By Emily Martin
Cambodia as a Role Model!
Cambodia is a rapidly developing country – after years of turmoil and conflict it is now one of the safest and most welcoming countries to visit in South East Asia, if not the world.
Many people relate Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge Genocide and the corruption and extreme poverty which has followed. What you might not realise though, and should know, is that Cambodia is actually an incredible example to other countries – on how a country can grow and thrive post-conflict.
The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies is based in Siem Reap and supports peace processes throughout the Asia Region and promotes and supports Asian approaches to solving conflict. Currently they mostly work in Myanmar (Burma) and the Philippines– with groups like Governments, civil society, armed groups and NGO’s.
Why are they based in Siem Reap? Fore-mostly so they can use Cambodia as an example. “It’s an incredible resource because of the distance it has come in terms of civil war, the Khmer Rouge, to post conflict and to how it is now.” James O’Keefe, who works for the centre, says.
The centre brings people engaged in peace work and peace processes in neighbouring Asian countries to Cambodia so “they can learn about a regional approach to conflict transformation, so they can learn from Cambodian Peace builders who have dedicated their lives and careers to removing these elements of conflict from the society and then replacing them with more peace focused aspects, and take those lessons home.”
In the 1990’s Cambodia was still a relatively unsafe place, “it was not safe to go out at night, there were lots of guns on the streets, lots of petty crime, you couldn’t walk around on your own. There was still a lot of problems with the remnants of the conflict in terms of people having access to weapons.” However, in just a short period of time the country has had weapons reduction campaigns where people around the country have handed in the small arms that they had and there are all sorts of initiatives in action to remove landmines, a lasting legacy of the war in terms of weapons.
“A lot of tourists, when they come to Phnom Penh they go to Tuol Sleng, they go to the killing fields and without a prior knowledge of Cambodia or a greater understanding of the context they can easily go away with a very negative and limited understanding of history in Cambodia. We want to change that and so that’s a reason we use Phare, to start to look at different ways of talking about the past in more positive ways.”
Yes you read right, The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies are not only using Cambodia as a role model to other countries, but they are also focusing on Phare as an example!
“You should also learn about the positive things that have been done since then [The Khmer Rouge] so that you can get a more balanced understanding about Cambodia. Phare is a way of exploring the history, and exploring social issues in Cambodia in a more transformative way that engages young people – it educates tourists almost subconsciously. They come thinking they’re coming to see the circus but then they end up learning about bullying or discrimination or the effects of the Khmer Rouge.”
The trips to Phare started out as a way to entertain guests to Cambodia but quickly “we started to realise that it’s really a great way to explore Cambodia through a different lens. It was especially good for the group that we brought recently, artists from Myanmar, because in Myanmar things like performance art and expressing social issues through a way like this is has been very, very restricted. It’s interesting for them as artists to come here and learn about how you can use art as a way to talk about the past and social messages.”
The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies has used Phare as a way to expand the narrative of Cambodia so it’s not so much focused on the brutality and the Khmer Rouge, but to help people understand the entire picture. So that they come away with a more balanced understanding of the country and the history of the country.
“We feel like Cambodia is a really great place for people to come and learn about – even if you have experienced a very difficult past, you can learn from Cambodia that in such a short period of time it can come very, very far.”
Read more about the work of The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies .
Find out more about Phare’s Social Mission.