Special report from Cambodia, January 16, 2004

Ben in Cambodia's jungle village

I’m always impressed when I find people truly dedicated to making a difference in this world. The Japan Relief for Cambodia (American Assistance of Cambodia) is such an organization. I met with 3 professional, creative, and impressive members of their staff in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Sing Seda, Prak Samnang and Meng Dy spend every hour of every day of their lives using their skills to help the poor rural families of Cambodia. Their philosophy is to train them to find new ways to find financial security. This staff is skilled enough to run successful businesses, yet they devote their energy to helping others.

Rural areas of Cambodia have been guided in creation of new “traditional” industries, such as hand made papers, creating everything from diaries, gift sacks, to paper purses are the result. They are beautiful, and each one creates a job and feeds a family. The Foundation has helped re-create the silk industry, from worm to weaving, it is creating jobs in 5 villages, and the pure hand woven silk scarves are absolutely stunning.

They have built 220 schools, and are providing computers in the most primitive areas. To solve the problem of no phone lines they dreamed up a telecommunications miracle. They have a fleet of small motorcycles, with transmission antennas that drive into jungle areas that even jeeps cannot penetrate. These motorcycles “surround” an area, and thus provide wireless internet…to children that otherwise have hardly ever seen or used a telephone…now they are connected to the world. What creativity and service to humanity this group provides. Bernie Krisher, from Japan, has devoted much of his life to making this foundation possible. Write him for more information: (


Ask any Cambodian, and he will tell you that it is a difficult place, poor, with life a daily struggle. But, the Cambodia of 2004 is much improved to the Cambodia of 10 years ago when I first visited the nation for the World Bank. The airport is now modern, the young people full of hope and enthusiasm. Phnom Penh is a city that is slowly building modern infrastructure. Age old social ills such as the child sex trade are being weeded out by the government. January 16th a Vietnamese brothel owner Nguyen Thi Lang “Mamasan Lang’ was sentenced to 20 years for prostituting 10 and 12 year old girls.

When an outbreak of bird flue hit Vietnam and Sars re-emerged in China this week, Cambodia quickly implemented public health safeguards, travel and import inspections. And while neighboring Burma still struggles with rebels (the Karen National Movement), Cambodia is a peaceful nation. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge have been put to rest. The Cambodian people simply want to move forward, and live in peace.

Hun Sen, (the Prime Minister) is slowly developing trade with other nations and just announced a trip to China to invite the Chinese to Cambodia as a tourist destination.

But, by every measure, Cambodia is still a “Kingdom” that has a long way to go. King Noradum Sihanouk is loved and respected here. His web site has 2000 hits a day, as he writes poetry and tells stories about Cambodia’s past glories. He even writes about the beauty of Cambodian women, and constantly encourages his people.

This is a land of beautiful people, resolute in their determination to climb up the economic ladder. If you come to Cambodia, you will find friendly people, who appreciate every kindness, and a land of remarkable historic beauty.