to help address the AIDS epidemic in Cambodia. The organization’s efforts to reduce the epidemic focus on protection and prevention. In 2003, 3 percent of Cambodian women reported being tested for AIDS. It has also been observed women in urban areas are more likely to get tested than those in rural areas. Ultimately, Cambodia has set a goal to eradicate AIDS from the country by 2020 through prevention and protection.

Cambodia has seen much economic growth over the years, but the money provided for health care is minimal. Consequently, it is difficult for the government to provide all services. However, there have been great strides in improving women’s healthcare in Cambodia. By fighting to better the lives of women, the Cambodian government has set a goal to establish universal health care by 2030.

Andrew Valdovinos
Photo: Flickr