During my travels around Cambodia, I have had the pleasure of meeting many Peace Corps Volunteers. These Americans serve for two years as English teachers, teacher trainers, and community health education workers throughout Cambodia. When I visit Volunteers in their villages, it is inspiring to see the kind of grassroots cooperation and relationship building that is the cornerstone of peace and understanding. In addition to their work in education and health, the Volunteers lead self-esteem building and leadership camps for girls and boys, health fairs, art and music clubs, English conversation classes, community gardening, library development projects, waste management, and recycling efforts.
Last week, the Peace Corps program in Cambodia celebrated the completion of service for 50 of its 105 Volunteers. This group of Volunteers began their work in Cambodia after they arrived in the summer of 2011. The Volunteers went through intensive training focused on transferring technical and cross-cultural skills and learning the Khmer language. They studied with a Khmer teacher four to five hours a day and practiced with their host families. At the end of training, the volunteers were placed throughout 15 provinces in rural health centers, high schools, and teacher training centers, where they worked alongside their Cambodian colleagues and lived with host families. For nearly two years, the Volunteers participated in the daily lives of the people in their communities. As they prepare to leave Cambodia, many of the Volunteers expressed how much they would miss the relationships and friendships they had formed with Cambodians.
Founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the United States Peace Corps has three goals: 1) to provide technical assistance to requesting countries; 2) to teach the people of the host country about America and Americans; and 3) to teach Americans about the host country and its people. Since its inception, over 210,000 Americans have served in 139 countries, with Cambodia being one of the newest programs in the world. The first Volunteers arrived in Cambodia in 2007 and over 350 Americans have served here. Our Volunteers are now poised for their next big adventure – to return home to the United States and share their stories and experiences of Cambodia with their fellow Americans.
Have you met one of our Peace Corps Volunteers in Cambodia? How would you describe your experience? Please do share. Thank you.
During my cup of coffee this morning, I was reminded about a response to my Coffee Anyone? blog. Becky posted a comment about Three Corner Coffee Roaster, a Cambodian company that roasts coffee beans right here in Phnom Penh. This prompted me to conduct some research about the state of Cambodian grown and produced coffee.
I learned that coffee is grown in northeastern Cambodia, primarily in Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri provinces.
Coffee production in Cambodia has risen from only 18 tons in 2009 to more than 2,370 tons in 2011. That is an incredible increase in a short period of time!
Despite the increase in coffee production in Cambodia and the growing café culture in Phnom Penh, many people are not aware of how freshly roasted Cambodian coffee is supposed to taste like. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Joshua Jones, general manager at Three Corner Coffee Roaster. He explained that Cambodians have been roasting coffee since it was first introduced by the French during the late 1800’s. Originally, this roast was a bit bold and bitter for the palettes of Cambodians so roasters added tinned butter, animal fat, and alcohol to make the taste smoother. Today, major Cambodian roasters roast coffee in the same manner with additives like soybeans, corn, and chicory. This is the most authentic style of Cambodian roasted coffee.
I learned that Three Corner Coffee Roaster is the only commercial roaster of 100 percent Cambodian coffee to attain international standards of roasting.
Through its efforts, Three Corner Coffee Roaster is raising awareness among Cambodians on quality roasted coffee and promoting Cambodian grown coffee for export to coffee drinking countries around the world. The domestic and international demand for Cambodian grown coffee will help stimulate the industry’s growth, give coffee farmers a decent livelihood, and create more jobs and opportunities for the Cambodian people.
What are your impressions of authentic Cambodian coffee? I’d love to read your comments.
In my travels around the country, I have observed that Cambodia has a very sports-friendly environment. I see the excitement in young people playing soccer, tennis, rugby, and volleyball. As a basketball fan, I was happy to learn about the upcoming launch of the Cambodia Basketball League on June 1. The new basketball season in Cambodia follows the success of the Cambodia Basketball Challenge last year.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the National Basketball Association (NBA) just wrapped up its regular season. The post season, or playoffs, began on April 20 for the 16 teams with the best records. Teams are ranked one to eight in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. The NBA playoffs are different from the March Madness tournament in that instead of a single-game elimination tournament, each round is a best-of-seven elimination tournament that will decide the NBA champion.
Last year’s NBA champion, the Miami Heat, is favored to win again. The Heat wrapped up the season with the best record while going on an impressive 27-game winning streak, the second longest in NBA history. With the best record comes the benefit of playing the majority of games at home (“home court advantage”) as long as the team remains in the playoffs.
