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Chamcar Bei: 12 years' help

Chamcar Bei: 12 years' help

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

Bei Villlage.

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

roots level.

Linda McKinney

on behalf of volunteers and staff

Foundation to Help the Poor,

Kep Municipality

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