Archives - ‘Cambodia’

Orkun Charan Cambodia! (Thank you very much)

January 6, 2020 | Chloee, Master of Arts Public and International Affair, United Nations Development Programme, Junior Policy and Research Assistant

It is the last week of my internship. As I start preparing for my departure, I am re-assessing my goals and objectives now. What did I learn? Did I make an impactful contribution to the team? It has been really difficult for me to put in words how overwhelmed I feel.

Three and a half months is too less, especially in a setting like a UN agency. The last couple of weeks, I had just started understanding my role and my expectations, and now, I have to leave. I feel slightly discontent in the sense that it was too little time and there are so many opportunities I am giving up as I end this internship. However, I feel privileged to have been part of UNDP Cambodia. The office has been at the forefront at making an impact in climate action and also committed to fulfilling the objectives of the SDG. It is very interesting to see everyone in the office very engaged and leading the path to reduce our carbon footprint.

I also got to observe how impactful and effective UNDP is when it comes to dealing with governmental relations. UNDP’s recommendations, advices and reports are considered a standard when it comes to developmental work. One of the momentous moments was the release of ‘National Human Development Report: Sustainable Natural Resources for All’ Cambodia 2019. It was inspiring to see team efforts in getting it published in time-right from its initial study to its final designing of the report.

My background in social policy, political science and economics has helped me connect with the kind of work UNDP does. Climate change and social issues are intertwined in many ways and I had the opportunity to see how some of these issues are brought forward through innovative ways as well as by engaging the youth in the process.

Being a part of Cambodia’s culture, tradition and its’ timeless history is educational. From its magnificent Angkor temples to Kampot pepper – Cambodia and Cambodians will always have a sweet spot in my memory. This journey was worth every sweat, penny and energy I put in, and I look forward to coming back here soon.

Susadei Cambodia!

October 24, 2019 | Chloee, Master of Arts Public and International Affair, United Nations Development Programme, Junior Policy and Research Assistant

Choum reap sor! (formarly, Hello!)
I have been struggling to write my first blog, mainly because there are so many things, I want to talk about but have no idea where to start. It has been a great journey so far.

As I write, I am at the University of Battambang, in a small city, 7 hrs away from Phnom Penh, attending the 74th UN Day celebration on the theme Climate Action. As international interns are not considered UN staffs, I feel lucky to be able to attend the full-day celebration with many UN personnel and staffs from different UN Country Agencies. Different activities were planned out that aimed at connecting with youth of Cambodia and engaging them in climate action talks. I am humbled to listen to discussions among UN panellist and many young Cambodian youth ambassadors on climate change and to observe how passionate they are.

Cambodia is an inspiration among South-East Asian nations. A country that battled one of the worst genocides in the history, just 40 years ago to becoming one of the leading fast developing country in the world is so fascinating. The country’s GDP growth is over 7% (UNDP calculation). UNDP Cambodia plays a crucial role in the country’s overall development. It has been working closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia; various local/international partners; and other UN Agencies in Cambodia, to drive the country’s development goals. The country is rich in forest and natural resources. The economy thrives in agricultural produce, but it has many unlocked potentials in managing their forest and other natural resources. On this note, UNDP Cambodia’s National Human Development Report 2019, focuses on sustainable natural resource management.

I feel very privileged that I get to see the everyday working of a UN Agency. When it comes to my role as an international intern, it has been unique. First week of my internship, I was trying to figure out my role in the office as an international intern. So far, things have been very smooth. I am with the Socio-economics team, in the Policy Unit. My team is engaged in both Policy work and Programmes work, although programmes unit deals with different sets of responsibilities. However, by mid of second week, I was suddenly overwhelmed with so many tasks. There were two UN Missions lined up in my first month. I was made the focal point for coordinating and managing the mission, from organizing meetings with different Ministries of the Government to writing reports after the missions. I have also been involved in drafting policy briefs and writing reports for projects. Now, I am more confident of what I should be doing. Looking back, I am so glad that all my training in formulating policy briefs in class as well as during other internship opportunities in Canada has prepared me for this internship.

One and a half month into my internship and I have adapted very well here. The food, the streets of Phnom Penh, the rice fields in the country, reminds me of where I grew up and I dread the day I must leave this place. I look forward to more exciting experience while I am here.

