Since my first visit to Cambodia in December 2000, I have made numerous returns,
to include accompanying my wife who has now emigrated to the US. During this time
I have been in awe at the scenic beauty and cultural offerings, both in Phnom Penh
and provinces visited.
Since my first visit I have traveled with my wife's family members to many of the
provinces and areas of interest. I have been labeled as "Mr Clean Up Man"
as I insist that we take and use garbage bags to store our trash during travel, not
throw items out of the windows of the vehicles, and pick up the trash discarded by
others when we encounter it.
In 2000 I was not long in Cambodia before I noticed that many of the Cambodians that
I knew routinely and casually tossed their trash and plastic containers out of the
windows of the vehicles we were riding in, into the streets, on to others' property,
on to the waterways, or on to the floor of restaurants, without, apparently, a second
thought. I also was told that this was the expected "norm" at this time
in the development of Cambodia.
(Note: So as not to seem hypocritical, I also recall an era in America where this
same type of behaviour was the practice or "norm". Clean-up campaigns and
awareness of the consequences by some citizens spearheaded efforts that resulted
in many of the "Do Not Litter" laws and regulations in effect today. So
it is with recognition that I see Cambodia as not doing something "new"
but this a developing country and its residents are going through phases that educational
awareness, focus and information on the detrimental results will help to change).
As one who has seen the USA go through its own "Clean up your environment"
campaigns, I know that it is not easy to have people change long-held habits and
beliefs overnight. As vividly portrayed with the American Indian campaign where,
unable to hold back a tear, this proud gentleman is forced to look, with sadness,
at the collected trash and other man-made pollution now covering his Homeland. Now,
years later I certainly realize that it sometimes take one or more generations before
the reversal effects are seen and things start to change for the betterment of all
While in Cambodia I used the services of my interpreter/translator friend in attempting
to explain to the Family Member that even though Cambodia's economic conditions are
not, currently, the best, when it does start to change and efforts to create better
living and economic conditions for its citizens so "kick in", the problem
of years of trash, litter and indiscriminate dumping of one person's garbage on another's
land will still be a huge factor and a major problem to address. My advice is to
not continue to add to this mess but draw the line at this point to "do the
correct thing with our individual trash".
In visiting some of the river restaurants and "camping sites" I was equally
appalled by the lack of trash containers and seeing the merchants and vendors simply
discard their trash and containers into the woods or waterways. Again I attempted
to explain that if Cambodia hoped to grow its tourism industry, as one viable means
for economic gains, that the sight of trash, garbage and piled up leftovers throughout
the country was not an enticing or welcoming sight to most foreign tourists visiting
the country. I continue to insist that we each should do our part, now, to help clean
I do understand the cost associated with the removal and/or recycling of garbage,
and recognize the current limitations of the Cambodian government's budget priorities
in being able to address this issue as one that's high on its agenda.
My belief is that if each individual assumes "personal responsibility"
for not adding another piece of trash to the existing accumulation, along the public
causeways and/or woods, then other thoughts about how best to dispose of the piece
of garbage would come to mind and hopefully other changes in attitude and actions
would take place from that point. Also having the country's two main leaders (and
others in authority) proclaim that litter is a "royal pain" and that litter
reduction is a goal, would be of tremendous help. Remember the karaoke bar closing
edict issued by Hun Sen?
I believe that each time we begin to "look outside of the box" and start
to view problems and concerns from the view point of "Now I know that I have
been told that there's nothing that can be done about this, but, let me just accept
that premise as a challenge and, slowly, perceptively, try to take a look at how
it could be done, if..." Some call this view "overly optimistic".
I call it part of life's reality. After all, simple solutions can oftentimes be found
in the most complex of places.
I strongly believe that if either the Prime Minister or the King would issue a resolution
or decree calling for citizens (and visitors) to dispose of trash properly, that
would go far in helping to develop a campaign that would work to change the current
"mind set" about the hazards of casual garbage dumping and unauthorized
trash disposal in Cambodia. Also occasionally placing this subject as a leading topic
in widespread publications such as the Phnom Penh Post and other Cambodian publications
would help to get things started on a positive note.
Let's Keep Cambodia Beautiful and make it even more so.