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Volunteers at work

Volunteers at work

On August 30, 2002, the Phnom Penh Post published "Time to put the brakes on

the gravy train" by Brad Adams. This was an excellent article, as it not merely

criticized and pointed out the facts to support his argument, but also provided the

empirical evidence followed by excellent suggestions and prudent recommendations

for the international community.

What Adams pointed out is very critical. It sets a light for me and others to understand

more in depth the attitude and level of commitment of the international donors/community

in assisting developing nations like Cambodia. I don't know how the international

donors/community responsible for managing the aid and loan to Cambodia feel, but

through a discussion with several friends, we find it insulting and offensive to

learn that as much as 57 percent of the aid to Cambodia is soaked up by the salaries

of foreign technical assistance.

Aid money belongs to the taxpayers of the donor countries and the poor people who

are its intended recipients. It is mainly intended to use for humanitarian purposes.

The people of Cambodia have passed through countless tragedies and the majority are

still living in miserable poverty. Therefore, whether the money for rehabilitating

Cambodia is a loan or grant, it deserves good care and wise expense. But when it

is a loan it is extremely unfair for Cambodians to have to pay it back when any of

it goes to pay the salaries of foreigners.

Some foreigners I know have faithfully devoted their time, energy, talent and comfort

for the good of Cambodia. For example, my dear friend Bob Matt of Coalition for Peace

and Reconciliation (CPR), a non-profit local NGO, receives small donations from generous

individuals. Bob has been doing volunteer work to promote peace in Cambodia for more

than two decades. His job includes, for many years, conducting a series of active

non-violent training of Cambodian youth by using the work and philosophy of the world

famous peacemakers including Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

Bob has been intensively and diligently teaching peace-promotion ideology five hours

a day seven days a week to Cambodian youth in Battambang province. Hundreds of youth

from elementary and high schools have graduated from his training courses. Many of

them become trainers. How much has Bob been paid per month? None. He only receives

a small per diem for daily food. His living standard is down to earth. This is one

way to help develop Cambodia in an inexpensive way. Thanks to the Buddhist monks

in Wat Kandal temple for allowing him to use a house to live and to conduct the training.

His sincere commitment for the people of Cambodia has earned him a lot of popular

respect.

No one expects all expatriate staff who work in Cambodia to work for free like Bob,

but if they can only apply Brad Adams' suggestions and recommendations it would be

great. One suggestion that makes sense is that so long as international consultants

and staff continue to be overpaid they should use some of their salary to make direct

donations to projects in Cambodia, including helping to build schools and dig wells

and giving money to victims of human rights violations. Only then would international

aid workers not be seen as exploiters and opportunists. But in the long run the solution

is to end these ridiculously high salaries. If you want to help Cambodia, come and

work for a reasonable salary. If not, please stay home.

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