10 Days

November 21, 2013 | Kaitlyn, DVM, WUSC, Cambodge, ICC University of Technology

This morning I woke up, far before my alarm, which is normal for me here. I’m not sure if it’s the temperature, how refreshed I feel, or that maybe I don’t need as much sleep as I do in Canada; perhaps it is because I look forward to the days more than I did back home.

This morning was more special than the rest. Today was the second day of the Water Festival, and although the celebrations had been cancelled due to the nationwide disastrous flooding, it was still a national holiday. In spirit of the celebration, I had travelled to the South of the country to get my water fix; I currently lay in a small wooden shack only 10 metres from the edge of an island. It is incredibly serene to listen to the waves pounding against the shore just after sunrise, but at the same time I am incredibly heartsick and torn. 10 days is all that remain of my time here. 10 days; just 10. Because most people can only afford to spend a week on vacation, I can almost hear them saying 10 days is quite a lot. But it’s not, when you’ve grown a second heart and life somewhere else. It is the end of the end and goodbyes and destruction of part of who you are remain imminent.

Cambodia has ensnared my heart, my passion and I will be leaving a large piece of my soul in this country. It’s lucky that we have forced re-integration training at the University after an internship, because I have a strong suspicion that mostly everyone would not return if it was not mandatory; such is the lifestyle, pain and reward of an internship.

I will miss everything about Cambodia; both the good and the bad. The saying that you need to experience highs and lows to appreciate both extremes personifies my sentiments exactly. Garbage in the streets, but understanding that most of it is neatly packaged so the garbage men have an easier time rounding it up demonstrates the kindness of the people. Dogs of all shapes and sizes, of mixed blood and purebreds are everywhere, but are not sold: they are taken in out of need for either a guard or more simply, because the dog needs a home. Cambodians have large, accommodating hearts that extend far beyond their own needs and they often push aside their own goals and standards if it means helping someone else.

I will miss the freshest most exotic fruits available, simply purchased by walking down the street. I will miss drinking freshly squeezed sugar cane juice out of plastic bags, that in my entire three months, have never once broken. I will miss wild tropical storms and searing dry heat. I will miss the mountains in the north, the beaches in the South, and the jungles in the East. I will regret not spending more time here and seeing more things, but relish everything that I have seen and experienced. I will safeguard the beauty, wonder and sacredness of the temples in my heart and vow to pilgrimage to them once again. I will miss the people; their smiles and children’s excited, high-pitched ‘hellos!’ because that is all they know in English. I will miss my guesthouse and the family who offers me small waves as I leave and return from work. I will miss the beautiful orange robes of the monks, the wailing of the death ceremony at the pagodas and the flamboyantly decorated outdoor wedding receptions.

One of the other interns mentioned that after this type of experience, you never really have a ‘home’ again; there is always something missing, a glimpse of somewhere else whispering in the back of your mind. She has managed to put it more eloquently than I could ever hope for.

Bayon and the Ancient Capital

November 11, 2013 | Kaitlyn, DVM, WUSC, Cambodge, ICC University of Technology

When I first began thinking about writing my second experience blog, I had had my heart dead set on detailing my impressions of Angkor Wat. I dreamt, slept, and thought constantly about the beauty, splendour, massiveness and intricacy of the monument, and I counted down the days until I could make the journey there. And when I got there, Angkor Wat was everything I had hoped it would be – a stunning, sprawling, symmetrical temple, adorned with intricate carvings depicting legends, beautiful dancing Khmer women, and Hindu Gods abound. But it also came with feelings I hadn’t anticipated – coldness, glorification and a sense of being impersonal – like my presence wasn’t acknowledged and I didn’t belong there. It felt almost like talking to someone famous or conceited; unless you have something valuable to offer them; you cease to exist and become a miniscule object without significance. Slightly jaded, I headed over to the next thing on the check box: the city-state of Angkor Thom.

Due to the overwhelming information and complexity of Angkor (the archaeological park is over 400km and hosts thousands of temples) I knew next to nothing of either Angkor Thom, or more importantly, Bayon, or that there was even a difference between the two. My interest would be piqued and I would spend hours researching this fascinating place once I returned to my hostel.

