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Sunday, June 01, 2008

West teacher helps kids capture life through lens


By HEATHER GILLERS


AURORA -- Washington Middle School art teacher Somphonh "Samantha" Oulavong used to spend her vacations vacationing -- until she realized she would rather spend them teaching.

The spring breaks and summers when Oulavong once traveled in the south of France now find her in developing countries helping children and teens learn to photograph the world around them.

"A lot of these kids will never ever have a chance to hold a camera ever in their lifetime," said Oulavong, who will travel to Nicaragua and Cambodia this summer.

In Cambodia she plans to spend six weeks in Phnom Penh working with students ages 10 to 14 whose parents have HIV or whose lives have otherwise been affected by the virus.

It will not be her first encounter with children who face tragedy. Oulavong spent her spring break teaching photography to nine impoverished Nicaraguan children and teens in Managua.

She said one student, who worked at a local landfill, was "only 16 years old, but when you look at him he looks like he was in his late 30s." Another student, a 14-year-old, walked two miles to attend her photography workshop, she said.

Those students' pictures, along with Oulavong's photographs of them, will be exhibited this summer in Nicaragua, where she will visit before traveling to Cambodia.

Oulavong is in the process of forming a non-profit organization, Lens of Vision & Expression (LOVE), to support her work. She hopes the group will partner with other non-profit organizations that work with teens and children in order to bring photography workshops to the youth.

Oulavong knows film and a camera will not solve all the problems of an impoverished teen boy or the daughter of a parent living with HIV. But, she said, "when you give a child an opportunity to play and to use their imagination in a creative way, it allows them to have dreams and have hopes and to have a vision."

She is not just speculating. As a young child, Oulavong, whose parents are Chinese and who was born in Laos, lived in refugee camps in Thailand before the family moved to the United States.

"I remember having foreigners helping us out," she said. "I wanted to do something like that, to give somebody some sense of comfort, just let them know that there is help, there is hope."


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ANALYSIS: Hun Sen clings to stranglehold on Cambodia

CRUDE: The former member of the ultra-leftist Khmer Rouge is promising the country boundless riches thanks to offshore oil discovered by an ultra-capitalist US company

Although 11 parties are geared to fight it out in Cambodia's upcoming national elections, the contest is all but certain to be a one-horse race.

No one seems to have any doubt that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who at age 57 is Asia’s longest-serving head of government, will retain his stranglehold over the country’s politics. Least of all himself.

“I wish to state it very clearly this way: No one can defeat Hun Sen. Only Hun Sen alone can defeat Hun Sen,” he said in a speech earlier this year.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party began almost three decades ago as a communist party that headed a single-party state. But as Cambodia changed into a multiparty democracy, so did the party evolve, and proved itself the master of the field.

Today Hun Sen — once a member of the ultra-leftist Khmer Rouge — is crowing that he will bring the country boundless riches thanks to offshore oil discovered by an ultra-capitalist US oil company, Chevron.

In an hour-long speech at a recent development conference, he unequivocally told the audience he’ll remain in power long enough to manage the expected windfall from the black gold, sometime in the next decade.

He spoke as if he had already won a new five-year term in office, though balloting won’t be held until July 27. More than 8 million of Cambodia’s 14 million people are eligible to vote, according to the elections committee.

An oil bonanza would further bolster Hun Sen’s already unchallenged stature at the expense of the country’s democratic freedoms, analysts say.

Once oil production starts, Hun Sen will find it easier to ignore the pressures to liberalize from foreign aid donors — on which the country is now still heavily reliant — and will instead curb freedom of expression, assembly and the press, said Lao Mong Hay, a senior researcher at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

Elections have become a “veneer of democracy,” he said, adding that Hun Sen’s expected victory would further empower “the present oligarchy composed of people in power and tycoons.”

Through guile and threat, Hun Sen has run Cambodia since 1985, when he became prime minister of a Vietnamese-installed communist government.

