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Saturday, November 17, 2007


Education: who pays?

A recent issue of the Phnom Penh Post tells of a report released by NGO Education Partnership (NEP). This confirmed what I had heard from friends here in Kompong Chhnang.

There is no such thing as free education in Cambodia. According to the report it costs a family $108.20 to send one child to school each year. I can hear Australian parents saying 'Yeah? We pay way more than that for additional school expenses.' But for an Australian parent, in the lower income bracket earning say $25,000 per year, that $108.20 is only 0.4328% of your annual income and you are paying for extras. The Cambodian parent pays this money for the child to attend school. The type of extras we are used to in Australia don't exist in Cambodia. And $108.20 is 8.7% of average annual family income. Multiply that by however-many kids in the family and you soon figure that it is impossible for many Cambodian families to send their children to school.

One parent reported that they are required to pay the teachers for different sessions during the day. Fees are 300 riel for formal class 7 - 11 am; 500 riel for extra class 11 - 12; and $10 per month for an extra special class in the afternoon. Students who do not attend the extra classes can expect to fail their examinations as key information is kept for the extra classes.

The fees are to supplement the teachers' meagre income. Many earn less than workers in a garment factory with salaries of $30 or $40 per month. They often wait for their salary to arrive late, if at all.

I don't know the solution to this problem. It seems like a chicken and egg situation to me. Without an education what chance do Cambodian people have of earning good money? If incomes are low there are little or no taxes to support the funding of quality education.

* * *

After writing this my mind ticked over a little more and I came up with an idea. Many charities run programs that allow people in Australia and other developed countries to sponsor a child in countries such as Cambodia. Perhaps these charities could consider the concept of sponsor a teacher. Paying the teacher has become part of Cambodian culture (along with paying other government workers for services rendered). To create a new culture the need to pay the teacher should be taken away. If teachers were given a decent wage—thanks to the charities and donors in developed countries—then Cambodian families would get used to sending their kids to school even when they have no money. In time the culture of paying the teacher would fall away.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007


My new home

Today I moved into a house where I hope to spend some time—not sure how long. It's not my habit to stay long anywhere but let's see what develops. I have made some sort of commitment, I've paid three months rent in advance. But then, three months rent in Kompong Chhnang is roughly equal to what I might pay for one week in Brisbane at the lower end of the market.

This is a little smaller than the house I had in the next village last year. I am no longer surrounded by a permaculture forest. Hopefully this also means I'll have fewer mosquitos. This village is closer to the centre of town which makes for less exercise getting to and from the market. I'm also closer to some of my friends and my Khmer language teacher.

I've taken no photos yet. Not sure when I will because I have to go to Phnom Penh soon to renew my visa. Watch this space. Perhaps I'll add little snippets on the house over time that will build into a bigger picture.

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Monday, November 05, 2007



In Cambodia there are two English language newspapers. The Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post which comes out fortnightly. The Daily runs a lot of international news usually sourced from major American newspapers. The Post runs only news that relates directly to Cambodia. It gives a good overview of life in this country. I found it useful for catching up with what has been happening while I've been away.

There is a royalist political party here named Funcipec. This party has chosen Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey, youngest daughter of the King Father (the retired King Sihanouk), as its candidate for Prime Minister in next year's national election.

The party's secretary general stated three reasons for choosing the princess as a candidate: to encourage women into politics; she has never had any experience regarding corruption or nepotism; she is the daughter of the King Father.

I'm not questioning whether the princess is a worthwhile candidate. However, unless something has been lost in the translation, there seems to be a contradiction here.

I love language and I love computers. I love computers because I can carry around three sizeable dictionaries quite easily. Imagine putting three large dictionaries in a backpack while travelling from country to country. I reckon I'd soon get tired of it. But I have three dictionaries and an encyclopedia on my hard disk and the whole thing weighs about 2.4 kilos.

I'm not so smart that I think I know exactly what every word means. But when I read about the princess' appointment, I felt there was a contradiction. Isn't 'nepotism' something to do with appointing relatives to important positions? So if she is chosen because she is the daughter of the King Father, isn't that nepotism?

The Oxford American Dictionary that came free with my Mac gives the definition of 'nepotism' as 'the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, esp. by giving them jobs.'

I must digress here because one of the things I like about a good dictionary is that if there is a juicy story about the origin of a word they tell it. Apparently 'nepotism' comes from the Italian word for 'nephew' and refers to privileges bestowed on the 'nephews' of popes, who were in many cases their illegitimate sons.

The president of Funcipec, who just happens to be the husband of the princess, stated that the party spent a year making reforms such as eliminating nepotism and corruption. Let's hope they have a better understanding of the meaning of the word 'corruption' than they appear to have of 'nepotism'.

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Friday, November 02, 2007


Dirty trousers

A few days ago I needed to go to Phnom Penh. When I was last at the bus station I checked on the times the buses were scheduled to leave. Even though I knew they didn't leave exactly to schedule I figured it would give me a chance of catching one without waiting too long.

I chose to take the 7.45 am bus. My guesthouse is on the highway only a few minutes drive from the bus station so I went outside to wait at 7.45. At 8.00 am, someone gave me a chair to sit on. At about 8.40 a friend came along in his car. My friend is moderately wealthy. His car is a 15+ year old Camry. To own such a car as this in Cambodia indicates some level of wealth. He needed to go to Phnom Penh for a job interview and told me he would be glad to have some company for the journey. We left at about 8.45 and the bus still hadn't shown.

My friend was applying for a well-paid (by Cambodian standards) job as an interpreter with a local NGO. He'd been through the initial interviews, had passed the medical and now had to meet the CEO who happens to be an Australian. Get through this one and he was in.

We chatted as we headed along the highway. As I looked over to him I noticed that he had put on a good clean shirt, had on his best shoes, but his trousers, they were a fairly casual style and looked like they needed to be put into the washing machine. Yes, unlike most Cambodians my friend does have a washing machine. It is very old and barely works but he has one. He should have used it on these trousers. I was amazed. How did he expect to impress the CEO wearing these pants? I thought about saying something but decided that all that would do was make him feel uneasy.

When he dropped me off we arranged that I would call him when I was ready to return, to see just where he was. It was a little after 3 pm when I called. 'Where are you?' I asked.

'I'm in Kompong Chhnang. They want me to come back to Phnom Penh so I can start tomorrow.'

WOW! He got the job despite his trousers. Or perhaps in Cambodia it is just not important. Good luck to him.

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