CAMBODIA: Report of a young Cambodian student on an Exchange Programme in Germany, 2011

Upon arriving in Germany, I saw that the roads are very clean, quiet with very little traffic jam. At that moment, my expression was, “Wow!” This is a developed country, and everything is so organized and clean. On the streets, there were few people walking and during my first week there, I did not see any beggars. I thought to myself, “This is such a rich country with no poverty”. However, after talking with women in Courage, I got to know that there is in fact, hidden poverty in Germany. So I tried to look out for poor people in Germany but I could not identify them because to me, their skin and faces all looked the same.

I used to think that all the people in Germany have decent lives and jobs and they do not need to think about what they will have for food the next day. However, I saw it really clearly when I visited a free soup-kitchen. There were many people and mostly, old and middle age that came for their free lunch. In Germany, if the people did not have anything to eat, at least some of them get free food in these soup-kitchens. However, in Cambodia, as well as in Bangladesh, if people do not have money to buy food, they will have to starve or beg in the streets. They know it is because of the corruption in their countries that they have to live in poverty. However, they do not want to go against their governments or ask their governments to be more responsible for the people. Poor people in my country, Cambodia, they do not know much about politics, so it is hard for them to organize themselves or to go against the government.

For young Cambodians, if they cannot find jobs, they will migrate legally or illegally to neighboring countries such as, Malaysia or Thailand. They will find ways to escape from their poverty rather than confront the reality directly, so it is really hard for them to go on strike or ask the government to give them jobs or be responsible for their unemployment.  It is very funny to me that the Cambodian government promises our people that it will find them employment abroad as a solution to our joblessness. Now the Cambodian government is working with South Korea, Malaysia, Qatar and other Arab states to send laborers to these countries. By doing this, the government can say blindly that it has reduced youth unemployment rate in Cambodia. The government does not however, take responsibility for our migrant workers at all. They do not care about the condition of our workers in the foreign land. There were many cases that Cambodian domestic workers who work in Malaysia were tortured and working in sweatshop-like condition. They do not have rights. In fact, some of them were used like slaves or machines.

There was a student’s revolution against the brutal dictatorship of the government before the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Even now, we are still living under the dictatorship; still there is no revolution. Trade union leaders and journalists were murdered, still there is no reaction and people have become even more scared about taking actions.

One thing which makes my people calm and quiet is that, there are many organizations in Cambodia. Mostly, when our youths face problems, some of them go to these organizations and ask for help. In Germany too, there are many organizations that are self-organized and self- financed. For me personally, the self-financed organizations are more powerful than those, which get their money from international funders or foreign governments. However, in Cambodia, throughout my experience, there is no self-organization by the working class people or the poor. Workers in Cambodia are submissive and oppressed and they are very scared of their employers.  In Germany, I can see that even though they are also workers, their knowledge are like professors, I am really admire them for this.

While discussing with my host family about religion, I got to know how religion plays a role in Cambodia. In Cambodia, there are many religious organizations that try to help poor students to pursue higher education and give food to the poor. They try to help people think good and not do bad deeds, they teach the people what is good and bad all the time.  They teach the people that good deeds serve the purpose of God. Most Cambodians believe in God, and say God gives them lives, so God will also plan and do the next steps in life for them. Then they do not need to think too much for the future. This distracts people from critically thinking about the role of the government and what the government is supposed to do for them. I am not saying that people should have a religion, but God has given each of us a brain to critically think. We are poor not because we have not done any good thing in our previous life. People should use their brains to think why they are poor even though they have worked very hard.

Throughout history, Germany has faced many problems, such as wars and labor exploitation, but I am very proud of the workers who are still fighting and struggling in Germany because they are able to get social benefits, such as unemployment benefits, vacation, health insurance etc. due to their hard work. And they continue to fight for better lives for other people and their younger generations. I think this is the right thing to do. If we do not fight, we are not going to get what we want.

Before going to Germany, I thought that under the Hitler’s regime, only Jews were killed. However after visiting Germany, I got to know that Hitler first killed the communists, the trade unionists and the opposition parties and he also banned the trade unions in the country. For example, there were many members in the White Rose movement who were executed. I heard that Hitler was also from a peasant family, but somehow when he was in power, he forgot everything and he became greedy with power, so he did everything to hold on to his power. This is the case for the Cambodian Prime Minister too. I am not looking down on him, but just want to reveal the truth. The Cambodian Prime Minster is also from a peasant family. When he got the power, he became very greedy and corrupted. He forgot how difficult it was when the poor are exploited. He does not care about the welfare of the poor people, as long as he is holding the power and get the money from the business people, he pretends to be blind. I hope that in the future, there will be more people who care about my society and we can work together with heart and blood to change the society. I think one day, when the young decide that this kind of system is enough for them, we will all onto the streets and overthrow this corrupt government like what has happened in the Arab states today. I was amazed that people in Germany can criticize their government and other countries’ governments publicly. In Cambodia, you can criticize the government openly, but tomorrow you will be murdered or put in jail. This is such a coward action of the Cambodian government because they do not even dare to confront criticisms.

There are many different types of women in “Courage”, a grassroots, women organization that has members from different parts of Germany. They are women from the working class, professionals, unemployed and housewives. Each of them is unique and faces their own unique problems. They come together and discuss their problems they face as women, as well as problems faced by other under-privileged people in Germany and around the world. This is very interesting for me; I am experiencing it for the first time in my life. In Cambodia as well as in Bangladesh, if you are a professor, mostly your friends are professors and if you are a worker, mostly your friends are workers. This is a form of class division that the professor faces that make it difficult for them to understand the lives of the workers, if they do not try to penetrate the workers’ lives. I hope that in the future, I can organize such a thing like Courage in Cambodia and I will try to convince young women to join this.

Talking about young women, young women are the same everywhere, mostly they care too much about how they dress up, make up and their appearances, so they have little time to think and care about the society. In my country, if I talk about the social problems to young women, they might think I have gone mad. However, not all women behave like that; there are some young women who are really interested in working with social problems. So, from now on I need to learn more and more about the process of organizing people and convince people. Joining Courage this summer has given me a tremendous idea about how to organize the people.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-047-2012
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Poverty & adequate standard of living,