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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Joyce Meyer Ministries Touches Nation of Cambodia

ST. LOUIS, Sep. 4 /Christian Newswire/ -- It is estimated that over 2 million people lost their lives during a genocide in Cambodia that took place in the 70s. In an effort to bring dreams back to life, Joyce Meyer Ministries recently held Hope Cambodia: 30 Days of Hope from July 14 to August 12.

Over the course of the month, Joyce Meyer Ministries was able to touch the lives of over 160,000 people. The Million Leaders Mandate (a training program for leadership) was launched, and there were five different leadership seminars in five different regions of the country.

With the help of our friends and partners, fifteen Hope Centers have been established. These centers will house at-risk children and serve as churches, schools, food distribution and community centers. A hospital is being constructed and arrangements have been made for a mobile medical unit.

In addition, more than eighty medical professionals volunteered to provide basic health and dental services, which are often uncommon because of poverty. The medical professionals treated more than 9,000 patients.

Joyce Meyer Ministries also partnered with Prison Fellowship and was able to visit twenty-five prisons, which house over 11,000 prisoners, delivering care packages containing hygiene items and a book to them.

"Being a part of Hope Cambodia has been a life-changing experience for all of us. Whether it's been a visit to the Hope Center, which cares for the wholeness of local Cambodian children, or a trip to one of the many amazing medical centers, God is at work here, and it's a privilege to see it firsthand," said David Meyer, CEO World Missions.

Joyce Meyer Ministries is an international nonprofit organization that focuses on reaching people through media, with a potential audience of 3 billion people. In addition, Joyce Meyer Ministries provides millions of meals to people every year, supports and provides major medical care in remote areas, operates and fully supports over fifty orphanages worldwide, and provides other humanitarian aid and disaster relief around the world. For more information, please visit .
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AIDS Infection Rate Drops in Cambodia

Like many small, poor countries in Asia and Africa, Cambodia faces a challenge from HIV - the virus that causes AIDS. By all measures, Cambodia should be devastated by AIDS. Brothels are commonplace, illegal drugs are widely available and Cambodia's health-care system is so poor the government can only spend about two dollars a person a year. Yet despite these problems, the rate of new infections has dropped steadily. VOA's Rory Byrne has more from Phnom Penh.

Reth is a tuk-tuk taxi driver in Phnom Penh. He was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1997.

He nearly died from an AIDS-related illness about five years ago before free drug therapy became available.

Today, about 80 percent of all HIV-positive people in Cambodia receive free life-saving anti-retroviral drugs. International aid groups largely pay for the medications. U.N. officials say Cambodia spends about $49 million in public and private funds to combat the virus. "Now I make power enough, that I can do a job, anything, it's no problem now," says Reth.

The number of AIDS cases here has fallen in the last decade from 3.2 percent of the population to 0.9 percent today. Credit is given to condom distribution programs and education on how to prevent transmission of the virus.

The United Nations AIDS co-ordinator in Cambodia, Tony Lisle, says the government has done a good job. "I think the main reasons behind this remarkable success is the enormous commitment of government. I think very strong partnerships between government and civil society, NGOs, and other partners to ensure that we had a very, very comprehensive program that addressed the high points of the epidemic, the epicenter of the epidemic, which is basically sex workers and their clients."

Cambodia is poor and is recovering from decades of conflict. Thousands of women see no choice but to become sex workers.

Health workers, like Dr. Sophal Kaing, teach safe-sex practices in brothels. "We prevent HIV from (by) using 100 percent condom use. It means she use the condom to (with) every client, even her sweetheart."

One Cambodian prostitute says, "We have to beg the customer, we have to talk to him. And if he still does not agree to use a condom, I will refuse to have sex with him."

Despite the progress, experts warn there remains a chance the infection rate could still rise, particularly among gay men, injecting drug users and so-called indirect sex-workers -- women working in bars and clubs.

Tony Lisle from UNAIDS adds, "I think the biggest challenge for all the partners who are at the front line of the response is to really ensure that we address indirect sex work (ers) and their clients because behavioral trends are changing, people are moving to sweethearts and indirect sex work so that's what we really need to keep our accelerator on."

Despite these dangers, experts say the lesson from Cambodia is that if the political will is there, the disease can be contained, even in the poorest nations.