I am a big fan of my hometown Boston Celtics, the franchise that has won the most NBA championships with 17 titles. Even though the Celtics were eliminated last week by the New York Knicks, the team showed tremendous pride to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to force a game 6. After the Boston Marathon bombings, the professional sports teams in the city became a source of pride for Bostonians to rally around. And the Celtics certainly demonstrated what it means to be “Boston Strong.”
Are any of you basketball fans? If so, I would love for you tell me about your favorite NBA team, and maybe I’ll see you at one of the Cambodia Basketball League games this year.
Pets are an important part of many American households. In fact, a recent poll found that approximately 85 percent of American pet owners considered their pets to be “part of the family,” with half saying their pet was as much a part of the family as any other person in the household!
I’m a pet lover myself, and my family has had a dog for nearly as long as I can remember. That is why I am often struck by the number of stray cats and dogs that I see when walking around Phnom Penh or traveling around the countryside. Someone once told me that there is about one dog per every three people in Cambodia. I don’t think that’s true, but if it is, that’s a lot of dogs. And while many of them are pets, sadly many are abandoned or stray animals.
I remember when my family got its first dog. She was a black Labrador Retriever (or “lab” for short) that we adopted from the local animal shelter. Her name was Lady, and she had been abandoned by her owners. After she passed away, we went on to adopt other labs, including a yellow lab named Honey, and our current dog Bear, a chocolate lab that just turned 15. In addition to our labs, my wife professionally trained our Doberman named Jack. Over the years, each of these dogs have been important members of our family.
Like mine, many families at the Embassy also have a cat or dog that they’ve rescued from an animal shelter in the United States or adopted from the streets of a foreign country that they’ve lived in, some even here in Phnom Penh. I’m happy to know that there are also people and organizations in Cambodia, like the Phnom Penh Animal Welfare Society, who are working to find permanent homes for animals and to decrease the number of strays in our cities and towns.
The high number of strays is a serious concern because of the diseases they can carry when not taken care of. About 800 people died from rabies in Cambodia in 2011, and more than 20,000 people – many of them young children – needed anti-rabies shots last year from the Rabies Prevention Center in Phnom Penh. Almost all of the cases of rabies were the result of being bitten by a stray dog. Last year, the U.S. government participated in the first public campaign against rabies, helping to vaccinate more than 2,000 dogs in Takeo province, but much more needs to be done to reach the goal of eliminating rabies in Asia by 2020.
Pets are a wonderful addition to a family, and if you have the means to provide a “forever home” to a deserving animal, I encourage you to consider rescuing one from an animal shelter. Just like children, however, they need to be protected and well taken care of. There are some really good veterinarians in Phnom Penh who can make sure they get their health check-ups and all the shots they need.
I’d love to hear stories about your pets and whether or not you’ve ever rescued a pet from a shelter. Please leave me a comment with your story.
Earlier this week, I traveled to Prey Veng province for the first time. One of my goals as U.S. Ambassador is to visit each province in Cambodia at least once to get to know Cambodia’s diverse population. The purpose of my visit to Prey Veng was to inaugurate new facilities constructed by the U.S. government at Preah Ang Duong High School.
USAID built the original high school back in the 1950s, but it suffered major damage during the years of Cambodia’s civil unrest. The newly constructed school buildings – which include 18 classrooms, modern restrooms, a water well, a kitchen, and basketball and volleyball courts – represent the largest-ever U.S. humanitarian investment in Cambodia at approximately $700,000. This project is a symbol of the U.S. commitment to the people of Cambodia and the power of education to transform the lives of its youth.
At the ceremony, I joined the Minister of Education, H.E. Im Sethy, in talking to more than 1,200 excited high school students brimming with promise. Both the Education Minister and I agree that the future of Cambodia lies in its youth, and the best way to empower them is through a solid education. When young people receive a good education, they not only become informed, but they also gain the confidence to be successful in life. For Cambodia, this means teaching its young people to be the next generation of leaders and problem solvers in finding ways to create higher-paying jobs, increase prosperity, and assure Cambodia’s continued development. I firmly believe that the U.S.-funded facilities at Preah Ang Duong High School are a wise investment in Cambodia’s future.
I had a wonderful time at Preah Ang Duong High School talking with the children and teachers. I look forward to returning to Prey Veng soon to try some of its famous lobster. If you’re from Prey Veng, please leave a comment and let me know what restaurant there has the most delicious lobster and where else in the province I should visit.
