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Comment: My memorable Cambodian experience

Sovachana Pou has spent the last year as a consultant at the Ministry of Tourism.

IT began eleven months ago when I packed my bags, left my dearest wife Bedy and my

precious daughter Sunanda and the rest of my family to come to Cambodia in the pursuit

of fulfilling my duty as a National Consultant for Tourism Development and Management

and a Special Assistant to the Minister of Tourism. My journey in Cambodia was designed

to introduce me to new information and new possibilities for my own personal growth

and development.

When I first started, all things seemed possible. Cambodia's problems looked solvable.

My optimism and my immense national energy combined to make me hopeful and impatient.

I was new and free, and my imagination had no limits. I worked very hard on getting

along well with everybody at the Ministry of Tourism and others. I completed my assigned

tasks before the deadlines. I delivered results. I continuously searched for better

ways to do things the Cambodian way. I wanted everything to be perfect.

As I stayed longer, I found my perception of what was going on when I first arrived

was not always correct. I learned how the ministry ran, and to be patient. People

here are much more familiar than me with the social, political and economic environment

of this country. They are the "Know How" I worked with local Khmers suffering

from post traumatic stress. From them, I learned so much, but the most important

concept they taught me is that life is not fair. It just isn't. They also showed

me that doing what you have to do to survive can result in devastation to one's self-concept

unless you can learn to forgive. Because life is not fair, the concept of perfect

does not work. I can never be perfect and therefore it is critical that I can forgive

- myself first, then others. Those people required guidance and sympathy far more

than instruction. And no one can make them feel inferior without their consent.

Many of my new acquaintances in Cambodia were successful, high-functioning and intelligent

expatriates. From them, I learned that success can not be externally defined. Doing

and having do not result in a joyous, balanced, and complete life. These friends

taught me the need for a redefinition of success and the even greater need for self-encouragement

and the provision of meaningful internal rewards.

As a national consultant, I had the opportunity to work with many international consultants.

From them, I learned the importance of tourism planning, development and management.

If well planned, developed and managed tourism can bring substantial economic benefits

to a country. It can generate important positive environmental impacts. And it can

bring many types of socio-cultural benefits. I questioned foreign researchers being

paid huge money and never "getting their hands dirty". They wrote, produced

and piled up reports that were barely applicable to Cambodia's needs and demands.

Only a very few local Khmers can read and understand what those reports meant. And

I was not talking about implementation yet. It is important to ensure that those

foreign advisers leave Cambodia in a better condition than when they came, that they

don't overburden the society with the whole lot of structures, expectations or institutions

which are meaningless in their own society.

Sometimes the project reports totally misunderstood the country situation. Some of

the international consultants wrote about places that they've never been themselves.

There was a definite dilemma. I would like to see them helping the ministry developing

the national capacity by educating and training of the local staff.

Every situation I experienced, every individual I encounter offered me valuable insights

about living life more fully. My emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual

development is enhanced by my involvement with others.

I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift or easy. I realized in a struggle

for sustainable development (a trite phrase with almost no meaning used in every

report) there is no neutral ground. I either supported and encouraged people's process

for understanding the real economic benefit or I stood as an obstacle. All development

big or small has value when the people have the necessary information and can be

critical, understand and make choices. In Cambodia, hope, confidence, dignity and

self-esteem have to be rebuilt, and only then real development will follow. But results

don't just happen. They are the product of time, energy and commitment. Little reflection

was necessary for me to realize that my most troubling times have generally been

responsible for my greatest growth. My achievement were always accompanied by period

of frustrations, occasional loss of direction, even momentary despair because the

actual result missed the mark of my hopes. However, the passage of time made clear

that these actual results benefited me far more than those I'd hoped for. I learned

how simple it is for me to make a difference in the lives of others by listening

and really hearing. I learned what it was like to try to get to know people's strengths

rather than dwelling on their weaknesses. I begin to discover the real pleasure of

helping build their confidence. Maybe the most important thing of all is I really

began to understand that an excellent way to show love and respect for people is

to expect them to use their strengths to meet objectives we have worked out together.

Toward the end of my journey, I learned more about the complicated system Cambodia

has. I learned that everything is interrelated and that none of my simple solutions

even addressed the problems. In fact, I learned that they are not problems, they

are how the present system is working. If I want to change those features that I

thought of as problems then I have to be prepared for everything to change.

If I'm insightful, I also know how to keep that rapture; how to rekindle the belief

that all is possible. Not because I believe in my power to change Cambodia, but because

the vision is beautiful and gives me the energy. It's only impossible until someone's

done it!

I may add my life experience in Cambodia is based firmly on human reality and deals

precisely with complex relations between society and family responsibility and with

the pain of making personal sacrifices. Some of my goals are easily attained. Others

demand stamina and resourcefulness, and still others require a commitment of long-standing,

a willingness to postpone gratification, but most of all, an acceptance of possible

failure. I can never be certain of a final outcome. I can only be sure of my effort.

My love for the Cambodian people is best expressed when I help someone else live

more peacefully and comfortably.

I want to thank each and every one for the wonderful experience.

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