As I leisurely pedaled towards the South gate of the ancient capital, the impressive faces, 2 meters wide each, gazing down from the top of the gate, slowly came into focus. I stopped, stunned by their beauty and their smiles. I proceed to walk between the Gods on the right, and the demons on the left, all of whom pull on a giant naga, or snake, in the famous myth of The Churning of the Sea of Milk, to find the elixir of life. Restoration work, which was halted by the Khmer Rouge period, only recently began again. It is one of my life’s goals to come back in 50 years and see the difference these dedicated scientists have achieved. Already, many heads of the demons and gods, which have either disintegrated or been sold on the antique black market, have been recreated of cement.

Continuing past the entrance, I biked the 2km to the center of the city. Along the way I passed playful groups of monkeys and baboons, who eagerly and sometimes forcefully, await the tourists who want to feed them bananas. The road is quiet, peaceful, and I pass several modern pagodas and the village who calls the ancient city their home.

When I reach the next monument, I squint. It is in terrible shape and quite resembles a pile of rubbish. As I cycle closer, the intricacy of the building becomes clear and I am once again rendered breathless by the faces. Although they can be described as cold and looming, I felt nothing but peace and ease; regardless of your interpretation, they are beautiful, stunning and enigmatic.

I park my bike and walk up the alternate entrance; the principal one being under much needed restoration. The two ponds out front contain stagnant water, but beautiful pink lilies, and apparently fish, as I watch small children with huge bamboo rods and lines circle the water.

Thousands of displaced stone slabs are carefully aligned in rows off to the side of the monument. The current style of restoration works like doing a puzzle: everything is photographed, torn down, numbered, labelled and then fitted back together again, by archaeologists. Their work is based off information known about the Angkor period, namely the accounts of Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan, who visited Angkor Thom (the ancient city) for a full year in 1297. He wrote, in detail, descriptions about things too mundane to be recorded in the temples – the daily struggles of the people, common rituals and traditions, and overall, life in the city. His accounts have been immeasurable in understanding how Angkor functioned in this era, right before the empire finally fell for the last time.

Bayon begins to feel real for me: the tightness of the structure, the libraries and living chambers, the hidden secrets tuck away in the corners. All of these feelings are probably reflected by its creator, King Jayavarman VII. Unlike the creator of Angkor Wat, King Jayavarman VII came to power when Angkor was in ruins. The capital had been burned to the ground, villagers and farmed slaughtered by the Champyas (ancient Vietnam) and everywhere people were dying from starvation. King Jayavarman VII is considered the greatest King, because he put his people first, and was greatly responsible for the emergence of Cambodia. He secured a new capital, built the great city walls, designed a reservoir to combat the dry season, and fought off the Champyas, even expanding Angkor to include almost all of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Once security reigned, he built a relatively small temple, in the center, to worship a new God: Buddha. This temple was the first Buddhist structure, and King Jayavarman VII the first Buddhist King, although he praised both Hindu and Buddist Gods. One of the most influential moments of visiting Bayon was to see the great gouged holes along the walls where Buddhist carvings used to lie. Angkor briefed reverted back to Hinduism after this King and Buddhist markings were destroyed, including the 3 meter long Buddha that was at the heart and center of Bayon. Miraculously, every single piece of the Buddha was recovered and delicately restored. It now sits in a modern day Pagoda within Angkor Thom.

As I wonder around the temple, finding beautiful carvings of the great accomplishments of King Jayavarman VII, discovering faces carved into nooks and crannies wherever it is possible, I envy those people who saw not only this temple, but all the temples in their glory and full power. There are over 200 faces carved into this monument, and although there were originally 54 towers, only 37 remain standing. Despite that Bayon was built 80 years after Angkor Wat, it is in much worse shape. The two main contributors of that were: unlike Angkor Wat, it was not maintained by pilgraming devotees, and the quality of the rock itself. All rock used in temples was taken from the holy Mount Khulen; by the time King Jayavarman VII got there, only softer rock remained, and as a result, Bayon decays much faster.

The last impression of this most beautiful and welcoming place, is the origin of the faces who watch, benevolently, over you. The origin, identity and purpose of these structures are mostly unknown and hotly debated. Some say it is the depiction of King Jayavarman VII in the Buddhist God-King form of Avalokitesvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Some say there are two types of faces: Gods and demons. Regardless of who they are, I will always relish the sentiments impacted on me from this incredible place of worship by a King who saved his people and paved the way for Cambodia.

