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Friday, March 16, 2012

Volunteering in Cambodia was a real education

How the experience of teaching English in Cambodia gave our blogger the strength to pursue her dreams

Catrin Griffiths with her Cambodian pupils
Geography Catrin Griffiths was deeply inspired by the pupils and teachers she met in Cambodia. Photograph: BUNAC

My certificate finally arrived telling me that I had achieved fully qualified teacher status. Getting here has been one the most satisfying and gratifying experiences I have ever had. But it nearly didn't happen!

Three and half years ago my university housemate and I went to an appointment at the careers office. I had always been pretty sure I wanted to teach but I had a big question, whether it should be secondary or primary and I didn't know how to apply for the training.

After an hour of being baffled by pamphlets, information and "useful" links we returned to the house and hid in our rooms with a cup of tea.

After a short lived panic I decided to look at the pamphlets. One was about volunteer experiences abroad, including teaching projects in Cambodian schools and communities, with a company called BUNAC. My housemate joined me 10 minutes later and we both started to research different companies who offered these "experiences". Eventually we were torn between heading to Kenya or Cambodia and chose the latter because of the "volunteers' house" where we would live together with other volunteers.

By 4.00pm the same day we had e-mailed BUNAC and paid a deposit for the trip. It was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made. My student loan had just gone into my account so I had the deposit money. I was sure I could fund-raise and earn enough during the summer for the balance. The only factor I hadn't considered was telling my parents. Dad was fine. Mum went into over-protective loving mother mode initially, but then calmed down and two months later booked herself and Dad on a trip around South East Asia. Problem solved.

We left the UK on 4 September 2008 and spent two weeks travelling through Vietnam before flying into Siem Reap, Cambodia's third city, the location of the Angkor Temples and our home for the next few months.

On my first day I was taken to Krousar Thmey (new family) Protection Centre in a tuk-tuk (a cart which is pulled by a motor bike) where I met Madame, the head teacher. She showed me around the centre where we spoke a mixture of French (her) and English (me) and introduced me to the children, who were aged between four and 20. I was then taken to the other Krousar Thmey locations by Mr Dee who ran one of the orphanages we saw.

During the day I found out that one of my pupils had been taken away from his family because his father was an alcoholic who had cut off two of his toes and four of his fingers with a knife. I discovered that there were four siblings who had nearly died of starvation because all the family income was spent on alcohol. I also learnt that until Krousar Thmey opened its door in 1991, blind and deaf children in Cambodia weren't educated at all.

After a few days I had settled into my new routine. I had a two hour class at the protection centre in the morning then cycled the 20 minutes for a one hour session teaching adults at the deaf and blind school. I then returned to the protection centre for another two hour session before heading back to the deaf and blind school to teach English Braille.

I became more aware of the problems of the children and realised that they were so eager to learn that I could possibly make a small difference to their lives.

When I returned home I was accepted to do a PGCE course and was very excited. However, this was a short lived feeling. The tutor was a bully who tried to fail me three times throughout the year. I was in tears every day and one weekend I decided the stress wasn't worth it and I'd give up.

Fortunately, at the placement school, I had amazing mentors who told me that I should at least try to finish the course as I only had two months left. My family and friends reminded me of the difficulties faced by the pupils I had left in Cambodia and that I should fight for what I wanted as they had done. I dragged my way through to the final day and passed!

Now I have a job at Cove School where I am settled and happy. My NQT year flew by. The school had a system in place to support me and I found friendship among my colleagues. Since becoming a full time form tutor I have realized that I can use what I learned in Cambodia to teach pupils about how lucky they are. My knowledge of life in different conditions has helped them to be more grateful for what they have and appreciate that they get their education for free. I also use my photos from the trip to teach about how tourism impacts a developing country. Today I am in my second year at Cove, confident and happy with what I do.

• Catrin Griffiths is a geography teacher at Cove School. In 2008 she spent time teaching abused children and blind students in Cambodia with BUNAC.

Find out more about volunteering with BUNAC
BUNAC offers volunteer programmes with an English teaching focus from four weeks to sux months in Cambodia, Chile, China, Ghana, India, Nepal, Peru and South Africa. Relevant teaching experience enables volunteers to take on classroom responsibility from day one. There's a programme for everyone, whether you're considering going into the teaching profession, in the process of teacher training, or an established teacher keen to broaden your horizons and apply your skills where help is most needed. Programmes in China and Chile include TEFL training.

BUNAC's latest addition to the portfolio, Volunteer Chile, is sponsored by the Chilean government as part of its initiative to make EFL more accessible to all school-age Chileans.

Find out more about volunteering here. Or find out more about volunteering in Cambodia. You can find out about all English teaching opportunity with BUNAC worldwide here.

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Cambodia may find new rice market in Manila

Low international rice prices have further stymied Cambodia’s milled-rice exports, millers reported yesterday, but large orders – reportedly the first ever – from the Philippines have encouraged at least one of the Kingdom’s biggest rice exporters.

Mega Green Imex Cambodia this year to date has received orders for 50,000 tonnes of milled rice from the Philippines, Managing Director Outh Renne said yesterday.

