Earlier this month I went to Cambodia as a volunteer on behalf of Sight For All (SFA) a charity I have blogged about before. The project I’m involved with sends Australian ophthalmologists to help locally-trained ophthalmologists develop sub-specialty skills. It’s a great cause and SFA has demonstrated impressive results, with projects also ongoing in Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Bhutan, Nepal and other Asian countries. The founder and head of SFA is Dr James Muecke AM, a man of true vision and relentless energy who has succeeded in drawing together a team of ophthalmologists from all around Australia. It’s a privilege to be included with the team, and it’s a wonderful project to work on.
I hadn’t been to Cambodia before this visit, I had little idea what to expect when I got there, but I almost immediately fell in love with the place. Cambodians have suffered almost unimaginable trauma, and live in society governed by a political system almost universally recognized as dysfunctional, with endemic corruption and intimidation of dissenters.
And yet this young country, with a median age of less than 24, remains optimistic for the future. Cambodia ruled most of Southeast Asia for almost 600 years, and the recognition of that history is an important part of the national psyche. Reminders of it reside above all in the image of Angkor Wat, which adorns the national flag, beer labels and bill boards. For the last 2 weeks Phnom Penh has seen rolling political rallies culminating in a huge protest yesterday in which supporters of the opposition and striking garment workers filled almost the entire length of one of the central boulevards. Did you see it on the news? No, neither did I.
Most of the world stopped looking closely at Cambodia some time ago, and left the task of assisting Cambodians in their ongoing recovery to NGOs and charities. Which is a shame, because I think we could be watching something like a Phoenix rising from its ashes. Well, at least we have Twitter …
Please see consider donating to SFA. Helping to prevent blindness isn’t a bad New Year’s resolution.