Towards a Peaceful Cambodia
Once a peaceful kingdom, Cambodia has been the site of genocidal conflict (20-30% of the population killed under the Khmer Rouge), has seen ten years of occupation by the Vietnamese, and an ostensible return to peace in the early 1990s. However, some 25 years later, human rights violations, mal-governance and unequitable development still pose major challenges to genuine reconciliation and peace.
My first trip to Cambodia was as an international development worker (CIDA) in 1998. I paid a private visit to The Peaceful Children’s Home in Sre Ampel (near Phnom Penh), which together with its sister Home in Battambang, provide a permanent and supportive environment to some 100 Cambodian children and youth.
In 1994, two prominent Cambodians, Son Sann (1) and his son, Dr. Son Soubert (2), created the Khmer Foundation for Justice, Peace and Development (KFJPD) to help Cambodian children and young people emerge from two decades of conflict.
Managed by the KFJPD, the Homes took in “unaccompanied” child returnees from refugee camps on the Thai border. Over time, the Homes came to accept children who were orphaned, abandoned, rescued from the street or from human trafficking.
The founders were well aware of the disruption caused by decades of conflict to the family unit, to education, and to basic human values. Although operating on a modest budget, the Homes set out to address these issues and, on a small scale, to produce a new generation of ethical, peaceful productive young Cambodians.
The children and young people at the Homes visibly aspire to peace. The Peaceful Children’s Homes was the name chosen by the first group of arrivals in 1994.
On my first visit, a young girl asked me if we “had war in Canada”. A teenage girl told me she wanted to help people by being a doctor, while a young man stated that his career plan was to become “an uncorrupt judge”. I was struck by the awareness and depth of their experience of conflict, governance and peace.
I returned to Cambodia often, regularly visiting the Homes. Back in Canada, I recounted my experiences to family and friends. In 2006, Laurent Côté, a 13-year-old Ottawa violinist suggested that we organize a fund-raising concert for the Homes, calling his initiative Kids Helping Kids.
Twelve years later, this volunteer initiative continues under the name, In Concert for Cambodia.
The cause of helping children and youth in a country struggling for peace and development continues to attract successive waves of young musicians. Many are drawn from the University of Ottawa’s School of Music program, while others are recognized virtuosos. All proceeds go directly to the KFJPD for food, self-sufficiency projects, health and education.
IC4C is proud to support the university studies of four talented young people from the Homes – in economics, agriculture, law and medicine – our modest contribution to Cambodia’s peace and development.
Recently, I met many happy young adults, now with their own families, whom I remember as children in the Homes - including the current Director, Veuk Chum. Their peaceful and productive lives are the best possible reward for our efforts.
By: Flora Liebich, IC4C Coordinator
(1) Former Prime Minister, founder of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, and leader in the refugee camps in Thailand.
(2) High Privy Counselor to the King of Cambodia, Formerly Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and Member of the Constitutional Council