Cambodia: One Snapshot

September 24, 2013 | Kaitlyn, DVM, WUSC, Cambodge, ICC University of Technology

There are so many things I want to tell you about Cambodia, I don’t even know where to begin. Phnom Penh, the locals, the food, the way of life; I could spend hours. I’ve limited this post to what I can deem my most influential experience this far: dinner.

But ‘dinner’ is far more than dinner. It encompasses people, time, ways of life, values and traditions. It makes real everything I’ve experienced, so that in this single photo, in this single moment of time, you can experience it too.

Monday night marked exactly one week that I have been in Cambodia. It feels like a lifetime already; a lifetime I would love to repeat again and again. Monday night was the night I was invited to have dinner with my co-worker, Mr. Chephally.

Mr. Chephally is the person that everyone wants to have when they are alone; alone because they are solitary; alone because they are in a new country 1000 miles away from home; alone because the culture is different. Mr. Chephally is kind; generous; loving. Mr. Chephally has studied in the United States and understands this aloneness. He has experienced it the hard way; Americans do not go very far out of their way to make foreigners feel welcome – after a brief ‘Hello, how do you do?’, they have much more pressing things to attend to. Canadians are the same. Mr. Chephally does not want this for another person; it creates loneliness, and directly contradicts Cambodian society, where family and friendship are vital. Mr. Chephally is patient and welcoming. He laughs at your jokes. He constantly teaches you the local language and the history of Cambodia. He shows you the tourist sites, and even takes you there himself, regardless of how far it is or how much it costs. He is eager to show you the local cuisine, and takes you for lunch to a different restaurant every day. He checks in on how your work is going, how you are feeling, and makes sure you don’t have any problems. Mr. Chephally is equal parts Father, Mother, guardian, friend, co-worker and supervisor. He is the person that everyone needs, especially in turbulent times. He has invited me to play ping-pong and have dinner at his house tonight.

It is unfortunate at this time that my expectations for dinner are reflective of my training as a young woman; broadcasting the idea that going alone to a male stranger’s house is never safe. I am careful to take pre-cautions, even though Mr. Chephally deserves better than my unfounded but deeply rooted suspicions and fears. Of course they are unrealistic, but being safe is an integral part of how Western society has taught me to think.

He goes home early to prepare. A moto is sent for me, even though it is only a block away and I could easily walk. I am dropped off, to my surprise, not at his house, but at his neighbours. He is enthusiastically playing ping-pong with his friend. He eagerly stops and introduces me to everyone: his friend and the entire neighbourhood; at least 5 households. We play ping-pong and I quickly tire due to the humidity. He takes pity on me and sits me down until dinner is ready. He pulls out a bottle of wine; he has gone out and gotten it because he knows I prefer it over beer, even though that’s what he and his friends drink. His neighbour is cooking dinner and he reminds her that I do not handle spicy food well, so please take care to not put too much chilli in it.

As we sit and drink, we wait for his friends to come. I ask him how many are coming. He says he doesn’t know, just whoever shows up. I find this interesting and different from Canadian society. He stops to talk to many people who come through the neighbourhood; would they like to join us for dinner? Dinner invitations here are very casual, and do not need to be texted, emailed or planned. The reason he does not know how many people are coming for dinner is because he does not know how many friends he will see tonight, and how many are busy already. Two people decline and in the next 30 minutes our table fills to 5. I am grateful for their company as I am not yet comfortable being alone with him, lest people get the wrong impression, or I do something very impolite.

As his friends drift in, one by one, they make an effort to include me. I am asked every single time how I like Cambodia, and I tell them it is a beautiful country, the people are very nice and I enjoy my work. They are pleased. After this customary question period, the courtesies are over and they began to joke with me and include me in their friendships. I receive multiple offers to tour guides (even though only Mr. Chephally really speaks English), invitations for future dinners and joking pokes about being Mr. Chephally’s Canadian girlfriend. They are curious to know more about me, and keep refilling my wine glass without asking. They listen attentively, and I am surprisingly pleased with their attention, which I normally shy away from. They notice me smiling at the neighbour’s 2 year old daughter and her Mother happily brings her over so I can hold her. I am pleasantly surprised by her trust and am grateful for her actions. They ask if I have a partner back home, if I want children, when, how many and how soon. I have no real answers for them but tell them that hopefully it’ll all work out.

