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Working for Cambodia's future

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Why education is the only answer to Cambodia's problems

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Cambodian students at Phnom Penh's Wat Ounalum.

LIFE is calling. Cambodia is calling.  Being back home makes me think in a different perspective. I feel as an outsider stepping into, and an insider stepping out of, the same country. I look forward to contributing to the educational wealth of my beloved country through teaching. I am at the stage of my life where my primary goal is to help develop the younger generation to lead useful lives for the benefit of human kind.

I feel my work has just begun.

As any patriotic Cambodian, I am proud of my heritage and my tradition.  After many wars, our country and our people suffered enormously and faced many setbacks, such as deep-rooted mistrust, Khmer killing Khmer, grinding poverty, injustice, greed, corruption, land grabbing, nepotism, a culture of impunity, oppression of thoughts and actions, fear, destruction of our natural resources, safety, security, education, lack of respect of the rules of laws, etc.

Poverty is rampant all over the world, but there is nothing like being poor in Cambodia. It is very fashionable to talk about the poor so the top leaders can get more foreign aid.  Unfortunately, it is not fashionable to talk with the poor to find out the reality of their sufferings. The environment most Cambodians are living in now is hurting the next generation. We have lost many traditional values.

The reality is Cambodia is still a very poor country, plagued by uncertainties and a mess of contradictions. I don't have all the answers to the complex problems. I am far from perfect, but as a teacher I learned early that I can't fix everything but can help most things.  I know I cannot offer material goods or gifts to the children but I always can offer pieces of my love through teaching and learning.

I cannot erase all the dark sides of the current government, but I can change the way I deal with it. I can rise above it and stay strong and true to myself by applying the teachings of Buddha: "abstain from all unwholesome deeds or do not engage in any harmful actions; always perform only wholesome ones, those that are good, subdue and purify your own mind". By practicing Sila (morality) and following the five precepts (refrain from killing, stealing, telling lies, all intoxicants and immoral sexual activity) I can inspire others to think and act with integrity and vision for a sustainable and just society.

I just want to bring hope to hopeless people, knowing that sometimes the joy of doing good for my country may be the only reward I receive. To me, it is better to suffer for doing good than doing evil. Once again, may all Khmer people see the truth of what really happened so we can still have a place to call home.

A land torn apart

Cambodia and her people are torn apart in the hands of a regime practicing dictatorship, nepotism, extreme corruption, deforestation and many unimaginable acts of destruction to the social fabric, while silencing opposition. Disparities exist across the country. Inequalities increase dramatically among the rich and the poor, the powerful and the vulnerable, the strong and the weak.

I witness all of these disparities and inequalities myself in my daily life in Cambodia. Denying this real problem in Cambodia will only contribute more and more to the decline. It is only when we don't understand things deeply that we create problems, more problems for our next generation to solve.

The majority of Cambodian people continue to suffer because of shortsighted decisions made by the current and ineffective, yet very powerful and too cohesive regime. Once again, Cambodia has been mismanaged by greed and extreme corruption. According to the latest annual Transparency International index, Cambodia ranked 166th out of 180 countries.  It has gotten worse from last year, the year before last, and so on.  Yet the top government officials dismissed the findings as well as any well-documented findings.  The poor are poorer.

The rich are richer by extracting the wealth from their own people and the natural resources that belong to all of us. The "Money Is Everything" doctrine can be seen and felt in Cambodia. This inequality of wealth distribution creates a very unbalanced society. The thinking that "what powerful people say will always be right, and what small people say will always be wrong" must be also changed. The corrupted and powerful leaders fail to see the consequences of their own actions.

Education means a future

I want to do something to help the new Khmer generation. "If your plan is for one year, plant rice; if your plan is for 10 years, plant trees; if your plan is for 100 years, educate children," said Confucius.  When all Cambodians have a good education, they can think and make good rational decisions based on morality, national interest and patriotism, instead of "self-interest" and nepotism. Then they will become more aware of the situation, begin asking questions, have debates, offer dialogues, seek answers, find common solutions and act conscientiously.

In this context, education is not a matter of always seeing new things. Education means seeing the same things in a new light. Education is liberation.  It frees people from their pasts and inequalities, so they learn to live in the present and have hope for the future. It frees them from obstacles, oppression and a lot of other things that can set them back. Once achieved, education can never be bought, bartered, sold or even stolen.

Quality education for all is the answer to breaking the cycle of poverty and destruction. Don't fight darkness.  Just bring the light in and darkness will disappear. These are my feelings about Cambodia.    

Sovachana Pou is a volunteer teacher at Wat Ounalum in Phnom Penh, and former Funcinpec minister of industry, mines and energy.

Sovachana Pou is a volunteer teacher at Wat Ounalum in Phnom Penh, and former Funcinpec minister of industry, mines and energy.



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