I was pleased to read your article "Style In Kep" (PPPost, October 20,
2006), which describes plans to encourage tourists to become informed on rural development.
The synergy between tourism and development is a concept my agency fully embraces
because we know from our own experience it works.
For the last year the expatriate business community in Kampot has supported our local
NGO, the Foundation to Help the Poor, by encouraging tourists and local expatriates
to get personally involved in development. Interestingly, the focus of activities
is the same small village in Kep Municipality mentioned in your article, Chamcar
Our roots in Chamcar Bei Village are deep and extend back to the earliest days in
the creation of the village in 1994.
At that time, the land which has become the thriving village of Chamcar Bei was a
former battlefield, overgrown with jungle and littered with mines. There were no
roads, no houses, no schools, no market, poor water resources, etc. The government
invested in the infrastructure, and the international NGO of which I was formerly
director helped with needs of the people. We also built roads, dug wells, cared for
emergencies, and most importantly built the Rural Enterprise Center to give focus
to our training and community development projects.
Our center has been closed for three years as we reorganized as a local NGO and sought
the core funding to restart our programs. It was the expat community, along with
local villagers, who provided the advocacy and the fundraising support to start again.
We informally call our most popular effort "Extreme Saturdays" for an obvious
reason: we take volunteers to Chamcar Bei Village to share their skills to rehabilitate
our project site, the Rural Enterprise Center. Volunteers work side by side with
local villagers for the privilege of doing grueling work in the Cambodian sun and
hearing stories about the origins of Chamcar Bei and its development challenges.
Over 100 volunteers spanning 15 countries have participated to date and have become
a remarkable advocacy and support network.
Because of their work, we are thrilled to announce that formal re-opening ceremonies
for the Rural Enterprise Center of Chamcar Bei are planned for November. We are going
back to work, with the help of our volunteers, to work with the poorest and disabled
villagers to provide training in integrated agriculture and support to improve family
incomes, child and family development, and other community development activities.
I would like to correct the record on several points mentioned in your article. The
people who came to create the village were the first major group to defect from the
Khmer Rouge to the government in 1994. It is an injustice to depict them as the "last
stronghold and recently emerged from the jungle armed," as was stated in the
article. Their highest priority for 12 years now has been peaceful development.
Second, by no standard is Chamcar Bei Village now the poorest village in the region.
Its progress over these 12 years is remarkable, not withstanding the needs still
to be addressed. Indeed, one of the challenges for us is to use the valuable resources
of the center we have invested 10 years in building to reach out to the many remaining
villages in the region still untouched by development assistance.
I believe that tourism offers an avenue to support rural development. In exchange
for investing their own time and skills, travelers gain a firsthand insight into
rural conditions as well as take home the satisfaction of making a small difference.
Most important, however, are the added benefits to communities when sponsors build
on mutual respect, understanding, and well-planned co-operative actions at the grass
on behalf of volunteers and staff
Foundation to Help the Poor,