After this, the conversation turns mostly into Khmer, so I take the next 45 minutes to observe my surroundings. The neighbourhood is average and most people here has moderate incomes. His friends at the table include: a butcher, a government worker, a shop owner and another teacher. The buildings around us are standard, and there is a lack of garbage in the streets. I see small children playing and I worry they will run into the street and be struck by a moto that is going too fast. Small vendors have opened up during the evening and now sell fresh vegetables and meals to go. The temperature is warm and humid, but nice. Laughter erupts from our table frequently and Mr. Chephally translates the jokes for me. There is a tv behind the ping-pong table which plays Cambodian soap operas, the news, and then, to my utter disbelief and horror, Adventure Time with Finn and Jake. The night gets darker and the humidity dissipates a little bit with light rain. I watch in stunned silence as a rat the size of a cat sneaks past the opposite, closed shop door.

As the night draws to a close, I am many things: happy, full, entertained, tipsy, grateful, and most of all, welcomed. I thank Mr. Chephally and his friends for their politeness, patience and friendship. They encourage me to come again. The neighbour’s son gives me a lift back to the University, and I quickly fall asleep, so ecstatic with this country, and the people, that I even let a baby tarantula live; that is, until the morning when I remember it and scramble out of bed in horror to try and find it.

From Intern to Graduate

August 28, 2013 | Julia, DVM, WUSC, Cambodge, IIC University of Technology

When I first found out about the international internship program I thought that there was no better way to finish my final semester at U of O, I was right. This internship has been a whirlwind, its been a lot of challenges, victories, defeats, and a general self discovery. Having been back 3 weeks I realize just how important this experience was for me, with my graduation fast approaching the experience that I got from my trip to Cambodia is as important as all my mandatory credits if not more. What I wanted out of this experience is to be immersed in a culture and to try my hand at development, on the ground, and in a completely new setting. What I get back is so much more than that. Cambodia has been a phenomenal experience that has allowed me to find my own boundaries, and has given me a perspective on what kind of work I hope to be doing in the future. I have met some truly unbelievable people, have gotten to see an unfathomably stunning country and culture to which I hope to return in the future as an expat. Having had time to reflect on my experience I know that it has been one of a kind. I have been truly blessed to have participated in this program and will transfer my newfound knowledge into my day to day life as well as my future career aspirations.

Mid Internship Progress Report

July 17, 2013 | Julia, DVM, WUSC, Cambodge, IIC University of Technology

Having completed over half of my internship I am pleased to report that my experience has only been getting better since my arrival. After the initial confusion and the back and forth trying to figure out where my place as an intern was with time it became apparent that trust was built with time. I began working right away on small projects such as the handbook, and teaching my own class 5 days a week and am now working on capacity building workshops for staff, as well as developing and aiding in course amendment for the following term. It would appear that while at the beginning of my internship I was looking for things to do at this point I am looking for a way to do all the work that I’ve taken on. My position here at IIC University seems more established and I finally feel like my contribution here is worthwhile.

The thing that I find most satisfying however is the personal relationships that I have cultivated with many of the staff here, it makes work far more enjoyable. Also I’ve grown to really care about all my students and really hope that the speaking club that I’ve worked hard to incorporate into the academic scene here continues as I believe there is still much work to be done in regard to both equal gender participation and language development. How much I love teaching really struck me as it had never really been something I considered in the past as a potential career path, now however its my favourite part of the day.

They say Cambodia is the land of 1,000 smiles, and I really do believe that. My colleagues and students have welcomed me with open arms, and leaving them and Cambodia will be a great challenge.

ជំរាបសួរ (Chomreabsuor)

June 4, 2013 | Julia, DVM, WUSC, Cambodge, IIC University of Technology


One international internship: check!

April 7, 2011 | Erica, DVM Program, Intern, Cambodia, The Center of Foreigh Languages (Generail English Program), IIC university of Technology, Rector's Assistant

Three months have passed and a lot of work has been done, however, I’m left with both a feeling of accomplishment and of unfinished business.

