Erenlai - 按日期過濾項目: 週四, 21 五 2009
週五, 22 五 2009 03:16

Woman on a mission

I called Sister Denise Coghlan the day I arrived in Phnom Penh. I had heard about her engaging work in banning landmines from Fr. Jerry Martinson and was determined to meet this extraordinary woman who has spent the last two decades of her life in Cambodia. She invited me for dinner on a Thursday night, whereby I found myself in the midst of a private farewell party for one of the priest-to-bes. It was not until our second meeting together that I was able to get down to ask her all my questions.

Denise Coghlan is a sister of mercy from Australia. She was working in Thai Refugee Camps with the Jesuit Refugee Service before their decision to separate the crew to focus on other fractions of the civil war. It was decided that some would stay in the refugee camp and be faithful to the refugees till the end, some would work completely outside and work in advocacy with the Buddhist monks for Peace and towards the Paris Peace Talks, and another small group would instead start a small project in Cambodia.

She arrived in 1990 and began with rural development projects for the poor and people with disabilities who were the ones who most symbolised what has cause the war and the exile before. Denise became intimately involved with those injured from landmines whilst working in the refugee camps on coordinating educational services, and became one of the four pioneers in Cambodia for their organisation.

Her line of work at the moment is large and mostly based around development and poverty alleviation, particularly those in post-conflict and in the areas affected by the mines. Earlier on, Denise and some of the JSC crew were working on getting a ban on landmines and the latter years, the cluster bombs. With other JS staff, she was part of a network of non-government organisations and individuals that led to more than 100 countries signing the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, banning the use, stockpiling and transfer of landmines.

"But once you get the ban, that is not finished. For some people, it could be finished, but when you work in a country where so many have been afflicted, you still need to work on having the mines cleared, cluster bombs removed, and the people that have been afflicted, assisted and supported."

When asked about what she was happiest about in doing what she does in Cambodia, she replies that it would be the fact that her co-worker from the Campaign to Ban Landmines had received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Denise is on the advisory board of the International Campaign, which continues to advocate for funding for survivor assistance, mine clearance and monitoring of international law.

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週五, 22 五 2009 02:01

Peace in Cambodia

Francois Ponchaud reveals a dark side to Cambodia’s current governance.

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週五, 22 五 2009 01:28

Rumour and prevention

Last week, the Internet showed again its formidable rapidity: on Sunday night (May 19 2009), a prolonged but moderate earthquake shook the area of Los Angeles. Almost instantaneously, people started to flood Twitter with messages and the news of the earthquake was coursing through the world of microblogging long before the Internet press published the information. Rumours on the Internet can spread like pandemics and the way to control their nuisance could be equally employed to prevent pandemics.

As the main task of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is to be a worldwide health monitor, teams of the organization also dedicate themselves to track down the rumours of illnesses on the Internet in order to analyse them and evaluate the risks of pandemics. Nevertheless, the evolution of any flu virus is totally unpredictable, which makes it very difficult to foresee its extent of danger. In the case of the “swine flu”, the WHO has been very careful to prevent a repetition of the panic effect produced during the SARS epidemic. This time round, they have been more watchful with the terms used during informative campaigns. Recently, I heard on the radio a doctor working at the WHO insisting on the fact that the correct name of the flu is “A/H1N1 influenza”. Beyond what could seem to be an excess of pretentiousness, it is indeed important not to encourage false associations of ideas which could create paranoia and generate disastrous consequences such as the recent mass slaughtering of pigs in Egypt. Furthermore, the expression “swine flu” is inappropriate: despite its swine origin, the virus has not been yet isolated on animals and is only transmitted between humans. ’The Mexican flu’ or ’the North American flu” are different names used to define the A/H1N1 flu and they show how difficult it is to apprehend the pandemic, Le Monde even pinned the term “grey flu” (“grippe grise”) to underline the uncertainty experienced by organizations and States when it comes to taking decisions and measuring their efficiency.

The recent outbreak of A/H1N1 flu in Japan has caused the government to take special measures such as closing down more than 4000 schools while health officials called for calm, stressing that the virus had not caused any deaths in Japan and that most cases were relatively mild.
Outside of the South of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, lies a mountain of waste that has provided the livelihood of many people- mostly children, who scavenge for anything of possible value that is otherwise classified as rubbish for us. The infamous Steung Meanchey landfill may not be poverty at its third-world worst, but it is a site of extreme human misery, of methane fires, drudgery, starvation and even death.