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Cambodia seeks investors for economic expansion

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s private sector met Tuesday with government officials for talks on the future of the economy, with a clear call from businesses for the country to seek more foreign investment.

The underlying point from business leaders was that investment must be encouraged, even if that meant loosening controls in sectors on which the government has historically kept a firm grip.

Chief among these is the country’s real estate market, which in the past few years has enjoyed an unprecedented boom as land prices soar and dozens of building projects get underway in the capital.

Business people have urged the government to deepen its investment base by opening property ownership to foreigners for the first time — a measure that many expect could dump tens of millions of dollars into the economy and spur on greater industrial growth.

Under the current rules, foreign property investments must be made in the name of a Cambodian national, and many are unwilling to risk losing their assets to unscrupulous local partners.

While Cambodia’s investment law was amended in 2005 to allow foreign ownership of permanent fixtures, the legislation has yet to be implemented and the initiative has floundered.

“This is already a sector of the economy that is dynamic, but foreign ownership of apartments, condominiums and other such structures on the land will help spur further economic growth,” said Bretton Sciaroni, an American lawyer who serves as the chairman of the International Business Club.

“Such a regulatory development will provide a dramatic indication that Cambodia has an investor-friendly environment,” he added.

After decades of turmoil, Cambodia has emerged as a rising economy in the region — posting an average of 11 percent growth over the past three years on the back of strong tourism and garment sectors.

But these economic pillars are by no means insulated from growing regional competition, and officials said moves must be made to protect the gains made over nearly a decade of rapid expansion.

Cambodia’s 2.5 billion-dollar textile industry has posted double-digit export growth year-on-year and employs some 350,000 workers, making it the country’s largest industrial operation.

But it also continues to be buffeted by labour disputes which will become especially critical next year when restrictions against Chinese garment exports expire, forcing Cambodia into greater competition with this Asian giant.

“In short, there are too many unions,” said Van Sou Ieng of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), urging greater government regulation of the more than 1,000 workers’ groups.

Illegal strikes, sometimes as many as two a day, and repercussions against workers who do not walk off the job are also endemic, he told government leaders.

“The frequency of these occurrences ... is becoming alarming, and if left unattended and unresolved, they will destroy Cambodia’s reputation for attracting and maintaining investors,” he said.

The tourism sector, which has also enjoyed significant yearly growth, must also adapt if it is to attract both visitors and investors, business leaders said.

Already, several private companies have been granted licenses to develop Cambodia’s islands off its southern coast as the country tries to scale up its resort offerings.

Officials Tuesday also mooted for the first time the revival of a national air carrier that is hoped to take advantage of growing regional tourism.

The country’s last national carrier, Royal Air Cambodge, was shuttered in 2001 after running up losses of 30 million dollars.

Domestic air routes are expected to prove vital to developing some of Cambodia’s more remote locations, as well as encouraging travelers to seek sights beyond the famed Angkor temples in northwest Cambodia, which remain its most popular tourist draw.

“National carriers are an important tool for promoting destination tourism for any country,” said Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents. afp
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Cambodia's long look backwards; doctors struggle to heal a troubled country

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — "I always have nightmares about being chased by something black, a shadow," says doctor Sotheara Chhim, describing the aftermath of peering into the dark places most Cambodians are trying to forget.

"It is not something clear, but it is probably relevant to the Khmer Rouge," says Chhim, one of only 26 psychiatrists providing care for a rising tide of Cambodians who are no longer able to cope with the damage caused by the brutalities of the past.

"I listen to so many stories. I dream about being in a kind of trap, a cage," says Chhim, himself a survivor of the apocalypse that engulfed Cambodia in the late 1970s, explaining the personal toll exacted by confronting, again and again, other people's demons.

Chhim, who directs the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO), one of the country's few mental health facilities, warns that worse could be yet to come as a genocide tribunal forces Khmer Rouge victims to re-live atrocities inflicted by the regime.

But the psychological fallout of the trials only highlights a much broader need for mental health services in one of the region's most traumatised countries.

"The incidents of mental illness are getting higher from year to year, but still a lot of psychological problems are not being cared for," says Dr Ka Sunbaunat, dean at the University of Health Sciences and director of the National Programme for Mental Health.

Some 30 percent of Cambodia's nearly 14 million people reportedly suffer from a debilitating mental condition -- from anxiety and chronic unexplained physical pain to unpredictable mood swings or sudden eruptions of rage.

