More than two decades ago in Cambodia, fields of flowers began to emerge from what had been the “killing fields” in the aftermath of the Indochina wars. The ancient country and Kingdom once symbolised by the triple towers of Angkor Wat had become instead a littered landscape of bones, landmines, shattered lives and failed hopes.
Metaphorically, the flowers were acts of kindness: international and then local helpers, large organisations and individuals, foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and then, locally grown helpers, NGOs which joined together to help the country do what the government was not in a position to do, or to envision.
As a public service to civil society, and as part of a vision to train and provide experience for early-career journalists both from Cambodia and abroad, The Phnom Penh Post sought help from Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation, an organisation itself rooted historically in the desolate aftermath of World War II and a nation’s struggle to recover.
What are NGOs and what is their purpose? The essence of what is now called “civil society”, NGOs are those voices in society that are not the government, regardless of the form, ideology or practice of the government. How do such voices find a public audience? One function of NGOs is to provide voice. The media, in turn, provide platforms for those voices to be heard and acted upon.
“Public trust in NGOs is essential to NGO’s capacity to advocate, to deliver services and to represent marginalised citizens.” So states the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) annual report for 2009. The need is great “in countries such as Cambodia, where public trust in government” and business sectors is low, says the organisation’s executive director, Lun Borithy, who asserts that NGOs must perform at the same or higher levels of accountability that they demand of government.
In these pages, The Phnom Penh Post offers personalised points of views of 10 journalists from three countries who have gone into the field to provide windows onto a few of the over 3,000 NGOs operating in the Kingdom.
Our mission here as media is to show the public just how vital NGOs are to the Kingdom, and to give the reporters themselves – Khmer and foreign – a deeper and broader sense of at least some of the individual, family and societal issues involved.
It is our hope that this publication will give the Cambodian public both a better awareness of the issues and an understanding of how they might relate to the future of the country.