NGOs work to better Cambodia
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 9 Dec 2008 17:48:19 -0800 (PST)
December 10, 2008
With a history of violence and violations of human rights, Cambodia
has nevertheless been blessed with the development of a civil society
and the assistance of non-governmental organizations, both of which
have struggled to survive under the autocratic regime run by what has
become -- in intent and purpose since the flawed 1991 Peace Accords --
a monolithic government dominated by the dictates of one man, Hun Sen.
There are local Cambodian NGOs that have given themselves the often
thankless task of preparing the groundwork for the country's better
future. The Chinese say, one generation plants trees, the next
generation gets the shade.
The trouble is, as we're in an age that demands instant gratification,
people are generally impatient to wait, especially when they live in a
world of self-interested nations that speak of helping the world's
poor and underprivileged while through actions they actually
strengthen the dictators in power.
This column examines the 1999 Alliance for Conflict Transformation, or
ACT, which describes its task of "providing skills and knowledge in
the area of conflict resolution and peace-building" (see www.actcambodia.org),
and the 1992 Youth Resource Development Program, or YRDP, which states
as its program goal to "enable youth to participate actively in
building a culture of peace, justice and sustainable development of
Cambodia" (see www.yrdp.org), and which aims to support the
development of civil society in the country.
Soth Plai Ngarm, the successful Ksach Ploy community organizer and a
peace worker about whom I wrote in this space last week, cautioned,
"the same conditions, which led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, ...
(are) increasing." He talked about "the massive gap between rich and
poor; between provincial (rural) Cambodia and (urban) Phnom Penh," and
that "Cambodians hold deep prejudices against one another along ethnic
and religious lines."
Working with other local and international NGOs, ACT, now under
executive director Ngann Thanak -- Ngarm is now vice chairman of its
board of trustees -- says it works to develop a "culture of dialogue,
cooperation and peace in Cambodia through innovative training
programmes, research, networking and education." It describes its
vision of a "positive peace in Cambodia, where basic human needs and
human rights are protected and respected by every level of society."
It says all its actions are "motivated by a deep commitment to
"Cambodian society is vulnerable to violent conflict at individual,
communal, national, and regional levels," ACT says in its program
review, and includes "national reconciliation and healing" as one of
the issues it "seeks to empower communities to address."
It's a very tall order, but it's a start. My Oct. 8 "Cambodian
reconciliation a slow dance" shows the monumental task Cambodians
encounter to reconcile and heal old wounds.
ACT produced a 2006 manual, "Introduction to Peace Studies & Research
Methods," for a 12-week introductory instructional course, followed by
a 12-week practicum period, written by Ngarm and Tania Miletic. "A
commitment to learn through practice is the key behind the training
course," the foreword says.
Of interest is Ngarm's "A Conceptual Framework of Conflict
Transformation and Peacebuilding," which can be downloaded from the
ACT Web site.
YRDP, under executive director Sokha Cheang, maintains political
neutrality, non-affiliation with any political party, and non-
involvement in political activity. Yet, as YRDP puts it, "Impartiality
does not prevent YRDP from promoting its opinion regarding issues of
Its stated goal to "enable youth to participate actively in building a
culture of peace, justice and sustainable development of Cambodia" is
backed by its program objectives. These include "building peace
through developing critical thinking and deep dialogue and applying
alternatives to violence," and by its two-part training courses -- a
53-hour core skill on personal development, and 414 hours on specific
skills that include conflict resolution, active non-violence,
leadership and good governance, and others.
YRDP sees Cambodia's slow "democratic development process" as caused
"mainly" by people's inadequate understanding of democracy, and by
"many barriers" such as "threats, killings and arrests," a
"situation ... (that) scares people" from exercising their rights, and
that "strongly affects" their voicing of "concerns and needs."
"In this climate, it is imperative that YRDP continues to provide the
critical thinking skills necessary to make judgments and choices,"
reads a course description.
It says interested students from universities and institutions of
higher learning in Cambodia, and "in special cases, senior high school
graduates, (Buddhist) monks, some NGOs and government (employees) may
join the training course," which is cost-free.
The question is why such a golden opportunity to learn, to be
educated, to participate, has not engendered more interest among
Cambodians inside and expatriates abroad?
The commendable efforts, and the activities of ACT and YRDP, and
several other NGOs not mentioned, should benefit the community, the
society, the people, and the country. As YRDP says, "Rice seeds will
always produce rice. Rice will not grow from a cactus."
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam,
where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at
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