A peasant’s son, he has intimidated, outsmarted and co-opted his rivals, including those who have spent decades being versed in Western education and democracy.

Hun Sen has also presided over the fast growth of the economy, which remains small by international standards. His party has just three credible rivals, one named after and led by opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The two other main parties are led by Kem Sokha, a former human rights activist, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, whose former party booted him out for alleged incompetence — in part because of some political shenanigans orchestrated by Hun Sen’s side.

But because the three parties lack a united strategy and instead pursue their own separate agendas for votes, they are unlikely to loosen the grip of Hun Sen’s party, said Kuol Panha, director of Comfrel, an independent Cambodian election monitoring group.
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Vietnam, Cambodia push for mapping of land borderline

VietNamNet Bridge - Vietnam and its neighbour, Cambodia , have vowed to complete the mapping of their shared land borderline within this year as set forth by the joint committee for land border demarcation.

The pledge was made at the sixth meeting of the two countries’ joint technical sub-committee for land border demarcation that took place in Phnom Penh from May 26 to 31.

Nguyen Hong Thao, Vice Chairman of Vietnam’s National Border Committee and standing member of the Vietnam-Cambodia Joint Committee for Border Demarcation headed the Vietnamese delegation to the meeting.

The Cambodian officials were led by Huon Savang, Deputy Head of the Secretariat of the national taskforce on border issues of the Ministers’ Council Office.

Vietnamese and Cambodian officials agreed on some important principles for the mapping of the shared borderline to serve the demarcation and planting of border marks at their border gates.

The officials agreed that the planting of border marks will be soon carried out at the Le Thanh-O Giadao border gates in Vietnam ’s Gia Lai province and Cambodia ’s Rattanakiri, and at the Tinh Bien-Phmon Don border gates shared by An Giang province and Ta Keo province.

They were unanimous that the joint teams for border demarcation and marker planting will continue doing their work at the borderline shared by Kien Giang and Kampot, An Giang and Kandal, Long An and Svay Rieng, and Tay Ninh and Kompong Cham and Svey Rieng provinces.

At the end of the meeting, Vietnamese and Cambodian officials signed a working minutes on the achieved outcomes.

While in Cambodia for the meeting, the Vietnamese officials were received by Senior Minister Var Kim Hong, president of Cambodia ’s national border committee and co-chair of the Cambodia-Vietnam Joint Committee for Border Demarcation.

(Source: VNA)
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Vietnam: A country of heroes, not a war

Is it really the land of heroes or cowards and thefts? Yuon is the brutal nation.

In Vietnam, people like to recite a modern slogan: "Vietnam is a country, not a war." That, in essence, is what visitors to this beautiful yet troubled land will find, a country in which was plays a critical part of history but also hides a rich, complex culture.

A coastal country of idyllic lined with palm tress, tranquil bays dotted with the sails of junks and sampans, lush green valley, Vietnam’s natural landscape is complemented by a traditional rural life, embodied in the villagers tilling the patch work paddy fields and children riding their water buffaloes home from the fields at the end of the day.

A traditional culture survives after lying dormant for several years but today it is threatened by the encroachment of modern life. Everywhere, there is the hum of activity, of a hardworking people anxious to build their country and improve their own well being.

This all presents quandary for Vietnam today.

Vietnam is a land of heroes. Thus, Vietnamese people had fought many wars with superpowers. After fighting off foreign invaders and colonists for centuries, Vietnam now must cope with a new kind of invasions, one of capital, of technology and of ideas.

The year of battle have left Vietnamese with an inmate pride in the fact that this impoverished land was able to topple great powers and their superior technology with only their wits, perseverance and sheet guts.

In 1990 Vietnam adopted a new course in foreign affairs and mended fences with Beijing. Thus, European and Asian companies poured into Vietnam seeking investment opportunities.

As this scribe was in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam last week in the course coming back home after attending the international conference of journalists in Phnom Penh of Cambodia where 86 media-associated people from 54 various countries had participated in.

