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A Cambodian 'open society'

The strength of any government is gauged by its commitment to building up the most vulnerable among its citizens.

Today, Cambodia is still a country where an education is more often out of reach for thousands of children growing up in poverty and grime.

While complaining and blaming others will bring no solutions, I ask the politicians to do as they have promised and to look at the public policies that are affecting everyday life in Cambodia, such as endemic corruption, human rights abuses, poverty, land-grabbing and a rule of law that is not universally applied.

As a volunteer teacher, I am committed to the educational development of Cambodia with vigour and without fear of retribution. I want to do more for my country and my people as an individual free from political restraints. I make no apologies for standing up to speak out on any issue related to the basic rights that are in conflict with my understanding of common laws. Vulnerable children may be destitute but they needn't be illiterate and ignorant. They also have the right to get an education and to enjoy a better life in the future.

To move forward, Cambodia should adopt the "open society" concept as a main vehicle for lasting growth and sustainable development. The open society is a concept originally developed by Nobel Laureate in literature Henri Bergson. In open societies, government is responsive and tolerant, and political mechanisms are transparent and flexible. The state keeps no secrets from itself in the public sense. It is a nonauthoritarian society in which all are trusted with the knowledge of all. Equality, political freedom, free speech and human rights are the foundation of an open society.  Although still in the early stages, I have been working on establishing a Cambodia Open Society. I admit I still have a long way to go, but I dedicate myself to the promotion and implementation of democracy and open societies. After all, the ultimate goal of democracy is not to pursue material abundance but to nurture the dignities and values of each individual. Open society is always open to improvement because knowledge is never complete but always ongoing. Claims to certain knowledge and ultimate truth by the party in power lead to the attempted imposition of one version of reality. Such a society is closed to freedom of thought. In contrast, in an open society each citizen needs to engage in critical thinking, which requires freedom of thought and expression, and the cultural and legal institutions that can facilitate this. Cambodian society must be open to alternative points of views and not rest on the imposition of any individual perspective.

To promote these values, I believe that, first and foremost, the people must have an understanding of their imperfections before they can learn. The majority of the people in Cambodia must learn to change from a closed or fixed mindset to an open or growth mindset. Positive and constructive change makes all things possible. I witness this deficiency every day by interacting with my students.


With their fixed mindsets, they spend a lot of time worrying about such questions as "Am I good enough?", and "How can I believe you?" Or they ask, "Why should I trust you?" and "Why should I follow the rule of law when most others don't?" They often lose motivation for any activity in which they don't immediately shine. They lack confidence. They are afraid to speak up. They have fear within themselves. They follow blind ritual and tradition. Mistakes are considered bad. Everything is difficult and impossible. Conversely, with a growth mindset, apparent setbacks only fuel drive and motivation. The result is a continual process of necessary risk-taking and self-discovery - an outgoing journey of learning, growth and development. Students eliminate barriers of learning by asking themselves "What can I do to get better at this?" or "What works?" or "What is not working?", or "What's missing?" And they conclude: "I follow the rule of law regardless of what others think and do."  

Mistakes are part of learning. Everything is difficult but possible. Their dignity improves. Their sense of worth increases. They have confidence in themselves to deal with the pressures of daily life. They can do more for their own benefit and the benefit of others. They connect themselves to the real truth and the outside world. They are free to think critically, act conscientiously and express creatively. Famous American football coach Vince Lombardi once said: "A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive, and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done."

To help nurture a Cambodia Open Society, good governance and transparency play a big role in the process. That spirit must inhabit us all. 

Government officials must work towards achieving an acceptable level of openness by practicing what they preach. Powerful leaders must cultivate mutual respect and consideration, so as to create a feasible and reasonable balance of interest, instead of abusing unlimited power.

They don't have the right to rob or dispossess any other person or the commonwealth. They must have a sense of modesty and moderation instead of an unquenchable lust for power, wealth and status.  In greed and in power, humans lose their souls, their freedom and their inner peace to serve others - and thereby, they lose what makes them human. Leaders must use their political and economic power in the service of their people instead of misusing it in ruthless battles for domination. They must develop and extend a spirit of metta (compassion) with those who suffer, with special care for the children, the aged, the poor and the disabled. Their policies and actions must be transparent because transparency would strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.

I find satisfaction in knowing that at least I have made a difference in the lives of the students I teach and the people I meet. An ideal Cambodia Open Society is a transparent country with good governance, competent leaders with shared vision, accountability, sound institutions, hardworking and rational citizens with growth mindsets, and is under sound progressive management where all the people would one day be healthy in mind and body.

Pou Sovachana, 52, has worked as a volunteer teacher at the Buddhism  for Peace Centre in Phnom Penh since 2008. He studied education in the United States, where he completed his MA.



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