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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CARERE makes most of the 'Thai connection'

CARERE makes most of the 'Thai connection'

CARERE, the Cambodian Resettlement and Reintegration Program, co-founded by UNDP

and UNHCR and implemented by OPS, the Office for Project Services of the United Nations

Development Program.

The presence of neighboring Thailand can be felt throughout Sisophon. Thai Baht is

as common as the Riel and many of the locals speak Thai.

CARERE in Banteay Meanchey makes the most of the Thai connection and the NGO capitalizes

on its past experience of working in the border camps.

The agency employs two Thai nationals among its four expatriate staff in Sisophon.

Song Satthit and Prungchit Phanawa-thanawong, who work for the Provincial Support

Unit (PSU), both specialize in rural and community development,

As a community development officer, Prungchit carries the responsibility of CARERE's

most crucial program in the second phase of its reintegration project.

Nearly 20 target communities identified by the PSU receive assistance from CARERE.

Their needs have been addressed as a whole with no distinction between local and

resettled members.

In the working groups and organizations monitored by Prungchit, locals and returnees

work together to plan a joint future.

When it came time to choose her team, Prungchit restricted her choice to eight people

from the border camps. As former refugees, the staff members have no difficulties

in gaining access to communities ruled by different factions.

"But they never identify themselves as refugees", said Prungchit. "Because

they are afraid of bad reactions."

All of the workers underwent training in neighboring Thailand and in future will

take part in the NGO "Net", which runs the Institute for Rural Development

in Thailand's Surin province.

To reinforce the leadership capacity in the villages, 200 people have been sent on

study tours to Thailand. As many Thais in Surin speak Khmer, the participants found

easy access to the knowledge and experience of Thai farmers and organizations.

The community of Bat Trang, 10km south of Sisophon, reflects in a convincing manner

the efforts of the CARERE Support Unit.

After the restoration of the school and the health center, the installation of a

water supply tank and latrines, several income-generating projects have been launched

by the different PSU components such as a sewing training center, the production

of mushrooms or boat building.

Lack of marketing skills are currently hampering some of the budding businesses.

With mushrooms fetching 20 baht per kilogram, the producers are having a hard time

turning a profit, particularly when they must first find the relatively high price

of seed stock. The boat-builders, who usually build to order, are currently under-employed

with no orders underway.

Even so, Prungchit is convinced the people of Bat Trang, who have already shown considerable

initiative, will find ways to improve the sale of their new products.

When CARERE found the $1,000 budget allocated for a second school building would

only build the basement and the roof, the villagers organized a fund-raising drive

with regular video-nights in the school-yard.

CARERE is now looking to hand over some of its responsibilities to other groups.

Soon training will begin for officials in political administration. The CARERE operation

will also be expanded to Siem Reap province where another PSU - after Sisophon, Pursat

and Battambang - will begin work on agricultural projects, employment generation,

plus water and sanitation schemes.

Todate, $7.5 million has been pledged for UNDP's reintegration program. The manager

in Phnom Penh is Michael Adair who is convinced that the amount can be doubled by

June 1994.

"The donors spent $1.8 billion for elections which created an opportunity for

development," he pointed out. "The new government needs at least three

to four years to be able to fulfill all its duties. To maintain stability in South

East Asia, there is an absolute need for a follow-up to the Cambodian elections."

Adair defines CARERE's role as an open-ended operation but adds: "As long as

UNDP is involved, the focus will shift to vulnerable social groups, to those people

who have been left behind."

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