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Irrigation "the most important subject"

Irrigation "the most important subject"

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.

However,

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

future.

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

farming.

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

irrigation.

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

irrigation program.

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

said.

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

Cambodia.

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