TAKEO - When Tong Siv My won a scholarship to Russia 11 years ago to study
irrigation techniques he was very unhappy.
Agricultural studies were at
the time considered boring and unrewarding - the most lucrative subjects were
either medical or in the economic fields of finance and trade.
only rich students, or those from strong "clans", were given such favored
scholarships, said My, 32.
Siv My was not connected to powerful patrons.
But he was very bright - and an orphan. Orphans were given special dispensations
to study, and from 1984 till 1989 he flew through his studies, the first year at
Tashkent University, then four years in the Ukraine.
On his return to
Cambodia, all his fears about studying irrigation seemed founded - he could not
find a job till 1991.
Now all that is changed. "I feel that irrigation is
the most important subject in Cambodia," says My, whose work is helping to
transform this poor border province into one with a more rosy, prosperous
Siv My and his family fled Phnom Penh to the Sa'ang district in
Kandal province in 1975. He lived in a Khmer Rouge concentration camp after both
his parents and three brothers - two of whom were professors, one a doctor -
died of forced labor and starvation.
After the Vietnamese occupation in
1979, Siv My found his one surviving sister and spent a poverty-stricken year
Eventually he returned to Phnom Penh and, desperate for
education, applied for scholarships to Vietnam and Russia, and was successful
with both. He chose the Russian offer; though he was told to study
His big break came in 1991 when Oxfam set up an office in
Takeo and advertised for a Khmer irrigation technician.
Siv My could only
speak Russian, not English, so Oxfam sent a Bulgarian expert to begin its
Siv My has been an integral part of the success Oxfam
has achieved in Takeo. His English is now "a world different than before, I can
speak and also write some English now," he says.
Siv My said his foreign
colleagues were very helpful and necessary for his agricultural work. He said
his last expatriate friend had even taught him how to use a computer in addition
to administrative and technical advice.
"There is something I lack so
it's like they've come here to fill in my practical knowledge," he
Though he is now married and already has two children, 32-year-old
Siv My revealed that his other ambition was to pursue his agricultural studies
in Thailand for one or two years so that he could work more efficiently in