Cambodia is a relatively undeveloped country and in need of a lot of external assistance, which comes today in some measure from various aid agencies that have worked here since the Khmer Rouge were defeated by the Vietnamese who then withdrew. When Oxfam flew the very first supplies into Phnom Penh, when the danger had passed, there was no equipment left in the airport for their staff to descend from the plane, let alone unload the goods.
Today, however, there is a huge spirit of generosity in both Cambodia and in the region built on Buddhist principles, indeed Myanmar has the world’s highest percentage of its population who give to help other people.
Here in Phnom Penh today, Buddhist monks can be seen everywhere out on the streets and around the temples. Fundraising comes as second nature to them as they are well versed in politely seeking alms. At many sites collecting boxes are also strategically placed by statues of Buddha to allow people to earn merit by making a donation.
The same boxes are used by a social organisation raising funds to help disabled people. Indeed, social enterprises are also very visible in Phnom Penh. One is advertised on the back of the tuk tuk in the picture. This enterprise aims to help blind people who serve the food in a restaurant which has no lights on or any visibility at all. The blind waiters can find their way around easily, but for the sighted customers it is a little harder, an interesting experience no less and one with consequences.
Lastly, I noticed this larger scale social enterprise selling goods to raise funds to help a range of people. Next door is a restaurant, which is part of the enterprise, and which I can highly recommend having eaten there the day I arrived here from Bangkok, and where I plan to return to this evening with Bill King, now CEO of IFC and Ralph Leonard our Director in Singapore.
It is heartening to see people starting their own social organisations determined to help their compatriots, rather than leaving development to governments or aid agencies.
With greetings from Phnom Penh!