Corey Van Dyk
#7: How did this conference change your understanding of development in Cambodia? Concretely summarize several things that you have learned as a result of the seminar presentations, Q&A and multi-national small group discussions.
Over the past two days, we have attended and presented at a student-led international conference focusing on law and development. In attendance were students from Handong International Law School (from Korea) as well as students from several Cambodian universities, including those focusing on agriculture, law, and economics. While I am still sorely lacking in knowledge of development in Cambodia, I know much more than I did a few days ago. One of the most valuable sources of information were the thoughts and ideas of the Cambodian students, because good development cannot occur when the community doesn’t see a need for it.
One of the presentations I found especially informative was focused on the goods that are imported and exported to and from Cambodia. I was surprised to learn that one of Cambodia’s biggest exports is clothing, and I wonder how much of that is made by adult laborers who are paid fairly. I learned that Cambodia relies heavily on Thailand and Vietnam for many of their imports, including many crops which could potentially be grown in Cambodia.
The presentation I worked on looked at the industrial food production system used by the United States and analyzed whether or not that would work in Cambodia. Many aspects of our system would need to be altered in order to meet Cambodia’s needs, although certain characteristics (such as high, reliable yields) would be beneficial. More interestingly, I thought, were the views of Cambodian students when it came to this subject. Some thought the industrial system was necessary, because not enough food is being produced presently. Others found the idea of pesticides being used on their food to be disturbing. Still others supported an industrial system, but doubted that farmers would be as eager to adopt it.
Another part of the conference I really liked were the group sessions, during which we discussed topics such as educational reform or political corruption. Today, we talked about why a corrupt government continues to stay in power when the Cambodian people have the right to vote. It seems like people keep voting for a government they hate. While some of this is undoubtedly a result of bribery or other corruption, one Cambodian student offered the idea that much of this is a result of fear. A shift in political parties could lead to war, or something like the Khmer Rouge. Some might find it better to have a corrupt government which provides relative safety than try to improve the government, yielding uncertain results.
It was an incredibly useful experience to be able to discuss the problems of a country with its citizens. It is important to learn different, and possibly better, perspectives, rather than only looking at the situations from the outside. I hope to look at Cambodia in a new light, and try to better understand how good development can come to Cambodia.