All the people attended at the international conference were given opportunity to explore and experience the various culturally rich to tourism-view point important places, politically hot to economically brighten places, socially to historically remarkable spots Phnom Penh and around Cambodia.

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City quickly became boomtowns. Thus, with anticipation of prosperity, the Vietnamese have summoned their inherent national determination and have set an autonomous course for the 21st century.

Vietnam is a home to 53 ethnic minorities and people are very friendly, polite, hospitable and helpful. People in north are generally more reserved and have had less exposure to Westerners than those in the south.

Caution should be taken while eating. Generally visitors should find restaurants where people are crowd. Eat in restaurants that are crowded. If a place is crowded, it is good sign that the establishment is not serving spoiled food.

Food sits at the very epicenter of Vietnamese culture: in every significant holiday on the Vietnamese cultural calendar, all the important milestones in a Vietnamese person’s life, and indeed, most of the important day-to-day social events and interactions, food plays a central role.

The most famous example of Vietnamese cuisine is phopho ga (chicken noodle soup) or pho bo (beef noodle soup).

A local delicacy in the Hanoi area is dog meat, which is especially popular in the winter. There are a number of restaurants along the Red River that specialize in it.

There are thousands of restaurants in Hanoi catering to everyone’s taste. Go easy on the really exotic foods until your digestive system has had some time to adjust.

Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Hai Phong cities are the main cities of the Vietnam. And most of historically culturally important artifacts, buildings, and museums are situated in these there cuties.

Located in northern Vietnam on the right bank of the Red River, summers are hot, humid and often rainy, while winters are relatively cool and dry in Hanoi.

Vietnam is still a socialist country, but you’ll find that Hanoians, like many Vietnamese, have embraced capitalism with gusto.

Hanoi has been capital of Vietnam for nearly a thousand years, during which the city has endured numerous invasions, occupations, restorations and name changes. The Chinese ruled Hanoi and much of Vietnam off and on for centuries, until a Vietnamese general named Le Loi finally secured the nation’s independence in 1428. It wasn’t until 1831 that the Nguyen Dynasty renamed the city Ha Noi, which can be translated as Between Rivers or River Interior.

Vietnam’s independence ended in the mid-1800s, when the country was colonized by the French.

Hanoi became the capital of Vietnam when North and South Vietnam were formally reunited on July 2, 1976.

It is said that Hanoi is the cultural center of Vietnam. Despite the battles that have raged around it, Hanoi retains much of its historic charm. Hanoi boasts more cultural sites than any city in Vietnam, including over 600 pagodas and temples and some delightful French colonial buildings.

Among them are The Old Quarter which is the cultural essence of Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh Museum, Ho Chi Minh’s residence, One-Pillar Pagoda, The Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison ("The Hanoi Hilton").

Having of many scenic lakes Hanoi is sometimes called "City of Lakes."

Remarkably, the capital of Vietnam Hanoi is a fascinating blend of East and West, with a mix of Chinese and French influences enriching the vibrant Vietnamese culture. Largely unspoiled by modern development, Hanoi city of Vietnam is a rising star in Southeast Asia and has much to offer the tourists.

Only some years before Vietnam emerged from years of international isolation by opening its door to outside investors. The streets of capital, Hanoi, and the largest Vietnamese city Ho Chi Minh city bustle with enthusiasm and business energy. It is said that Vietnamese work and aim for the future like they drive. The streets pulsate with a sense that every one is on hurry, honking, pushing forward and rarely stopping for much of anything. Everyone’s eager to move ahead to the next intersection. Driving in Vietnam, say some, is a lot like doing business. Don’t go in wearing a blindfold.
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Hun Sen eyes extension of long-running rule in Cambodia with opposition divided

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Although 11 parties are geared to fight it out in Cambodia's upcoming national elections, the contest is all but certain to be a one-horse race.

