Dated on Feb 15, 2003 from Phnom Penh

/ Dark clouds before the election /

The chaotic ballot counting after the general election in 1993 and 1998 is still vivid in our minds. The first communal election in 2002 on the other hand, was conducted smoothly without any confusion, and the ruling party, The Cambodia People's Party won with an overwhelming number of votes.
The fourth Cambodian election will take place in July.
The frenzy before an election seems to be a usual occurrence for the people in Cambodia. The attacks on various companies and the Thai embassy didn't act as much of a distraction, however the damage done to its international image will be colossal. Since the attacks there have been some kinds of purging using the attacks as a good pretext. The purges are spreading in rival candidates running for Prime minister, and also the cabinet members in the opposing parties. Mass media has also to be controlled.
Whether democracy has already been established or the people are unimpressed with the central government, the number of people registered to vote is considerably lower than that of previous elections. The Election Administration Committee has extended the registration period, however, the second party, the Royalists and the opponent party, Samrancy are starting to claim that the election will be considered "invalid" if the registration rate doesn't reach 95%.
Would this kind of assertion be possible in Japan? Still today, it is difficult to comprehend the social criteria in Cambodia.

/ Crisis Management /

During the attacks on Thai people, a Thai company which sells drinking water sent an SOS to Thai national army. Soon, the next morning transport planes were sent and Thai citizens were immediately taken away to their country. How we should act in an emergency, I was amazed by how well the Thai people reacted in the case of an emergency.
In contrast, for us in the Japanese NGO, after the 97'incident to arm, a small wireless was distributed, and for about six months regular check up calls were made once a month. And new Japanese radio station was also opened so that in the case of an emergency safety information could be broadcast. Six years has passed since then, the wireless is already broken, and no check up calls have been made. Mr.Sakakibara, who remembered the Japanese radio station tried to tune in, only to hear a buzz.
It is often said that a disaster strikes when people least expect it. The reality here that there is no disaster prevention measures administered by the Japanese government, this made me think that we as individuals must be responsible for protecting ourselves.
Having heard on the news that the Thai rescue center had started evacuating Thai people from Iraq, I wondered what kind of help Japanese government would provide for the Japanese expatriates. Once again this makes me reflect upon the crisis management for expatriates working in developing countries.

/ The first school, Tool Ponley elementary school /

On our way to the study tour prior to the YMCA work camp, we passed by Tool Ponley primary school, the first school we built. The bad road around the school, which once described by a motocross fanatic as "the roughest course in the world" has been repaired nicely. Thanks to the cooperation of German NGO and the resident's community work, remote country areas have been greatly developed.
We came across Mr.Pakky, the head of the commune then, who was assisting voter registration, he used to fight bravely against Pol Pot group, proud to say that there was no one who could beat him at shooting. He uttered "the time has changed, the fighting days are over. I'm getting tired of making administrative documents, I want to quit my job as head of the commune." Surely the times may have changed. Mr.Pakkie is the very person who asked me to build a school for them. He said a school was more needed than an election. He recalled the old days and said that he was overjoyed when they received a school earlier than any other areas. He continued to tell us old stories: on one occasion a school master was abducted, on another the school was nearly attacked twice by Pol Pot group and the staff had to abandon their cars in the bushes by the river. We were moved to tears by these extraordinary stories. In spite of many difficulties such as retaliations from Pol Pot group, loved teachers eloping, terrible floods preventing them from going to work, Mr. Pakky built a house to accommodate the teachers, the school has now expanded to have five class rooms, being used daily.
The school master is actually person who once taught literacy.
Inside the school, we saw drawings and art crafts displayed on the wall, a sight that should be seen at schools, which made us relieved and happy.
Outside, in the school-yard, several palm trees that we had planted in commemoration were growing.
This year, ADB and Education Ministry are planning to build schools in four southern counties including Kampot. The construction engineers who took on ASAC project don't like to admit it but they are too happy to hide their feeling, as ADB pays them more. However, they said the payment is often delayed. Those engineers have grown to be active members playing central roles in the rebuilding of Cambodia.

/ Staff Reorganization /

Boramy, who had worked as the ASAC manager for many years has moved to Room To Read, an American NGO. He was "head hunted" by Room To Read as they planned to make a new on-site project team. Even though he works for another organization, his field remains the same, "education", they continue to work closely together, exchanging ideas and guidance.
Sokha, the administrative assistant has left the office. He is going to engage in his newspaper selling business. He wants to gain more regular subscribers and expand the business. The office feels a little bigger now. Remaining staffs are still in full operation. They have started to keep check-in and check-out time. They are working as hard as ever.

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