To start off, I want to state that as much as the Khmer culture is conservative and traditional, this shouldn't be confused with formal. Many interactions are formal, at least by western standards, but overall the culture is very relaxed. There is something about a culture that holds very important meetings barefoot, or about a man who are willing to climb a tree at a moments notice to get the perfect guava or coconut while in his business pants, or about a woman in heels who will bend down in mud to crush a shell to get the meat inside, that reaches a whole different level of relaxed. It is hard to describe, but everyday I find that things are just so different. Nothing is the same, but this isn't to say I feel like an outsider. No, this country is very welcoming to westerners and eager to learn about us.
So as I mentioned I have been here in Phnom Penh for a couple days with the staff. I went to three presentations with them about localization. The first two were all in Khmer so I barely took anything from them, but last one was with the donor, ICCO, and held in English. ICCO is a Dutch donor company that funds local NGO all over the world, with the ones in Cambodia specifically geared toward peace and democracy. Or that is what the official stance is, Roger (the donor rep) admitted that you can't separate such issues as 'peace and democracy' from 'economic support.' It was interesting to learn about the processes associated with finding a donor and communicating with a donor. Every donor works different, for instance some only fund very targeted groups and other fund general projects. Some donors have specific requirements and other donors let the organizations do what they want. ICCO stands right in the middle of both those extremes. They strongly believe that an NGO's first and foremost task is to help the local people help themselves; if they are doing that right then the donor will help them. The donor wants to fund an organization that has proven they can think for themselves and want to do everything they can to help the people, not get the money. NGOs shouldn't be afraid to tell a donor if some proposed or requested is not possible because being truthful means they are being careful and considerate. A donor wants an NGO that adjusts to changes in the community and that wants to learn what the community actually needs. A good organization, if they cannot fully support the community's needs, will seek coalitions with other organization and not just leave the job half done. A donor then looks for an organization that is able to adapt and apply. I know from reading ISLP's work that they already do this--they have many partnerships with other organizations, they have representatives directly in the community, and they are constantly brainstorming new training options for the community. I trust that when local ISLP will continue these practices.
Last night I went to a presentation by several Burmese students from ACT (Alliance for Conflict Transformation) on Cyclone Nargis. The presentation was interesting because it allowed me to hear what Burmese students themselves felt about the issues. Most of them expressed their resentment for the government's lack of responsibility but their pride in the people's action. The Burmese are now a people helping themselves because the government won't do it for them. At the lecture I ironically knew already five people there, which just reiterated for me how small this 'peace community' is here in Phnom Penh. It made me proud to be involved and motivated to stay involved. My interest in this region, specifically Cambodia and Burma, is ever increasing and I am glad to see that AFSC is now looking into working with the monastic schools in Myanmar.
Now usually when I am working with ISLP I am editing papers and teaching English. This week is different however because of their training, and right now I am working on making a pamphlet on an overview of ASFC Cambodia. Usually teaching is a very consuming, tiring, and rewarding experience. As some of you may know, I have never been a grammar bug. In fact, before my junior year of high school, English was my weakest subject. I always hated to write and it wasn't until a very amazing teacher came my way that I finally learned how to write well. A year after that I became ARGO editor and then the rest is history. So teaching myself proper English grammar has been a really interesting experience. I have found though that actually having motivation to learn the rules makes the task much easier, and (dare I say it) I actually find it kinda interesting. Who know that we could only technically used an apostrophe (') of possession for living things? I didn't. Turns out using it for nonliving things is a form of personification. Now that idea just does not translate into Khmer, but its an interesting fact. I believe by the end of this whole experience I will have been studying (perfect continuous future tense anyone?) more grammar then needed. I am sure you are also wondering how on earth quiet, mumbley, confusing me manages to teach anyway. Well, I was asking myself that same question. It turns out however that when I get in front of a group of people some other worldly force comes over me and I become not only loud, but articulate and confident. Jon asked me if this made me want to be an English teacher; the answer is still a firm NO, but I have to say the idea does not completely repulse me. No, I am still committed to working with the environment, perhaps as a consultant, but being a teacher somewhere down the line isn't a terrible thought.
Well that is all for now--need to finish that pamphlet!