Thursday, January 19, 2012

Same Same But Different

We are winding down after our three weeks in Cambodia and preparing for our trip home. Once again I am sad to be leaving. I am so very attached to this country and I feel quite at home here. It has been interesting to observe the changes that have taken place over the nine years since my first visit and even in just the two since I was here last.

Pockets of Cambodia have really taken off. Siem Reap which benefits from the tourist dollar seems to have had a lot of money invested into it. There are many many tourists and most of the town is geared towards making foreigners feel as comfortable as possible in hope that they will spend money there. My experience at Angkor was quite different this time around. On my first visit I remember being able to wander around most temples with very few people except the group I was with. Now in the most popular sites you are shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other tourists. It seems that UNESCO, the Cambodian Government and International Governments are making much more of an effort to preserve the ruins, with board walks and set paths so that the millions of people that visit do not destroy what is left.  
Sunset at Bakheng, Angkor.
Battambang has not changed as much, there are some newer buildings and an urban sprawl but it has the same country town feel. The biggest difference that I noticed was the number of cars on the road. In just two years the number of cars in Battambang and Phnom Penh has grown exponentially. It makes driving around a little more difficult as the streets cater for smaller vehicles, so things get a little squishy at times.
Doing the workshops this year was a different sort of experience, partly because I was a lot more relaxed, but also because over the six years that T.AB. has been running the workshops in Battambang they have built relationships with the Ministry of Education, with schools, directors and teachers and there is increasing dialogue and trust. My workshop this year was made up of younger teachers, more women than last time and there was a really great sense of collegiality amongst the participants. There is much more sharing happening between Cambodian teachers and with more Cambodians taking part in the workshops as trainers or workshop presenters we are slowly moving towards Cambodian teachers taking more ownership over their professional development and of education across Cambodia in general.
Enthusiastic workshop participants, Matt - co presenter, Samroun- translator

While there are obviously lots of positive changes happening in Cambodia and many developments taking place it is also distressing to see the gap between the rich and the poor getting wider and wider. The wealth that is being created in Cambodia is not being shared. A Cambodian friend was telling us this week that both oil and gold have been discovered in Cambodia but that it would do nothing to help the average Cambodian. Corruption is rife, those who have power have wealth and vice versa. (Cambodia is ranked 164 out of 182 in Transparency Internationals Corruption Perceptions Index 1 being perceived as least corrupt to 182 being perceived as most corrupt). Those who are poor continue to be marginalised and oppressed. You only have to look at the current news headlines of homes being bulldozed to make room for development and families being pushed out of areas that they have lived in for years because there is not enough housing to replace what has been lost in rebuilding parts of the city.

Transport variety in Phnom Penh
It will be interesting to continue to observe what is happening in Cambodia. Will it continue to develop as it has been or will the average Cambodian become tired of the corruption and exploitation of Cambodian resources? Will the people get to a point where they will demand change? Perhaps the upcoming 2013 elections will give an insight into whether the people desire change.
Independence Monument- Phnom Penh

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear a bit about the trip and work. Also great to hear the Teachers Accross Boarders work is rewarding.