Archive for August 10th, 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 624
Apologies for the delay – computer crash – still struggling.
Cambodia made it again into the international media – together with Norway, it may be said.
Norway is hardly known in Cambodia – a small country of only about 4.5 million people compared to Cambodia’s around 14 million. Few people may know that the Norwegian branch of the international group of Save-the-Children fund organizations – Redd Barna – has been co-operating with the Ministry of Education of Cambodia over the years. And the organization Norwegian People’s Aid made it sometimes into the Cambodian press because of its involvement in landmine clearance and other activities related to dealing with landmines.
Since 1992 people from Norway are involved in Cambodia, providing technical assistance to the Cambodian Mine Action Center [CMAC]. But Norwegian People’s Aid does not work only on direct landmine clearance. In 1997, NPA was requested by the local authorities to assist in the resettlement of 5,000 displaced families on mine-free and de-mined land. In January 2007, requested by the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority [CMAA], NPA cooperated in Empowering CMAA, to analyze, plan, and use mine action data.
So far, their program Mines and Explosive Detection Dogs – through the NPA Global Training Center for Mine Detection Dogs co-operating with CMAC – found interest also in the Khmer press.
How is it possible that the people of this small country are involved in such work internationally? What is the background of the Norwegian People’s Aid? Norwegian People’s Aid has developed out of the Norwegian Labor Movement – struggling for their own rights, and extending the same spirit to others: “We support people in their struggle for more power and influence over their own lives and in the development of their societies.” The organization has about 12,000 members all over Norway: organizing work in Norway like First Aid and other emergency services, running receptions centers for refugees, voluntary activities for elderly and disabled people, as well as work against racism.
And the financial basis? A lot comes from individual regular supporters. But the Norwegian Television System is also assisting with fund raising for public concerns by organizing every year a Telethon: one whole Sunday afternoon and evening is dedicated to information about a specific issue, and at the same time, almost every house in the country is visited by volunteers collecting money. In this way, the 4.5 million Norwegians – “financial crisis or not” – collect normally around US$20 million and more millions during a few hours. And in preparation of these events – dedicated to problems of drug addition, physical disabilities, education, de-mining – a lot of further information is in newspapers, on radio, and on TV. In relation to Cambodia, this included recently also information about the conflicts between the residents around the Boeung Kak lake and the business plans of developing high rise buildings and to beautify Phnom Penh.
The Motto of the Kingdom of Norway is “Everything for Norway” – and this pride in their own identity leads to international outreach, support, and cooperation, at present in more than 30 countries, always trying to work with local partners and with local authorities. As for mine action, Norwegian People’s Aid is one of the leading organizations worldwide. But the work in this field of special competence is based on four wider concerns:
- Work against oppression, poverty and unfair distribution of resources.
- Fighting racism and discrimination.
- Working for gender equality, and against violence and abuse.
- Prevention, promoting voluntarism and building competence.
With these goals, the Norwegian People’s Aid found a natural partner in the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization [CDPO], working – in their own words –
“to develop the networks of people with disabilities so as to support, protect, serve and promote their rights, achievements and interests, in order to bring about their fuller participation and equality in society.
- People with Disabilities have a right to participate fully and equally in society.
- One voice of People with Disabilities.
- Empowerment of People with Disabilities.
- Develop the networks of people with disabilities so as to support, protect, serve and promote their rights, achievements and interests, in order to bring about their fuller participation and equality in society.
- To promote and bring about positive changes in attitudes in Cambodian society towards people with disabilities…”
After a Miss Landmine event had been organized with Norwegian cooperation in 2008 in Africa, in Angola, also a country suffering from decades of civil war and the devastation landmines bring, a similar event was planned and prepared in Cambodia in 2009, with the following goals – with which the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization agreed and they prepared an event together, based on the following convictions: [depending on your browser setting, if you wait several seconds, a “slide show” may start]
EVERYBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO BE BEAUTIFUL!
- Female pride and empowerment.
- Disabled pride and empowerment.
- Global and local landmine awareness and information.
- Challenge inferiority and/or guilt complexes that hinder creativity-
historical, cultural, social, personal, Asian, European.
- Question established concepts of physical perfection.
- Challenge old and ingrown concepts of cultural cooperation.
Celebrate true beauty.
- Replace the passive term ‘Victim’ with the active term ‘Survivor’
- And have a good time for all involved while doing so!
Twenty women have been finally selected, and their pictures were to be displayed in the cultural center of the Meta House in Phnom Penh. They come from the provinces and cities of Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Kampot, Kompong Cham,Kompong Chhnang, Kandal, Kep, Kompong Speu, Kompong Thom, Mondolkiri, Pailin, Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk, Preah Vihear, Prey Veng, Pursat, Siem Reap, Stung Treng, Svay Rieng, and Takeo.
They range in age between 18 and 48, they survived a mine explosion between 1979 and 2000, they are farmers, or selling cake at a market, work in a factory, or are students. And their pictures show that they are, in spite of having survived a terrible experience, claiming their “right to participate fully and equally in society” according to the Vision of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization.
This endeavor is sponsored and funded, like many other international activities, by the people of Norway, in this case through the Arts Council Norway (Norsk Kulturråd) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But Ministry of Social Affairs Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation of Cambodia prohibited the planned event, as The Mirror reported already on Thursday, 6.8.2009, and the Miss Landmine website said: “all further activities on Cambodian territory are canceled as of today 2 August 2009.”
The Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization followed suit: “We totally support the content of the announcement of the Ministry of Social Affairs Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation not to support the Miss Landmine contest, because it can create misunderstandings among the public towards the honor of disabled people, especially of disabled women.”
And the Minister of Women’s Affairs declared in The Cambodia Daily, that her Ministry had never given full support to this plan, as had been claimed.
This event brought Cambodia again into the international media: Soon after the prohibition, there was a report broadcast on BBC World Service, and a quick research showed that by now there are are about 250 reports in the media in Argentina, Chile, Denmark, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.
Many of these reports refer also to the pictures on the Miss Landmine website. To look at them, to read the individual short notes of every one of these 20 women standing form many, many more survivors, may explain why this planned event – and its prohibition – finds such wide international interest. What does it mean that the positions taken by the Cambodian authorities on the one side, and the people of Norway who supported the efforts which were welcome in Angola, and which seem to be welcome in the media reports around the world? Even when the language not of all reports can be understood, the pictures speak clearly.
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