A study released by the UK-based Charities Aid Foundation puts Cambodia close to the bottom of the world in terms of the charity of its citizens, despite Southeast Asia being cited as the world’s strongest performing sub-region.
According to the World Giving Index, which ranks countries on the extent to which their citizens help the needy, Cambodia was ranked 108th out of 136 nations in the world – by far the lowest in Southeast Asia, where Thailand was ranked 21st and Myanmar tied with the United States for first place.
The high ranking of Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar was attributed to the influence of Theravada Buddhism, which “translates into a strong culture of charity”, the report read.
But Cambodia is also a deeply Theravada Buddhist country, and the region’s high ranking could have relied on differing interpretations of what charity actually is, said CAF’s head of research Deborah Fairclough.
For example, she explained, Burmese respondents may have considered volunteering to include involvement in religious activities, while Cambodians interpreted the term differently.
Nevertheless, other ASEAN countries roundly beat Cambodia on more objective measures, such as donating money.
While 77 per cent of Thai and 90 per cent of Burmese respondents said they had donated money in the past four weeks, “in terms of Cambodia you can see it’s much lower, only 37 per cent donated”, Fairclough said.
Humanitarians contacted by the Post agreed that Cambodia had a long way to go when it came to charity.
Catholic priest Francois Ponchaud said Franco-Cambodians were far more generous than their counterparts in the Kingdom due, in part, to outside influence, with the proliferation of Western NGOs making the Kingdom dependent on charity from foreigners.
“[The NGOs] have created a mismatch,” he said.
Phatry Derek Pan, who runs the Cambodian-American website Khmerican, said he had trouble finding Cambodian-run NGOs to volunteer at when he lived in Cambodia from 2005 to 2008, but that attitudes were changing quickly.
“I think a lot [of] that is coming from overseas Khmer communities and groups from younger … generations who are bringing these types of [humanitarian] activities back to Cambodia.”