Millions more are thought to be plagued by less profound problems, but the true extent of mental illness in Cambodia -- caused as much by today's crushing poverty, neglect and abuse as by past upheavals -- is unknown.

What is clear to Chhim and other healthcare providers is that Cambodia is woefully unprepared to address this issue, with one psychiatrist for every half a million people.

"At the government mental health clinics, one psychiatrists sees over 30 patients a day -- you would be exhausted. I can see only three or four a day in order to provide good care," he says.

As many as 100 people line up each day outside Phnom Penh's municipal referral clinic, where the government established a psychiatric ward two years ago, one of 61 now open throughout the country.

They wait for a chance to speak with the psychiatrist on duty, or perhaps to see one of a handful of medical residents drafted from the nearby university.

"Sometimes we have problems. With mental patients you have to spend time and when we're overcrowded like this there is not enough time," says Dr Chak Thida, walking briskly amidst the dozens of mostly middle-aged men and women arriving one recent morning at the clean and, for Cambodia, well-equipped clinic.

But even with facilities such as this, Chak Thida says, "we need more resources ... we need more psychological education for the public. People don't know that they are ill".

A decade of peace following the country's long civil conflict has ironically led to an eruption of mental health problems, as Cambodians, freed from the daily traumas of war, have time for perhaps unwanted reflection, stirring sometimes devastating memories, doctors say.

"After the Khmer Rouge the trauma was still going on -- people were struggling to survive. Somehow even if they felt pain, they put it aside," Chhim says.

"For Cambodia the fighting stopped less than 10 years ago, so the people have just started getting on with their lives and that pain is starting to come back."

But many do not understand the cause of that pain, and a majority of mental health cases are often un-diagnosed or mis-treated.

As many as 80 percent of Cambodians going to see general practitioners are actually suffering from psychological trauma, Ka Sunbaunat explains.

"They don't believe they have psychiatric health problems -- they believe this is normal for everybody after the war," he says.

Doctors say they are battling ignorance or heavy social stigmas that often associate mental problems with witchcraft or sorcery.

"There is no recognition of mental health, most of the people we meet never come to us straight away -- they go to traditional healers, they think that their problems are caused by black magic," Chhim says.

Chhim's TPO is engaged in an ambitious public education campaign that he says reaches as many as 10,000 people a year.

The group trains traditional village authority figures such as monks to recognise the symptoms of mental trauma, and organises counselling sessions for alcoholics or victims of domestic violence. Substance abuse and physical attacks are the most common causes and affects of mental trauma today, Chhim says.

"To help people deal with trauma, a lot of things have to be involved, we need a holistic approach bringing in things like religion and social justice," he says.

"We are purely community-oriented. We train the stakeholders, especially the traditional healers, the monks, the nuns, those who help the people in the communities with their problems so that they are able to recognise these problems and provide support."

Ahead of the Khmer Rouge trials, TPO is preparing a campaign to deal specifically with mental issues that are expected to arise as a result of dredging up the blackest chapter in Cambodia's modern history.

Chhim says the group plans to distribute leaflets detailing the symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome and other related illnesses, a well as provide counselling for those directly involved in the trials as witnesses.

"The tribunal can trigger memories," Chhim says. "The people who experienced these terrible events will (re-live) the experience when they hear about investigations or crimes. It will reactivate the traumatic memories."

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed by the communist Khmer Rouge which took over the country in 1975 and set about erasing modern Cambodia and trying to create an agrarian utopia in its place.

Millions were exiled to vast collective farms, while money, schools and religion were outlawed. The educated, including doctors, were systematically hunted down and killed.

Khmer Rouge leaders called the first year of their rule "Year Zero".

For most Cambodians it was simply the end of the world -- the fall of the regime in 1979 was followed almost 20 years of famine and conflict, the effects of which still echo today.

"Some people say the Khmer Rouge (regime) was so long ago that maybe the Cambodian people forgot," Chhim says. "But actually we don't forget. People have not had the chance to deal with this."

While some healthcare experts hope the trial will bring into sharp relief the failings of the current system, others are less optimistic.

"From the beginning people believed the tribunal had some miraculous healing power, when in fact it does not," says Ka Sunbaunat.

"My parents died. After a year of trial my parents remain dead -- how can I feel better? We should think about what Cambodian people are really suffering from.