People scavenge at each waste disposal, working till late for a good day’s pay of 1.50 USD, just enough to get by and not enough to alter one’s own circumstances. It is at this site that Mech Sokha, a Cambodian man who was himself orphaned after the Khmer Rouge regime, has rescued over a hundred children whom were either orphaned or whose parents were financially unable to care for them. The children whom were lucky enough to have been rescued by Sokha, now find themselves in the safe haven of CCH- the Centre for Children’s Happiness.

I set out on a relatively sunny day to CCH and returned drenched in rain. I was blissfully unaware of it as I had after all, the pleasure of spending an afternoon with marvellous Cambodian children and made the acquaintance of a man whose heart was big enough to subdue the odours of the garbage dumps. It was not difficult to recognise Mech Sokha on our first meeting for he had an ageless quality about him, and looked as he did about five years ago on their official website. He smiles quietly as I introduced myself, surrounded by three or four smiling adolescents. There was a very warm and fatherly quality about Sokha and I could not imagine him in any other setting than here in this orphanage.

The orphanage itself consists of one large building with a courtyard and a dining area in the middle on the ground floor, flanked by boys’ and girls’ rooms. On the second floor, there is one large room, which is both classroom and library. In front and along one side, there is a garden. In the back, there is a kitchen, a water tower and a place to wash clothes. The standard of living is not what I’d be accustomed to, but then again my misfortunes pales in comparison. There is a sense of warmth in the centre and it radiates from the children, Mr. Sokha and the working staff, enough to make one wonder- just how does one do this? From garbage-picking at the Steung Meanchey landfill to the comfort of the orphanage, it is hard to imagine a present and future so full of promise for the children.
Take a tour of the Centre for Children’s Happiness (CCH) with two exceptional members of CCH, Pho Phaneth and Huot Ravuth, young men striving to provide a better place for their family and friends and clearly on the way to a promising future. At grade 11 Ravuth drives the CCH van with ease and is in charge of the twenty-over boys in the building CCH II. Phaneth is now working as an administrator at CCH, whilst studying at a local university. The "no-use" building that the boys refer to in the video operates on donations and will be completed by December 2009.

Since its foundation in November 2002, Sokha started with only 16 children and houses up to 109 today. They now possess a total of three building, one for the girls, the other for the boys and one that is under construction funded by the donations. It is said that the construction should be finished by December. I have never seen such enormous progress in terms of architecture and education for the children, and over the span of seven years. Through the funds raised by their prominent donors known as Friends of CCH from countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Belgium and England, there are now more materials and staff available, not to mention education. Computing and Sewing is taught at CCH, and a few of the older girls are sent to a local NGO to get additional lessons in tailoring. It is not realistic for all the children to complete a formal academic education and Sokha believes they should also invest in skills with which they can eventually earn a living.

The children at CCH call Mech Sokha ’Papa Sokha’ for a reason, he has been the children’s main source of parental attention for the last seven years. When he is not in Phnom Penh and working with the children, he is overseas raising money with Friends of CCH. Ravuth, currently the head of the boys dormitory tells me with love and concern in his eyes that " Papa Sokha is tired, he works too much..." We studied Sokha from afar and I had to agree.

It had not occurred to me that Sokha was only human, and needed more than a couple of helping hands to run an orphanage of so many children. He is however, not alone in taking in Cambodian children in precarious situations, orphanages such as the Lighthouse Orphanage and the French ’Pour un sourire d’enfant’ are all dedicated to caring for the many children in need.
Peacemaking is a gift that is bestowed on many, but only a few has had the strength to take it upon their shoulders. Mech Sokha is one of them.

The Centre for Children's Happiness website: 
In the following video, Alice tells us about her experience at CCH, Phnom Pehn, in December 2009.
On another one of the wet afternoons in the city of Phnom Penh, I met up with Van Kamol, now the technical advisor at the Psychosocial Services Organization (PSO) to talk about his projects in the medical field that concerns the two of the most vulnerable people in Cambodia- the HIV-infected and children.

From 2005 to the end of 2008, Kamol conducted a project to help children infected with HIV, usually acquired through birth from HIV-positive parents.
These children immigrated along with their parents from the provinces to Phnom Penh because their parents were often discriminated at work and in the communities. Upon moving to Phnom Penh, these parents work as moto-taxi drivers, in garment factories or in farm labour. With little time to care for their children, the children are often left to their own devices and without proper nursery education. The main aim of their project, apart from taking care of the children during the day, was also to educate the children and provide them with the necessary documents to proceed to primary school.





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