After leaving Siem Reap, we headed back to Preah Vihear to see the former Khmer Rouge stronghold that existed until 1997 and the spot where Pol Pot was was arrested, tried, and buried in essentially an unmarked grave. We also stopped to visit the Community-based Integrated Development Organization (CIDO) that is headed by fellowship alumnus Ratana Oeurn. Ratana established this organization to teach sustainable agriculture techniques to Cambodian farmers. Ratana grew up as a malnourished child in a refugee camp during the civil war and is now committed to food security for all of Cambodia. A truly inspirational story.
The last few days of the trip were spent in Phnom Penh where I visited with three NGO’s working in Cambodia: 1) Cooperation Committee for Cambodia – provides and NGO quality assurance certification and works on government openness and free speech issues (as well as helping to administer the YSEALI Fellowship Program), 2) HEDC – International – provides training an environmental and economic sustainability, and 3) Pour Un Sourire D’Enfant School (PSE) – a school in Cambodia founded by French philanthropists that provides a huge spectrum of services related to education, including boarding, providing meals, and social serves. They even have a program to pay parents to send their kids to school because it is normal in poor families for kids as young as 10 would work instead of going to school.
I also had dinner with Lay Oudam, who is a Cabinet Chief for a district in Phnom Penh. His job is very similar to my position at the City and former position at the County, though he has about twice the population to deal with than the City of Missoula. He described one of the biggest issues his government struggles with is land title and I heard about this issue throughout Cambodia. At the end of the war, the government established a land concession program to grant land to the people for housing and farming. Granting title and managing the program has become one of the greatest administrative tasks faced by government at all levels.
I attended a dinner of YSEALI alumni from Cambodia, along with Kelsey Gramm and Jay Raman with the US Embassy. It was great to see the continuing enthusiasm with the fellowship program and making a better Cambodia. This dinner led to a meeting at the Embassy a few days later where, Sundara, Sokty, Sok En, Sokny, and I were able to talk in specifics to Jay and Embassy staff on the value of the program and its strengths and weaknesses.
I also made a presentation at Pannasastra University of Cambodia entitled "Local Government and Economic Development – Contrasting Cambodia and Montana". I made the presentation in the context of the YSEALI program. The students were very enthusiastic about the presentation, asking a lot of good questions about both YSEALI and local government.
My participation in this program has been an invaluable experience. I made friends and contacts that will last a lifetime and gained a new perspective of the world. I look forward to a continuing relationship with my fellowship colleagues as I’m sure we will collaborate and share ideas into the future.