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Response To A Request From Amalia

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Good morning. A few days ago, I was invited by Amelia Hays here at World Pulse to get involved with PulseWire so here I am. Amelia asked me if I would share one of my personal blog posts with people visiting the Cambodia Café.

How do I know it's morning? Because while Cambodian women are generally visible along with men at cafes in the morning, one rarely sees women congregated at these establishments in the afternoon, when men typically have the cafes to themselves. As a Khmer friend explained to me as we were having coffee with a hot tea chaser one afternoon, "it's just a traditional aspect of Khmer daily life."

Before you read the unedited blog post below, I wanted to say that as photojournalists, writers and publishers, our names are not important, but we hope we can illuminate issues and bring them to you so that we all may learn a bit more about the world around us.

I also believe in the Jeffersonian principal that perhaps inspired Article 51 of the Kingdom of Cambodia's constitution, which states; "Cambodian people are masters of their own country. All powers belong to the people. The people exercise their power through the National Assembly, the Senate, the Royal Government, and the Courts".

If you are a Khmer living in Cambodia who is fortunate enough to join this on-line gathering you know you are among the fortunate few. According to Technorati.com's report, "State of the Blogosphere / 2008", Universal McCann (March 2008) "worldwide, 346 million internet users read blogs including 60 million in the US." In Cambodia, 40,000 people use the internet occasionally but not many are consistent bloggers themselves.

What's more, many younger Khmer people start blogs but can't afford to maintain them since internet time at a shop costs as much as 75 cents per hour. Seventy-three percent of all Asian bloggers are between 18-34 years old as opposed to 42% in the US and 48% in Europe. Seventy percent of personal (as opposed to corporate or professional) bloggers are college graduates. Broadband costs well over $100 per month but 35% - 40% of Cambodians exist on less than $.50 USD per day. Eighty percent of the nation's population lives daily life without reliable access to electricity and demand is currently rising at roughly 20 percent a year.

Why am I boring you with statistics? So those of you who have the wherewithal to speak out know where you stand.

Cambodia's John Vink put it more eloquently in a March 2nd, 2007 interview with Eight Diagram's Wayne Yang.

"Victims have less voice. If they had a loud voice (if they were allowed to have a loud voice) they would not be a victim. Power is about shutting up the voice of the others. So it goes like this: you have a faint voice, I’ll try and talk about you. You have a loud voice: I heard you already and I am not interested in more…"

Here is my blog post that begins with me trying to explain what crossed my mind before it went blank and I started photographing a young female child laborer at Stung Meanchey Landfill in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. If I'm not mistaken, the image is currently the banner photo for the World Pulse emagazine,

World Pulse Highlights Cambodia's Women Through Their Own Eyes

I took this photograph of a girl who was collecting beautiful fabric from a heap of garbage at Stung Meanchey Dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I was struck by how clean her shirt was and that she was in search of beauty amongst all that ugliness. It's currently appearing on an e-magazine, published by World Pulse Media.

World Pulse Media is a nonprofit global media organization that covers world issues through women's eyes. They publish a print magazine, an e-magazine, and produce a social networking newswire called PulseWire, where women worldwide can speak for themselves and connect to solve global problems, including women just coming online in internet cafes and cell phones.

Their current issue focuses on Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge trials, and the many women who are doing stellar work on the ground despite increasing hardships. Thirty years after Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime collapsed, women and girls are enduring intense times.

Last week I spoke with a 16-year-old girl about her future life plan. The youngster has been studying English for 6 years and her mother wanted me to evaluate her skill. Mom works from sunrise to well after dark running a small restaurant and has been faithfully paying for her daughter's $ 7 USD per month ESL tuition all that time.

I was happy to report to mom that her money had been well spent for her daughter had a good grasp of the language. "What do you want to become?" I asked the girl. "A doctor", she replied, "But I think it's impossible!" she continued.

Now Cambodians use this IT'S IMPOSSIBLE statement all the time. So much in fact that I have developed a standard comeback. I go outside, point to the moon, and say, "See that? My country sent a couple of people there to walk around on it 40 years ago….THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!"

Does a country need 16-year-old girls dreaming of becoming doctors? Of course it does. One day I visited a field office of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize winning organization Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontières / MSF), at the local public hospital here in Kampong Cham. I saw the new HIV wing under construction, financed by America, and I was pleased to see our tax dollars being put to good use. As I wandered around the grounds though, I saw something that left me wondering how women cope.

Sitting outside a ramshackle wooden barracks-like building with a sign affixed that read OB/GYN were at least 30 women and some husbands sitting on the bare ground outside. Most of the women looked as if they were going to give birth soon. I began to wonder how tough it is for the "Average Joe" and his wife to go through the birth process with access to adequate health facilities in such short supply. I then thought of a street dweller who lives on my street that is about to give birth any day. I asked a man familiar with her situation, "Where is she going to have her baby?" "Right there" he said, pointing to her plywood and plastic shack.

Other issues relating to women in Cambodia include addressing a low literacy rate (between 50 and 60%), girls as young as 16 living on their own working in "karaoke bars", the low pay for long hours put in at garment factories throughout the country, and trafficking.

If you are a woman who lives in the bubble of Western prosperity, keep in mind that according to The World Bank, 10 million Khmer (66% of the population) people have no toilet facilities at all and are relegated to defecating in open fields. Further, Cambodia joins more than a billion people in the developing world who don't have access to clean water, and running water is a luxury. Globally, hauling water is a chore primarily undertaken by women and girls and the same is true in Cambodia. Worldwide, 40 billion hours are lost annually to hauling water.

By 2007, Cambodia's maternal mortality rate had actually increased over prior years, rising from 437 deaths of mothers per 100,000 in 2001 to 472 in 2007. Obtaining a legal abortion from qualified healthcare providers has also been problematic.

Here is an excerpt from an article authored by Elayne Clift, a writer from Saxtons River, Vt., USA, that appeared in the May 18th 2006 edition of towardfreedom.com

"Less than a mile from the glitzy hotels there is a state-of-the-art children’s hospital founded by a Swiss physician, an iconoclast whom many believe violates agreed-upon international protocols for primary health care in impoverished countries. They think this because he uses western diagnostic tools like CT scans, an outrageous expenditure some say, in countries where people don’t even know enough to wash their hands. But this doctor, for all his possible eccentricities, maintains the extraordinary belief that even poor children deserve to live, and saving their fragile lives often requires the same technology that rich kids can access. He is a thorn in the side of the Ministry of Health and, he claims, esteemed organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization because he treats babies with non-contagious TB when the resources needed to do that could save a lot of kids with infectious disease. It’s not cost-effective, his critics argue. These kids deserve to live too, he tells the critics, experts who stay in the fancy hotels when they come to Siem Reap to advise or evaluate him."

In the political arena, traditionally a man’s domain in Cambodia, women’s rights training is now held in a variety of locales addressing rampant domestic violence throughout the Kingdom. Women are also represented in most levels of government, from communes to the National Parliament.

Well now that you have an idea about women's issues in Cambodia from a man's point of view, why not go over to World Pulse and join the discussion and see what today's Cambodian women are saying. If I were a woman, that's what I'd do!

Ok, that was it.

Let me conclude by saying that since we are assembled in the café I have ordered some food for thought and it's on the house.

“The world we have created today as a result of our thinking thus far has created problems that cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them.” Albert Einstein

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