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
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
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.