As we celebrate Earth Day this week, I would like to tell you about my trip last week to the Cardamom Mountains, which was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy some of Cambodia’s rich natural heritage. I also saw firsthand the terrible impact that deforestation from land concessions has on the environment and on the lives of people who depend on the forest for their livelihoods. Wildlife Alliance, a leading environmental conservation NGO in Cambodia and my host for the trip, showed me its efforts to protect the Cardamoms from overdevelopment and enhance the lives of people living in the area.
First, I met with a group of Cambodian forest rangers at the Sre Ambel forest ranger station. Together with Wildlife Alliance, they formed the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team to combat illegal logging and animal trade in the region. They had some amazing stories to tell, like the time when they conducted a midnight river operation to interrupt the smuggling of tons of precious wood on two boats and one of the boats sank, with the cargo having to be retrieved later from the bottom of the river. These forest patrols have reduced deforestation by stopping illegal logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, land grabbing, and other unsustainable development.
In Chi Phat, I stopped at an ecotourism project with a visitor center, restaurant, tourism booking office, rental equipment, forest trails, and overnight accommodation. This project, run by a committee of villagers, provides jobs to local people and incentives to protect the surrounding forests. The success of this project has ceased slash-and-burn, deforestation practices, which had previously threatened the area. Outside Chi Phat, I visited a tree nursery that is vital to increasing the forest cover in the Southern Cardamom Mountains. I even had the chance to plant a tree in support of their reforestation efforts.
At a nearby wildlife rehabilitation station, the staff works diligently to reintegrate threatened wildlife species back into nature after they are confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. The station is currently working to reintegrate sun bears, civets, parakeets, binturong, and macaques back in the wild. Since 2001, Wildlife Alliance has rescued more than 50,000 animals from poachers and illegal wildlife traders. Wildlife Alliance is also actively working to prevent and stop wildlife trafficking. Through a U.S. Agency for International Development contract, the group is placing Khmer and English public service announcements in the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports to discourage wildlife trafficking and report wildlife–related crimes.
The protection of the Cardamoms also requires working with the communities so that economic development goes hand in hand with conservation. In Sovanna Baitong village, I learned about a community agriculture development project that helps poor farmers produce fruits and vegetables with year-round harvests that are sold in four regional markets. The village has housing, roads, water, commercial pumps for irrigation, community nurseries, and family farms. Families participating in the project receive land and capital, technical know-how, and micro-credit lending to increase their incomes. By having an alternative way to earn a sustainable income, forest communities can improve their standard of living while reducing their dependence on wildlife poaching and illegal logging.
I greatly admire the efforts of everyone I met throughout my trip, who are working hard to protect the beautiful Cardamom Mountains. The projects I saw are all critical components in the strategy to stop the destruction of natural resources in Cambodia. It’s a tough job, and I wish them continued success.
What do you think about the natural environment in Cambodia? Do you value your natural resources and want to protect them? Please share your thoughts on how to save our environment.
Whenever I travel around Cambodia, I am reminded of the incredible promise that Cambodia’s youth hold for the future of their country. Everywhere I go, I meet energetic, smart, and impressive young women and men who I’m sure will go on to achieve great things. Last week in Siem Reap, I met a group of 22 outstanding young people who are helping their peers receive important information about protecting themselves from diseases and improving their health.
These youth peer health educators are literally on the front lines in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, bird flu, and other diseases that threaten the health of the Cambodian people. We are partnering with them to ensure that U.S. assistance saves as many lives as possible. Improving the health of Cambodians is an important focus of U.S. efforts in this country; in fact, over half of our development assistance is in this field. Without healthy citizens, a country has little chance of improving its economy and sustaining long-term development. Thanks to the life-saving information shared through our innovative youth peer counseling program, implemented by the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC), young Cambodians can look forward to living longer, happier, and more productive lives.
I had an enlightening discussion with the group and appreciated spending time with such inspiring individuals, who shared with me both their successes and the challenges they face in their communities. Their hard work is helping to win the fight against illnesses like HIV/AIDS in Cambodia, and I encouraged them to continue reaching out to fellow youth. I was especially pleased to introduce the peer educators to members of my Youth Council, which I rely on for advice on issues affecting Cambodia’s youth. I asked these two dynamic groups to continue their dialogue so they can benefit from each others’ experiences as they work to make Cambodia’s future brighter.
Once again it is time to welcome the Khmer New Year, which will occur at exactly 2:12 a.m. on Sunday, April 14. The Khmer New Year traditionally marks the end of the harvest season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins. It is an important occasion for Cambodians to reconnect with family and friends and pay their respects to their ancestors and elders.
