Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Update 5

The interviews went well and Cambodia ACTs walked away feeling confident in the selections made. It was really interesting for me to participate in the interview process since most of it was conducted in Khmer, the local Cambodian language. The initial though was that the interviews would be conducted in English and my job would be to evaluate the English speaking level of the interviewee. At times the candidates would be embarrased with their English speaking as they tried to answer questions and I would tell them to feel free to speak in Khmer if they would feel more comfortable. Most of the time that would lead to the rest of the conversation being in Khmer and me smiling and nodding and having to ask questions of my fellow interviewers upon completion of each interview.

One thing that I learned is that the interview process was much less formal than I was expecting and when I asked my co-workers why everything was so low key they smiled and replied "We are an NGO, we keep things simple." All the interviewees were generally shy and nervous, very different from the confidence and uniqe qualities we are taught to show off while interviewing here in the U.S. Another thing that was interesting is that a lot of the candidates had acquired a degree from one of the Cambodian universities in their specialty field, but then were continuing their education with a degree in English Literature, because the general consensus between young Cambodians in that fluency in English is the way to a brighter future. Many of these people are working on their English degree while they are working for a living, or volunteering to gain experience for a job they'll apply to in the future. Reading these resumes and having conversations with the young professional workforce of Cambodia really gave me a hope for the future of the country. These people are extremely hard working and know that the future of their country is up to the young generation.

As I am now back in the United States I will continue to post blogs on the wrap up of the second half of the trip. I will also share with you the thoughts I've gathered while trying to summarize the experience as a whole, and the reactions I come across as I try to explain what I can of the trip.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Update 4

Hi everyone, I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to write another update, it's been a really busy week. The last time I wrote I was about to go on to the field with Cambodia ACTs. That was my first of two trips to the field that I have now done with them. On both trips I was picked up by the two members of the NGO that I've been working with most closely, and the driver at my hotel at 6:30 in the morning. We did a lot of driving on both days we went out which can really take a toll on you even though I was in a nice new truck, just because the roads and traffic are so bad. Since driving laws are not enforced and it's a free-for-all on the road with the many forms of transportation people are using, the horn is utilized quite often by the driver. This makes it impossible to take a nap, or even dose off for a second, which I wanted to do quite a bit. On our route we had to take a ferry across the Mekong River at a point that was too wide for a bridge to be built. When you wait in your car to get on the ferry with the many other travelers, by bus, or foot, or bike, or motorcycle, you are swarmed with people trying to sell you snacks or really anything. The driver pointed out to me that they were selling fried turtles in one stall on the side of the road, and sure enough when I looked close enough you could see the shape of a shell with spots or stripes.

The purpose of the trip was for Cambodia ACTs staff in Phnom Penh to meet with representatives of their partner organizations in the provinces. When we finally turned off the main road toward the site of our first meeting, we meandered along a one lane dirt road for what seemed like forever passing rice field after rice field and house on stilts after house on stilts. It seemed as though we were driving along a sand barge surrounded by an enormous lake of flooded rice fields. At each of the meetings I was able to take pictures and gps readings which I will share with Cambodia ACTs, which they may use for future reports or when they create a website. The second two places we stopped were to observe trainings that were going on for local law enforcement and village leaders, raising awareness to these important people about the issues of trafficking and child exploitation. Lunch that day, and all meals in general, were really interesting as I really had no idea what we were eating.

The second trip the I took to the provinces involved a stop at on of the border checkpoints on the Cambodian/Vietnamese border that is frequently cited for being a location through which people are trafficked. As I watched I did not observe much of a serious attitude by the immigration police about checking passports or goods, and the road that we were on was elevated and turns into a bridge during the rainy season as the surrounding area becomes flooded, which allows for easy access by boat.

Over the weekend I took a trip to the Cambodian coast on the Gulf of Thailand. The town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia's port city and tourist destination. I went for some R and R and was pleasantly surprised with the beach and the warmth of the water. The beach is lined with shacks (literally shack-like buildings, but each one has the work "shack" in their name) and these places serve as bars with lounge chairs during the day, and turn into barbecue restaurants at night. I had the freshest fish, caught that day, cooked on the grill, and it came with tons of rice, salad, and garlic bread for five dollars. If I had gone with piranha, chicken, or beef, it would have been three dollars. It was a really good time.

This week has been busy getting ready for interviews, Cambodia ACTs will be hiring three new people, one lawyer, one lawyer assistant, and one criminal investigator. We've been going through the applications and finalizing the short list, and arranging the interview process. I'm really learning a lot about the inner-workings of this organization but these skills can be applied to any project management situation in the future. I have continued to have meetings with local stakeholders and my list of resources and studies to consult while writing is also growing.

Everyone has left the office now so I have to go as well. Sorry this was so short, there's a lot more to tell. I'll have to continue this one soon.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Update 3

I decided it was time to post some pictures and these took so long to upload on every internet connection I've had so I don't know how often I'll be able to do this. Enjoy a bit of what I've been seeing.

Gardens along Sihanouk Blvd.

Wat Lanka

Light traffic

Independence Monument

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Update 2

It's now Tuesday at 5:30 PM and I just got back to my hotel from a very wet motto ride through the city. I just finished my second day of work, a volunteer position that I basically created on Friday last week. The biggest news since my last update is the success of the meetings that I had last Friday. I had two meetings that day, both with people that I had established contact with while in Las Cruces, and was invited to meet with upon arriving in Cambodia. Once I arrived last week I sent out emails again to the contacts that seemed the most promising/positive and tried to arrange meeting times. My first meeting on Friday was at 9:30 AM and the first trick was figuring out how to get to the office. The day before the meeting I broke out my handy dandy city map and had a nice long chat with my new friend Mao, who works at the reception desk at my hotel. Phnom Penh is laid out is a relatively structured way, but there can be many surprises. After the city was torn apart after years of civil war with the Khmer Rouge, the French helped shape the city and established a numbering system for streets and buildings. The system is a little crazy and not super reliable. You will pass by buildings numbered 14, 17, 11, 11C, 11A...you get used to it though, just means you have to allow extra time to find a place and leave super early.