That’s 13,000 tonnes more than Mega Green’s total orders from the European Union last year, he said.

The orders, the first ever from the Philippines and during a time when Cambodian rice prices are higher than other regional exporters, represented a shift in Cambodian rice trade from Western markets to buyers in its own backyard, Outh Renne said.

“Cambodia should understand that the biggest market for rice is in the Philippines and Indonesia,” he said, adding that the government-brokered deal was an attempt on the part of the Philippines’ National Food Authority to diversify its imports.

Cambodia exported about 173,000 tonnes of milled-rice last year, a 226 per cent increase on the year before, according to Ministry of Commerce figures.

The majority of the shipments went to the European Union.

The Philippines and Indonesia are expected to import an annual 4 million tonnes of rice a piece, Outh Renne said, markets well suited for the 1 million-tonne export goal Prime Minister Hun Sen set for milled rice in 2010.

The Philippines may buy a fourth of this year’s planned rice imports from either Vietnam or Cambodia through a government-to-government deal, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said in Manila on Wednesday.

The Southeast Asian nation plans to import 500,000 tonnes of rice this year, with 380,000 tonnes to be secured by private companies and farmer groups.

The remaining 120,000 tonnes will be purchased by the government, Alcala said.

Cambodia has lobbied the Philippines for rice trade agreements since 2010.

Mey Kalyan, a senior advisor to Cambodia’s Supreme National Economic Council, said he travelled to the Philippines to promote rice trade at the time.

“We were working very hard on this. This would be a great thing for Cambodia’s rice trade,” he said, although he said he was unaware of the recent orders at Mega Green.

International rice prices would continue to go down for some time, Mey Kalyan said, a trend that stalled new orders of milled rice during the first two months of the year.

The high price of milling and transportation, among other factors, led a significant slowdown of forward orders at four of the Kingdom’s biggest exporters as rice prices in India, Pakistan and Vietnam fell in January and February, the Post reported.

Rice millers and exporters yesterday said falling rice prices abroad continued to delay orders this year, and confidence in trade with the Philippines was low.

Lim Bun Heng, president of Loran Import-Export Company, confirmed that orders had been delayed.

The company has exported 2,000 tonnes of milled-rice this year to Europe and Russia, he said, although he declined to give a figure on forward orders.

Unstable rice prices in the Kingdom had kept an otherwise interested Philippines from signing contracts with Loran, Lim Bun Heng said.

“[The Philippines] asked for a one-year contract, but we wanted a one- or two-month contract. We were afraid of signing a one-year contract because the price of rice changes so quickly in Cambodia,” he said.

Phou Puy, president of the Federation of Rice Millers Associations and the Baitong Rice Export Company, said Cambodia’s high rice prices should prevent rice exports to the Philippines this year.

“There is no export at all from Cambodia to the Philippines,” he said yesterday.
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Cambodia: Right to Freedom of Assembly has Been Severely Violated

H.E. Ang Vong Vathna, Cambodia's Minister of Justice,
 and H.E. Sar Kheng, Cambodia's Minister of Interior
 (HONK KONG) - As a nation with a history of terrible violence, Cambodia needs to quickly and thoroughly address a very alarming situation; the shooting of three female garment workers in the Bavet town of Svay Rieng province on 20 February 2012.

Information indicates that the shooting took place as 6,000 workers gathered in solidarity in front of the Kaoway Sports Ltd factory; peacefully demonstrating to demand for better working conditions. They are asking for a minimum living wage of US$61/month and lunch allowance. During the demonstration, three unarmed women were shot; two suffering wounds to their arms or legs, and one was seriously injured as the bullet ripped through her thoracic cage.

Our goal with Eye on the World is to illustrate and highlight politically oriented problems and tragedies that traditional media channels don't have time or interest in covering.

The world has its own set of laws that were agreed upon by the ruling nations in 1948, and many people are not aware of this simple fact. At the root of the concept of world citizenry itself, is the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an overriding and supreme law that ensures many essential human rights that governments today fail to observe. Also central to any hope of human success, is the understanding of the human hierarchy of needs, as defined by Abraham Maslow- more information on this at the conclusion of this entry. We must use the Internet as a tool of justice at every junction, and we need to assist all human beings, everywhere, and not allow cultural, racial or religious preferences as determiners.

In this letter to H.E. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice; and H.E. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior in Cambodia, William Gomes asks for the assurance that the victims in this case are provided with an “effective remedy notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons in an official capacity” - determined by a competent judicial authority, and that the government takes necessary steps to protect the fundamental right to freedom of assembly in Cambodia, which has been subjected to increasing restrictions. Mr Gomes strongly urges that the government ensure the victim's appearance in court, protect witnesses from intimidation, and issue a guarantee, that in the future, legal process will be carried out in a free, fair and impartial manner meeting international standards. He asks that those who violated the law be properly investigated and prosecuted.

