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People are at the heart of Australia’s aid program

People are at the heart of Australia’s aid program

At the heart of so many of the programs supported by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) are the lasting and enduring links made by the people who comprise them.  In fact, the origins of today’s AusAID program can be traced to a scholarship scheme known as the Colombo Plan.

Her Excellency Neav Chanthana was a Colombo Plan scholar who left for Australia back in 1973.  She initially found life in Australia difficult, and this was made worse by news of the Khmer Rouge coming to power in Cambodia.  Although the Australian Government granted Cambodian scholarship students permanent residency, this did not diminish the students’ worries about home and family.  Chanthana reports that she was only able continue her studies due to ongoing support from her adviser.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Economics from Monash University in Melbourne, Chanthana made a significant contribution to Australia, working her way up eventually to become the Revenue Manager of Public Transport for the state of Victoria.  She also took another degree in accounting and became a member of the Australian Society of Accountants.

Eventually, Chanthana’s husband, a Cambodian refugee she had met in Australia, became homesick. Chanthana applied for a position with the National Bank of Cambodia and returned to accept it in 1993.  

Today, Her Excellency Chanthana is undertaking her second term as Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Cambodia, a position she has held since 2004.  Amongst other roles, she is a member of the Bank’s Board, a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia and is responsible for International Relationships and Coordination with organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank, the ADB and the central banks of all ASEAN countries.

Of her time as a Colombo Plan scholar, Chanthana says: “There is no doubt that the opportunities and experiences I had in Australia as a result of being offered a scholarship were core to my subsequent successes and to the contributions I have made to the banking sector since my return to Cambodia”.

The scholarship program continues today, with 50 students selected in 2011 to receive scholarships under the Australia Awards Program for postgraduate study in Australia.  

People-to-people contributions are not only made when Cambodians study in Australia. In 2012, 76 new Australian volunteers will come to work in partnership with organisations across Cambodia.

One of these, Richard Hughes, is an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development who has been placed for a 12 month assignment with the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC).  CMAC works to remove and destroy some of the 4.6 million unexploded bombs estimated to be still covering the Cambodian countryside.  

“In Cambodia more than 19,000 people have been killed and over 44,000 injured by landmines,’’ Richard said.   

He said many of the people who were working to solve the problem were victims themselves. “It’s incredible work that has made me re-evaluate my attitudes and assumptions about disability, ability, aid and development”.

AusAID recently announced an additional contribution of A$6.2 million for Phase 2 of the Clearing for Results project, a multi-donor facility managed by the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority with support from the United Nations Development Programme.  The aim is to clear a further 35 square kilometres of land for local development priorities, including agriculture. Australia has previously invested A$14 million in Phase 1 of this initiative, making Australia the largest contributor overall.

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