I was fortunate to be able to work in a developing country and see the result of change within three months. By bringing more opportunities to students, such as an English speaking club, a language lab, and increasing the accountability of their teachers, I’ve changed (if not improved) what the university can provide to students. I may have introduced the initial phases of these projects but I continue to think of what more there is to do. I contemplate the larger context and think of how, perhaps, nothing had really changed at all. Although I did my best, managing this negative thoughts is a challenge.

If I could do anything different, I would have requested for more explanation about how the university functioned. I spent too much time trying to figure things out on my own and even after asking multiple questions or overcoming the language barrier, I didn’t get straight answers. There were many instances where I felt that others wanted me to do something for them rather than work with me, even though I knew less than them. Very few people tried to understand my situation as a foreign intern who did not know or understand how the university worked. I was only a mediator, a person to facilitate action with the knowledge that they had. Although I had difficulties managing my own work ethic in a different cultural setting, I did my job with the prime intention of increasing the quality of education for the students, and that’s the most I could do.

On a more positive note, the experience was one of a kind. Even with all the problems I encountered, it was all part of the learning process. I wouldn’t understand about institution building in a developing country without the obstacles and frustrations. In the end, I was able to contribute my effort and ideas to the university. I focused on sharing critical thinking skills and passing these skills onto others. I incorporated it into my teaching - showing students a different way to learn -, specifically shared it with the assistant of the GEP office - who learned very well ob her own from watching and listening to me  -, and explained my reasoning to the other staff members I worked with.

I continued to learn about the education system in Cambodia while trying to understand how the univeristy I worked at fit into that broader structure. I recognized the desire to break away from the structural problems, and the clear inability to do so without income, opportunity, government aid… the list goes on. It was difficult to see myself  - my expectations, my opportunities, my wealth - within this setting. But I made a few friends who conversed with me, taught me more and listened to me. I taught them in return, and they were happy for me to be there.

After three months, I understand the culture to a depth I wouldn’t have thought possible before. I’ve become familiar with the people’s ways of living and thinking, all to a certain extent of course. I can at least say that I know how  some Cambodians think about their lives and the world, even if this comes from a biased perspective of the higher educated and urban community. It’s been incredibly insightful to hear how the youth analyze and critique their own country, living standards and culture in comparison to others. The country is clearly still defining itself  from the recent (and present) traumas of war, genocide and poverty. A process of change is occurring.

I will always remember Cambodia as it today and although I’m sad it won’t be the same when I return again, I’ve experienced something wonderful to watch the country transform itself for a brighter future.

floating village in Cambodia

April 5, 2011 | Emily, DVM Program, Intern, Cambodia Fishery Action Coalition Team

Hello Everyone,

Since this past week I spent in Kbal Toal village, I thought it was a good time to post a blog. It was an incredible experience. I am working for an organization FACT (fisheries action coalition team). A main component of the organization is doing research in rural fishing communities. For this particular research project I assisted Puthea, with his research. We left Phnom Penh early in the morning for the long voyage ahead. First we took a bus to Siem Reap, and then from there took a boat across the Tonle Sap Lake until we reached the village. We loaded onto the fishing boat that was dropping off the fish supply being sold to the market.  

Once we arrived we were greeted by many community members and sat to join in on drinks and freshly grilled fish. We continued drinking and eating and Karaoke and traditional dancing began. Everyone was very excited and joined in, so I followed along and couldn’t sing the karaoke, because it was all in Khmer Language; however I learned several traditional dance moves. As it became late, the man slowly started to head home, they went to their boats and paddled home for the evening.

We rolled out the traditional mats and hung up mosquito nets (which were well needed, as there were so many bugs, we were being eaten alive) and fell asleep to the soft movements of the house rocking back and forth in the water. Before I went to bed, I took a moment, all the generators had been turned off, and I went to the edge of the house, and dipped my feet in the water, tried to take it all in, the bright glowing moon, and cool but refreshing water and how this was the life for so many people in Cambodia, living on the water. For me is was exciting and new, but for the people living there, life is very hard, and they are so dependent on the fish, any change in the system will have huge impacts on their lives.

The week I spent in Kbal Toal village, as well as the other villages I visited while in Cambodia were worth every minute of it, as 80% of Cambodian people live outside the city thus until you have been to a village, you have not truly experienced Cambodia.