"People who are victims (of the Khmer Rouge) suffer more from the poverty and hardship in their daily lives."

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Cambodia's garment mills face impasse

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Not much gets made in Cambodia except clothes.

Garments account for an astonishing 80 percent of this impoverished Southeast Asian nation's exports, and the World Bank estimates that the industry, which was worth $2.5 billion last year, helps support – directly or indirectly – about 1 in 5 Cambodians, according to government estimates.

US trade policy essentially created Cambodia's garment industry, thanks to a 1999 bilateral deal that granted Cambodia preferential access to US markets in exchange for guarantees on labor standards. Now some argue that US trade policy – in the form of high tariffs – is helping to undo it.

The irony is especially acute because many observers now look to Cambodia as a model of labor-friendly manufacturing, and they say that if Cambodia fails, it will mean the death not just of one industry in one nation, but of the dream of ethical manufacturing itself.

"There was a door for small countries like Cambodia," says Cambodia's minister of commerce, Cham Prasidh. "Now there is no more door. Those who can produce cheaper and faster will sell more."

And that means China.

Shifts in the global garment industry are favoring more developed nations, like China, over the world's poorest. US quotas that benefited Cambodia have expired – or will soon – and the question Cambodia now faces is how to compete with nations that have better infrastructure, more qualified labor forces, deeper supply chains, faster productivity growth, and cheaper electricity.

One easy answer for Cambodia would be to have its major trading partner – the United States, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of Cambodia's garment exports – eliminate its tariffs. Cambodian officials have been lobbying Congress since 2004 to cut those tariffs, which last year averaged nearly 16 percent. China paid, on average, just over 3 percent on its top US exports.

Mr. Cham led a delegation to Washington in July to drum up support in Congress for the TRADE Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate in February that would slash tariffs on goods from 14 poor Asian nations, including Cambodia.

The US already provides generous trade benefits to many of the world's poorest countries through regional agreements in Africa and the Caribbean, and the EU and Canada already grant Cambodia access to their markets nearly duty- and quota-free.

Cambodian officials are hoping that later this month, House Democrats will introduce legislation that would exempt all of the world's poorest nations, including Cambodia, from tariffs.

Roland Eng, Cambodia's former ambassador to the US, maintains that legislation favoring poor countries won't affect the level of US imports, merely the pattern. "Instead of importing from China, you will import more from least-developed countries," says Mr. Eng. "We're not preventing jobs from going to the US; we're preventing jobs from going to China," he adds.

For an underdeveloped nation, Cambodia already pays relatively more in duties than some developed economies. Edward Gresser, the director of the trade and global markets project at the Washington-based Progressive Policy Institute, said in an e-mail that as of mid-2006, the US had collected $196 million in tariffs on $1.1 billion worth of Cambodian goods, but only $199 million on $27 billion in imports from Britain.

For its part, the US Embassy in Phnom Penh says that the United States is considering trade benefits for Cambodia, but within the stalled Doha round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization. Government and garment-industry officials in Cambodia are hoping for a faster, more localized solution. They say they can't afford to wait.

Next year, US safeguards on Chinese garment imports are set to expire and international monitoring of Cambodia's factories, a cornerstone of Cambodia's 1999 trade deal with the US, may also cease. That could spell the end of Cambodia's labor-friendly garment sector, which has been held up as a model by the industrialized world.

But despite the good intentions, Cambodia's good labor practices cost money in the long term, and Van Sou Ieng, the chairman of the Garment Manufacturer's Association of Cambodia, says it will be hard to live up to those standards if Cambodia can't compete on price, which he says is impossible without tariff relief.

Eng says the social and economic costs of a garment sector slowdown would be enormous. Most garment workers are women, who have left the traditionally protective structures of family and village that govern rural life. Unemployed, Eng says they will be particularly vulnerable to HIV infection and human trafficking. "All the social efforts of the past ten years will be in vain," he says.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. Rachel Louise Snyder, author of the forthcoming book "Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade," says that if Cambodia's garment industry fails, the ramifications will extend far beyond the borders of this tiny nation.

"The industrialized world has set them up as an example of great positive social change that can be achieved with political and economic will," says Ms. Synder, who lives in Phnom Penh. "What does it say to the rest of the world if we allow them to fail?"
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