No one seems to have any doubt that Prime Minister Hun Sen, who at age 57 is Asia's longest-serving head of government, will retain his stranglehold over the country's politics. Least of all himself.

"I wish to state it very clearly this way: No one can defeat Hun Sen. Only Hun Sen alone can defeat Hun Sen," he said in a speech earlier this year.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party began almost three decades ago as a communist party that headed a single-party state. But as Cambodia changed into a multiparty democracy, so did the party evolve, and proved itself the master of the field.

Today Hun Sen — once a member of the ultra-leftist Khmer Rouge — is crowing that he will bring the country boundless riches thanks to offshore oil discovered by an ultra-capitalist American oil company, Chevron.

In an hour-long speech at a recent development conference, he unequivocally told the audience he'll remain in power long enough to manage the expected windfall from the black gold, sometime in the next decade.

He spoke as if he had already won a new five-year term in office, though balloting won't be held until July 27. More than 8 million out of Cambodia's 14 million people are eligible to vote, according the elections committee.

An oil bonanza would further bolster Hun Sen's already unchallenged stature at the expense of the country's democratic freedoms, analysts say.

Once oil production starts, Hun Sen will find it easier to ignore the pressures to liberalize from foreign aid donors — on which the country is now still heavily reliant — and will instead curb freedom of expression, assembly and the press, said Lao Mong Hay, a senior researcher at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

Elections have become a "veneer of democracy," he said, adding that Hun Sen's expected victory would further empower "the present oligarchy composed of people in power and tycoons."

Through guile and threat, Hun Sen has run Cambodia since 1985, when he became prime minister of a Vietnamese-installed communist government.

A peasant's son, he has intimidated, outsmarted and co-opted his rivals, including those who have spent decades being versed in Western education and democracy.

For years, Cambodia was wracked by civil war between the government and the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, whose 1975-79 "killing fields" regime left some 1.7 million Cambodians dead.

A U.N.-sponsored peace process led to 1993 elections that Hun Sen's party lost — but he managed to muscle his way into the government anyway as co-prime minister.

Less than four years later, he ousted his coalition partner when their rivalry turned violent and his forces emerged victorious after a few days of bloody fighting in and around the capital. His party easily won elections in 1998 over a divided opposition and hasn't lost a poll since. It now holds 73 of the 123 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Hun Sen has also presided over the fast growth of the economy, which remains small by international standards.

Having run the country for three decades, his party has built a firm grass-roots apparatus and can draw on financial wealth unmatched by its opponents. Supporters include some of the country's wealthiest tycoons, who regularly dole out cash to finance rural projects such as schools and roads, often named after Hun Sen.

The party has just three credible rivals, one named after and led by opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The two other main parties are led by Kem Sokha, a former human rights activist, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, whose former party booted him out for alleged incompetence — in part because of some political shenanigans orchestrated by Hun Sen's side.

But because the three parties lack a united strategy and instead pursue their own separate agendas for votes, they are unlikely to loosen the grip of Hun Sen's party, said Kuol Panha, director of Comfrel, an independent Cambodian election monitoring group.

"The imbalance will weigh heavier toward the ruling party. It can prevail at whim with its great strength due to the divided voices among the non-ruling parties," he said.

He said Cambodia's electoral environment is still far from free and fair, with the ruling party enjoying unfettered access to state resources and the tightly controlled broadcast media.

During the past few months, TV and radio stations have flooded the airwaves with coverage of Hun Sen and party colleagues inaugurating rural roads, schools and Buddhist pagodas — financed by cronies — and welcoming deserters from the Sam Rainsy Party.

Sam Rainsy acknowledges that Hun Sen's advantage of controlling the levers of state power make it "very difficult" for opposition parties.

"There's no strong kid on the block," to challenge Hun Sen's grip, said Chea Vannath, an independent analyst and former director of the Center for Social Development, a nonprofit social study group.

"I'm sure the ruling party will stay in power for quite awhile — with or without the oil money," she said.
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