Monday, February 9, 2009

A day in the country

Cambodia hasn't sat well with me. It's a pretty harsh judgement given that I've only been in tourist city Siem Reap and travelled by boat to Battambang so I've hardly been anywhere to get an authentic feel for the country. But today I headed out into the countryside on a beat up Honda 100cc motorbike to try and get some sort of taste for the place.I travelled the route around to the temples, but didn't actually visit them, merely using the circular route as an entre to the countryside. I took lots of detours down deadend tracks along the river, blew bubbles for lots of kids and enjoyed lots of hellos from the locals. But the people are reserved, perhaps the trauma of the recent past has made it difficult for them to be warm and inviting the way the people of their neighbouring countries are. Which gets me onto a few other impressions.I've met a couple of people during my stay who have links to the various NGOs working in Cambodia and their comments reinforced my suspicions. There are alot of NGOs here, and alot of people asking for help for their projects, usually relating to child welfare issues. There are also signs outside people's houses acknowledging the individual donor who has provided money towards a clean water project for that house. Now this is ridiculous!! Firstly, what an appalling waste of money putting signs up in front of each house, and secondly, because of this profligate giving, the Cambodian government just isn't bothering to improve things for its people. This is creating a culture of dependence (I've seen it somewhere else, yes my country!!) where children stand outside temples with sheets of paper explaining that their project needs more money to feed the children etc. Now if an organisation has to beg for money for food then that organisation is completely unsustainable. And it doesn't get my support.

Another acquaintance found the attitude of the NGO workers to be paternalistic and victim blaming - similar to what we see in Australia amongst many working with Aboriginals. Doesn't bode well for the future of Cambodians does it?

But it's not all bad, there are some great projects out there doing wonderful work and providing opportunities for many Cambodians to have a better life. I guess I'd just like to warn anyone thinking of "helping those poor Cambodians" to think very carefully about whether the project they wish to support is providing real opportunities or whether it's just creating dependence and the continuation of a victim mentality.

Well that's my piece, yep I think I'm fighting fit and ready to go back to work!!! Ha Ha, watch out guys....

Photos of the boat trip to Battambang and my day in the country here

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