March15, 2012
H.E. Ang Vong Vathna
Minister of Justice
No 240, Sothearos Blvd
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: +855 23 364119

H.E. Sar Kheng
Minister of Interior
No 275 Norodom Blvd
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: +855 23 721905, +85523 726052/721190

Re: Cambodia: Right to freedom of assembly has been severely violated

Your Excellencies,

I write to you to express our grave concerns regarding the shooting of three female garment workers in the Bavet town of Svay Rieng province on 20 February 2012.

I have received information that around 6,000 workers gathered in front of the Kaoway Sports Ltd factory in a peaceful demonstration to demand for better working conditions, including a minimum living wage of US$61/month and lunch allowance. While the demonstration was taking place, three unarmed women were shot; two suffered wounds to their arms or legs, one was seriously injured as the bullet ripped through her thoracic cage.

The perpetrator was later identified as being Bavet town’s own governor, Mr. Chhouk Bandit. Although the Minister of Interior, Mr. Sar Kheng, said publicly that Mr. Bandit was the sole suspect, the Court – under the direction of provincial chief prosecutor Hing Bun Chea – declined to issue an arrest warrant and instead settled with a summons on allegations that the report the police submitted was incomplete. He was briefly questioned by the police last week and later released. Mr. Bandit is expected to appear in court on 16 March 2012.

I deeply regret that the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of assembly has been severely violated by the use of excessive force, which resulted in the serious injuries of three of the demonstration’s participants.

I note that there is much fear concerning the safety and security of the three victims and their families. These concerns are well grounded since the victims were approached on numerous occasions by officials from Bavet, including the police chief and commune chiefs, attempting to silence them through bribes since the shooting incident. [1] The most severely injured victim, Ms. Buot Chinda, was allegedly approached by the town governor himself. [2] I believe that the government of Cambodia must protect these young women and their families. They should be immediately placed under witness protection. Individuals who came forward in helping identify the perpetrator should also be placed under protection. I also stress that these attempts to influence witnesses in the ongoing investigation could constitute an obstruction of justice and are criminal offences punishable under Cambodia’s Criminal Code. [3] Those attempting to influence the witnesses must be held accountable under the existing laws.

Although Mr. Bandit was dismissed from his position as a Bavet town governor on 8 March 2012, there remain concerns that he will enjoy impunity as he is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The successive chain of events fails to reflect the gravity of the crimes: there was a notable delay in the police investigation as well in making the information about his involvement public. The recent refusal to issue him with an arrest warrant despite the culpatory evidence highlights the flaws present in the Cambodian legal and judicial systems. I strongly believe that the state is obligated to combat impunity for attacks and violations against its own people, by ensuring prompt and impartial investigations into allegations and appropriate redress and reparation to victims. In this regard, an arrest warrant on the alleged perpetrator should be issued without delay to ensure the safety of the victims, and to prevent him from influencing the investigation and legal proceedings of this case.

I would like to draw your attention to the recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Mr. Surya Subedi, which highlighted concerns over the politicization of the judiciary and called for a separate entity to be solely in charge of the prosecutors – as opposed to being attached to the courts. [4] The unfolding of unfortunate events in the town of Bavet and the subsequent flawed investigation processes, have highlighted the cause for continued concerns in this regard.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) , the Government of Cambodia must ensure that the three victims are provided with an “effective remedy notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons in an official capacity” [5] and that it be determined by a competent judicial authority. We therefore strongly urge that the Government will ensure his appearance in court, protect all witnesses from intimidation, and guarantee that the upcoming legal process be carried out in a free, fair and impartial manner that meets international standards.

I further urge the Cambodian government to take the necessary steps to protect the fundamental right to freedom of assembly in Cambodia, which has been subjected to increasing restrictions. In this particular case, the Cambodian government’s ability to ensure justice for those whose rights have been severely violated and to hold the perpetrator accountable serves as a serious test of the Cambodian government’s will to uphold human rights, consistent with its own Constitution, the human rights principles of the ASEAN Charter, and international human rights law.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

William Nicholas Gomes

William’s Desk


[1] “Victim rejects ‘pay-off’”, The Phnom Penh Post, 8 March 2012,….

[2] “Court avoids warrant for governor of Bavet”, The Phnom Penh Post, 6 March 2012,….

[3] Article 527 of the Criminal Code of Cambodia prohibits intimidation in order to prevent filing of complaint: “Any threat or intimidation made against a victim with a view to persuading him or her not to file a complaint or to withdraw it shall be punishable by imprisonment from one to three years, and a fine from two million to six million Riels. It shall be punishable by imprisonment from two to five years and a fine from four million to ten million Riels if the act is effective.” Whereas Article 548 of the same law prohibits bribery of witness: “The direct or indirect giving of a gift, offer, promise or interest by a person to a witness in order: (1) not to testify; (2) to provide a false testimony; shall be punishable by imprisonment from five to ten years.”

[4] UNHRC, Report for the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, 16 September 2010, A/HRC/15/46, para.71: “There should be a separate and independent office of the Prosecutor General with powers to supervise prosecutors at all levels and all prosecutors should belong to an independent office rather than be simply attached to the courts concerned.”

[5] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 2(3).
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