As you can see in the video, I had a great time celebrating the arrival of the “Year of the Snake” with my Embassy colleagues last week, which included plenty of great Khmer food, fun games, and even some dancing. As Cambodians travel home for this special holiday, I wish them safe travels and a Happy New Year.
Soursdey Chnam Thmey!
The relationship between the United States and Cambodia stretches back more than 60 years, and in that time, our two countries have witnessed events both tragic and inspiring. Over the years, the U.S. Embassy has placed memorials around its grounds to help Embassy employees and visitors both remember and honor this shared history.
One of the most moving memorials was dedicated in 1997 by Ambassador Quinn and Secretary of State Albright. It recognizes the Embassy employees and their families who suffered and died under the Khmer Rouge regime. As many as two million Cambodians died during that era, and this memorial mourns the loss of our colleagues and reminds us of the need to be ever vigilant in guarding against crimes against humanity.
The Mayaguez-Marine Corps Memorial, dedicated in 1996 by Ambassador Quinn and Senator McCain, lists the names of the 18 U.S. military personnel killed in the Mayaguez incident in May 1975, considered by many to be the last official battle of the Vietnam War. The crisis began on the afternoon of May 12, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge sized the American container ship SS Mayaguez while it was at sea. The fallen soldiers were part of a team sent to rescue the ship’s crew.
A U.S. Marine who was killed in 1971 while serving as part of the Embassy’s Marine Security Guard Detachment is also honored on both the Mayaguez memorial and a separate plaque within the Embassy. Sergeant Charles “Wayne” Turberville was killed during a softball game on the Embassy grounds when Khmer Rouge fighters threw grenades at the players. He is recognized as a hero because he died while protecting his fellow Marines from the attackers. I had the honor of joining our current Marine Security Guard Detachment in dedicating this memorial plaque just a few weeks ago.
Not all of the memorials on the Embassy grounds mark sad occasions, however. Many Phnom Penh residents will remember that the U.S. Embassy was located near the corner of Streets 51 and 240 prior to moving to its current location. A familiar landmark at the old location was a large heart cut into one of the internal walls, which became known as the “Heart of the Embassy.” In 2006, when we moved to our current location near Wat Phnom, we brought the Embassy’s “heart” with us as a reminder of our history and to mark our deepening bilateral relationship with Cambodia.
Each of these memorials is an important reminder of the sacrifices and achievements of those who have gone before us. Their dedication helped to pave the way for the strong bonds of friendship and cooperation that Cambodia and the United States enjoy today.
Although this is only my first full dry season in Cambodia, many people have told me that we are going through an unusually dry period. Even several of my tuk-tuk drivers have told me that they are concerned by the low level of the Mekong River. Walking along Phnom Penh’s riverside, it is easy to see why they are troubled, and I understand that the situation is even worse in other parts of Cambodia.
The ongoing drought, and its impact on ordinary Cambodians, is very worrisome. The drought is affecting people in many different ways, such as its negative effects on crop irrigation, river navigation, fish farming, and even having basic access to drinking water. The drought’s impact on the energy supply is particularly alarming because electricity is the life blood of a modern economy and an essential resource for Cambodia’s development.
One way that Cambodia is looking to boost its energy supply is through hydroelectric power. Several new hydroelectric dams set to come online over the next few years promise to increase the energy supply, but droughts during the dry season, like we are currently experiencing, severely limit electricity production. For instance, I heard that a dam already in operation is currently only able to produce at 10 percent capacity. The drought is placing a strain on the country’s electrical grid, with Phnom Penh residents being asked to limit power usage during the day and businesses being forced to turn to costly generators to keep their doors open. With global climate change, driven in part by deforestation, droughts in Cambodia are likely to reoccur in coming years and may even get worse. Efforts to diversify the energy supply and attract new investment in clean energy production are vital to Cambodia’s future. As my grandmother would always say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Media reports have also highlighted that reservoirs for drinking water are very low, with the situation in Sihanokville being particularly dire. I am very happy that we have a group of U.S. Navy Seabees stationed in Cambodia working with local authorities to dig and repair water wells to provide fresh water to schools and health clinics in Battambang, Siem Reap, and Palin. These construction experts are working long, hard hours to make it possible for villagers to have safe, fresh drinking water that would otherwise be unavailable.
The rain storm that we had in Phnom Penh yesterday afternoon was a welcome respite from the heat, and I hope and pray that Cambodians do not have long to wait before the rainy season begins next month to bring relief from the drought. In the meantime, I am doing my part to limit electrical consumption at my residence and at the Embassy. I welcome your thoughts on this issue, so please leave a comment.