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Monday, January 11, 2010

Volunteer heads to Cambodia

By DENISE PIPER - Whangarei Leader

A young woman from Whangarei is about to spend a year volunteering with orphans in Cambodia.

Tess Guiney, 21, leaves for Cambodia on January 29 with Volunteer Service Abroad.

She is one of 12 new university volunteers, or UniVols, who are heading to Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, South Africa and Tanzania this year.

The UniVols programme provides opportunities for students from Otago and Victoria universities to gain practical field experience.

Tess is doing a masters in geography at Otago University, looking specifically at development geography.

"I am especially interested in the gap which exists between countries of the developed north and those of the developing south.

"By travelling to Cambodia I will be able to see how development and poverty are actually experienced within nations," she says.

Tess hopes the programme will give her an opportunity to see real life examples of the
theoretical themes covered in her studies.

Cambodia is a largely rural economy and the second poorest in southeast Asia, causing serious disadvantages in health, education and employment, she says.

"I feel that by travelling to Cambodia I will hopefully be able to share my knowledge with them but also to gain a new understanding of development by learning from the people of Cambodia," she says.

Tess will work with the rural Economic Development Association, a non-governmental organisation in the province of Svay Rieng.

The association works with those in the community who are most vulnerable, including people living with HIV AIDS, orphans and vulnerable children, and those people with chronic illnesses.

She will be a childcare worker for orphans and will organise activities for them and help to improve their living conditions.

The work will be done alongside the Cambodian staff to ensure development occurs in a form the local community desires, a guiding principal of Volunteer Service Abroad, she says.

"Volunteer Service Abroad arranges for people to live within and work alongside local communities in an attempt to ensure more representative development, something that my own studies have firmly convinced me is the key to reducing poverty," she says.

Like other Volunteer Service Abroad volunteers, Tess will be covered for travel, initial resettlement, accommodation and utilities, a living allowance and insurance. Her student loan is interest-free for the year of the assignment.

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Cambodian govt returns air traffic firm to Thais

The Associated Press

(AP) — PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodia's government on Monday returned management of the country's air traffic control company to its Thai owners, a small concession in a dispute over its overtures to ousted former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Control of Cambodia Traffic Air Services, or CATS, was seized in November after Cambodia arrested a Thai employee, Siwarak Chutipong, on a spying charge. He allegedly stole the flight schedule of Thaksin-who is a fugitive from Thai justice but who was visiting Cambodia as a VIP guest-and gave it to a Thai diplomat.

Other Thai employees of the company were barred from coming to its offices, but not otherwise penalized.

Samart Corp., the parent firm of CATS, said Cambodia's Cabinet returned control of the company on Monday.

In 2008, a Thai court sentenced Thaksin in absentia to two years in prison for violating a conflict of interest law, but he fled into exile before the verdict. He was ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

In early November, Cambodia named Thaksin as an adviser to the government on economic affairs. The appointment, and a subsequent visit by Thaksin, set off a diplomatic imbroglio in which the two countries recalled their ambassadors. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thaksin had been unfairly convicted for political reasons.

Siwarak was convicted and sentenced to seven years in jail by a Cambodian court but was pardoned soon afterward and allowed to leave for Thailand.

The statement by Samart quoted its president, Watchai Vilailuck, as expressing appreciation for the handover and saying that it signaled "that Kingdom of Cambodia is open and fair to the foreign businesses and shall win investor's confidence in the long-term."

It said that Samart in 2001 won a concession to operate CATS for 32 years.
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Mekong Dams Could Threaten Aquatic Life

Plans to build a series of hydropower dams on the Mekong River could threaten already endangered species in the waterway.

The Mekong River is the lifeblood of Southeast Asia, with the largest inland fisheries in the world.

About 40 million people depend to some degree on the fisheries, worth about $2.5 billion a year.

But fisheries experts say plans by Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to build hydropower dams on the Mekong would block fish migration, threatening already endangered species.

Environmental activists say plans by Laos to build a dam in the Don Sahong area near the Cambodian border could doom the nearly extinct Irrawaddy dolphin.

Soung Ma earns money taking tourists for a rare glimpse of the dolphins. "Local people normally work in dolphin tourism. Everyone has a small boat and can pick up tourists and get money from tourists every day or every month depending on the season," Ma said.

The Mekong River Commission works to manage river resources among Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Jeremy Bird heads the commission and says balancing the pros and cons of hydropower dams is the biggest challenge facing the Mekong basin. "We're talking about the livelihoods of millions of people but we're also talking about a huge potential resource of hydropower which can not only provide foreign revenues to the countries, but can those revenues can then be used to finance other development programs and help countries meet their targets on poverty alleviation and millenium development goals," Bird said.

Some dams on rivers feeding the Mekong have disrupted fish populations.

Fishermen may have to turn to aquaculture like this tilapia farm in Vientiane to make up for the lost wild catch.

Suchart Ingthamjitr, a program officer at the MRC's fishery program, says fish farms help meet demand. "The price of wild fish is higher than cultured fish. But, the problem of wild fish is seasonality," Ingthamjitr said. "Yeah, you can catch and have the wild fish depend on the time of year. But, for tilapia all year round you can buy it in the market."

As the sun sets on the Mekong, fishermen try their luck.

Environmental and fisheries experts say damming the Mekong will change some of their traditional ways.
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