Week 579 – Sunday,2008-09-28: Pchum Ben 2008

Posted on 2 October 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 579 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 579

This weekend was the beginning of the Pchum Ben Festival days 2008, after two weeks of preparation – an occasion to remember and to pay respect to those before us, and to do so by bringing the members of large families together, nowadays often living far away from the places of their ancestral home. Many people from Phnom Penh travel to the provinces. The hectic public life in the capital city is replaced with a quiet atmosphere – after the national election, and, up to the first meeting of the new National Assembly – finally, with the participation of most members of opposition parties – and the formation of the new government, with an enormously huge number of members, compared to other countries.

To think back quietly is appropriate after these last couple of weeks, which brought so many new challenges.

One such intersection of the past, the present, and the future is the reminder during this week that Cambodia has the highest rate of disabled people among developing countries in the world – and the intention of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation to encourage the new Royal Government to ratify two international conventions, long overdue: the International Labor Organization Convention (No. 159) Concerning Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) – already from from 1985! – and the UN Convention for People with Disabilities – from 2006.

These broad agreements achieved among UN member governments help handicapped persons to find an accepted place in society, and also to be integrated into the job market. But during this same week we were also reminded of the gap faced by another group of job seekers: the gap between educational institutions selling their services, and business and industry expecting certain skills in new employees. At the end many Cambodian youth have difficulties to get jobs, while, on the other hand, employers find it difficult to recruit young staff who have been educated in skills for employment. There are no quick solutions, only calm and critical self-reflection may show where he necessary dialogue between he different social actors was missing and has to be established.

Another critical field that will require calm minds concerns the relations with Thailand – by “going back to the situation before 15 July 2008,” as the Prime Minister is reported to have said But that should lead, first of all, to the decisive last document from one month earlier – the Joint Communique of 18 June 2008 signed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An for the Royal Government of Cambodia. This document is, strangely enough, hardly known in Cambodia, because the media in Cambodia have not published it, while it has a prominent place internationally. This silence of the Khmer press has contributed to the black-and-while discussion and approach to the border question. Maybe the reported discrepancy between the opinions of the Minister of Defense and of the Chairperson of the National Committee for Resolving Border Problems could also help towards the required open discussion?

Pchum Ben is also called Festival of the Dead. It is a tragedy that this is not only an expression inviting us to remember our ancestors. It is unfortunately also a time, year after year, where many people are killed by traffic accidents – many more than in a normal week. It had been reported that during the one week of Pchum Ben holidays travel in 2007, there were 48 people who lost their lives on the road and 889 were injured, compared to the weekly average of 26 killed and 383 injured. One report says:

“45% of all casualties during Pchum Ben were involved in speed-related crashes, followed by dangerous overtaking at 19%, and drink-driving at 14%. Low helmet wearing rates also account for the high percentage of head trauma casualties during the Festival’s travel period. 39% percent of motorbike users suffered head injuries in crashes; 96% of those were not wearing helmets.”

One can only hope that in this context – as in many others – to remember what already happened will turn into guidance for the future. Surely this is also part of the fundamental challenge of the Pchum Ben days, relating the lives of those before us to ourselves, and to the future.

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[…] Click here to have a look at the last editorial: Pchum Ben – remembering those before us – to think … […]

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