After the discussion with Mao I had a general idea of where the office was and drew a bit of the route on my map. I had to do the same with the other organization I was visiting later that afternoon. On the morning of my meetings I met a motto driver outside of the hotel and did my best trying to describe to him where the building was. The drivers know some street numbers but not all and don't have the luxury of the on-board GPS like the cab drivers in the U.S. Just a little behind those times. He figures out the street number and we started driving. I wasn't too worried since I had so much time, but as we continued driving I progressively became more worried. We stopped at the intersection of the road I was supposed to be on and the road the borders the river. At this point I knew we were supposed to be entirely across the city to the west. I pointed and tried to say, "Down this road, all the way, as far as it goes." He eventually got the message and we were on our way, by-passing various construction detours in our path. I arrived at my destination 15 minutes early and was met with smiling Cambodian faces. I had an hour long discussion with the country focal point and secretary general of Cambodia Against Child Trafficking (ACTs). Cambodia ACTs is a network of 12 local Cambodian NGOs which fight to eradicate child trafficking and sexual manipulation through grassroots education and legal efforts.

I took notes during the meeting and recorded it on a small tape recorder that I bought at a Sony store in Phnom Penh for the interviews. After the interview we continued the discussion and I asked if I could help in the office at all or if I could join them on any trips to the field. They were very accepting to both and I have now spent two full days writing policy for the organization and I will join them on a trip to some shelters near the Vietnam border. They are picking me up at my hotel tomorrow morning at 6:30 and we won't be back until around 10:00 at night.

The other interview I had was with The Asia Foundation, an American NGO based in San Francisco and Washington DC. I spoke with the Counter Trafficking in Persons Chief of Party and our discussion led to many future contacts with the UN, ILO, IOM, and governmental agencies. I have a meeting with the UNIAP (United Nations Inter Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region) personnel on Friday and have been told about a library here in Phnom Penh set up by UNIAP with resources on trafficking to inform people of the issue. This will be a great place to start researching documents.

I've also been really enjoying the food. The local Khmer food is a fusion mix of Thai and Chinese (lots of noodles and fried rice) and I even had some Tex-Mex last night. I also bought a motorcycle helmet since I have a long ride to work everyday. The motto driver that took me to Cambodia ACTs the first day is now pretty much my personal driver since he's the only one who knows where it is. He meets me at my hotel at 8:30 every morning and is there to pick me up from work at 5:00.

I'm now off to find a new place to eat, maybe some Indian food tonight.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Update 1

I arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at around 11 PM local time on Sunday May, 31, after nearly 30 hours of travel time. I left the United States from Los Angeles and had a quick layover in Seoul, South Korea. Flying time was approximately 12 hours, the longest single flight I had ever been on. The weirdest thing about it all was that since I was flying west over the International Dateline it never got dark outside even though I left on Saturday and arrived on Sunday. The airport in Seoul was very new and high tech. It was a beautiful building; very clean, and the restrooms had LED lights to disinfect your hands as you blow dried them. Another perk is that there were free wireless internet areas in the airport with laptops for the travelers to use. Something apparently much too innovative and traveler friendly for the U.S. to do... Due to the H1N1 epidemic I had to fill out a special health form before I landed describing any sort of flu symptoms I may have had during the seven days prior to traveling, and which countries I had been to in that time. As I got off the plane I was met by medical personnel checking everyone's temperature with a laser thermometer. Once I passed through that mess it was a breeze through passport checks and I was off to my gate.

Once on my plane to Phnom Penh I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the flight was only five hours long, much shorter than the nine hours that was estimated in my flying itinerary. The flight was quick and I was able to catch up on some sleep since I did not get much on my flight to Seoul. When I landed in Phnom Penh I went through the same H1N1 temperature check and proceeded on to purchase my visa and go through customs, all of which went much quicker than I've ever seen. Immediately outside of the airport I saw a man with a sign for a nine dollar taxi to the city center which was something I was willing to pay and was too tired to shop for better prices. The driver knew where my hotel was and was willing to take me there (further than the city center from the airport) and on this ride were my first glimpses of Cambodia from the ground.

I was surprised at how busy the streets were for how late it was at night, most of the traffic being small mopeds called motos that had anywhere from one to four people on them. There was no stopping at any intersection and traffic was moving both ways on either side of the street. Most buildings were closed up for the night but there was the familiar lit up kiosk on various street corners selling all sorts of goodies which are seen all over the developing world. Check in at the hotel went smoothly and my first night's sleep was very short as I was only beginning to recover from jet lag.

My first full day in the city involved mobile phone purchases and the bargaining involved there, a four hour, unplanned, mid-afternoon nap, and then an evening walk around this district of the city where my hotel is located. On this walk I learned how to navigate across a street full of cars and motos driving every which way, not paying attention to any pedestrians. You sort of have to go at any time and stop in between cars as they pass by in the middle of the street. I walked past the Independence Monument (a major rotary) through some public green spaces to where the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers meet. Cambodians were out in full force in the evening hours, exercising, dancing, and playing hackey sack type games all over the place. The night ended with a scrumptious meal at a Thai place very close to my hotel.