Cambodia is typically understood through a narrative of civil war, devastation and poverty, but this fails to capture the modern dynamics of the country. The less prominent stories are of those driving change in the country towards a more equitable future. Committed, passionate people throughout the country are pushing for a new deal – the elimination of poverty, greater equality and justice, to name a few. As the country develops, these people define the new narrative for Cambodia – one of action, change and hope.
Movements for social change
Presiding over a remote village deep in the jungle, village chief Ok Danh typifies the new Cambodia. Isolated from the outside world, Danh’s village only had a skeleton of a school for years – no roof, scant materials and disenchanted students. “I lobbied UNICEF for a new school, I lobbied the Government, but it wasn’t possible. Everyone worked with less remote villages. We desperately needed a new school,” Danh recalled.
After years of lobbying, Danh finally met with Oxfam and devised a plan for a new school. “My village cleared the land, provided timber, sand and rocks, and labour” explained Danh. Oxfam provided other materials, builders and technical assistance. There were many difficulties along the way for Danh’s village, which had no road access and where people struggled to etch out subsistence livelihoods, but Danh persevered. The school is now the pride of the community, with some recent graduates going on to high school – a first for the village and creating exciting opportunities.
Opportunities for the future
Danh and his community are part of a movement of people throughout Cambodia creating a better future. Communities, activists and NGOs are improving the security of human rights, creating innovative solutions to everyday challenges and tackling many root causes of poverty. It is no easy task. About 30% of the population lives in poverty, 80% live rurally, usually as subsistence farmers, and access to essential services is scarce. Inequality is growing, with land security particularly problematic, while climate change is devastating subsistence livelihoods. The task is daunting, but targeted interventions generate vast benefits.
Diverse issues must be addressed by Government and civil society to eliminate poverty in Cambodia. Improving equality, freedom of expression and security of land access are all vital for the future. Current projects that exacerbate these problems must be rectified to ensure a more equitable future that eliminates poverty. It can and should be an exciting time for Cambodia; opportunities beckon and change is happening. It is this hopeful and inspiring narrative that will drive progress towards the elimination of poverty in Cambodia.