Observations while Traveling – Sunday, 14.12.2008

Posted on 15 December 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 590 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 590

I was in Korea on 10 December – the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And I was informed about many events organized in the country – people took time off for special meetings and lectures and presentations, and there was a long procession of people concerned, marching for several miles in the evening with candles – most of this after working hours. When I said that 10 December is a National Holiday in Cambodia, there was surprise: Korea had not achieved this, so the Cambodian society as a whole was surely using this day as a day of celebration of human rights and freedoms? When I shared that the request of a group of civil society organization in Cambodia had been denied the right to have a short, peaceful march in Phnom Penh, there was again surprise. The reflections and discussions, what these differences in the way of using this day mean – in the general public in Cambodia and in Korea – remained without conclusive answers.

On Friday, 12 December 2008, we carried a report in the Mirror about the celebrations in Cambodia under the motto ‘Dignity and Justice for All’ and ‘Human Rights, Our Rights,’ and about the joint statement released by the participating civil society groups. The report we mirrored ends with the plea to “create a special law to promote and protect the rights of disabled people.”

We had reported about the same concern also in the editorial at Pchum Ben, on 28 September 2008, with reference to a reminder by 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.”

But this initiative, too, has a prehistory: under the date of 20 March 2007 we had mirrored: “Because the war disabled served the country and sacrificed their lives for the citizens, the Royal Government of Cambodia, led by Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen, never ignores them…” so the Ministry of Social Work, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation was tasked to work towards solutions. The creation of Veterans’ Solidarity Chests was announced, to handle financial assistance. But the report, at that time, continued: “Just having heard of this circular, all of the disabled people were immediately so happy as if they would go to heaven, because the creation of Veterans’ Solidarity Chests in cities and provinces would enable them to live appropriately. But it seemed to have been a happy attraction for the disabled only for a while, and at the end, they were sad instead.” Now the civil society statement took this concern up again – which had obviously not been considered to be important for the society as a whole, because it never got the necessary active broad support, in spite of the fact that Cambodia is said to be the country with the highest percentage of handicapped persons.

The days in Korea – only in the capital city of Seoul – provided some examples, showing how Korean society is taking care of its weaker members. I became aware that this is first of all a concern for the elderly. Seoul is a huge city with a wide network of trains, over and under ground.

Network of rail links in Seoul

When taking a train with an old friend, he bought a ticket only for me: Korean citizens who are more than 65 year old, do not have to pay. This measure does not only take a financial burden away – it greatly helps so that families and friends can easily visit. The old are invited to be part of the younger generation actively moving around.

But I had seen already, walking around town, that there were yellow tiles on the walkways, with a specially formed surface, so that it is easy to feel them even when stepping on them with heavy shoes: they allow blind people to learn to move around town, to find their way, straight on, or even to identify places where there is a bus stop.

yellow-combi1

The picture to the right shows the same walking aid in an underpass – but at the end, on the left, next to the stairs, is a special piece of equipment: a self-service lift for people on a wheelchair, to move up or down freely, so that they can use the underground trains.

The number of blind persons, or of persons moving around on wheelchairs, is small – but the society invests considerable amounts of money to provide these facilities. And many public buildings have special raps next to the steps, so that people on wheelchairs can drive up and enter.

Wheelchair lift

Wheelchair lift

I was told that these investments were made based on a broad social consensus.

During this cold months of December, a special fund raising activities to support social assistance programs could be seen in many places around town: two or there people appealing to the others going for shopping, asking to share some of their money for social concerns.

Social Solidarity Chest Appeal

Social Solidarity Chest Appeal

A newspaper showed how very young children empty their own savings to put them into a Social Solidarity Chest. Obviously, these children learn from early age the importance of voluntary sharing.

Children's savings shared

Children's savings shared

Surely, this is not a model to help the Cambodian Veterans’ Solidarity Chests to fulfill what they were intended to do. But it may still be a pointer to consider, what kind of orientation is being given – to the young and to the adults – that a society needs signs, and personal actions, for the benefit not only of oneself, but for others.

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