Sunday, June 10, 2012

When Bureaucracy Matters More

It has taken me quite a while to be able to write this post. I was so angry in the beginning that it wouldn't have made for a very coherent post, so hopefully now I can explain this and some of the problems that face Cambodia.

About a month ago my school and another volunteer's school were scheduled for a field trip to Phnom Penh. We had worked it out with the ECCC (Extrordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) who pay for students to come to Phnom Penh, watch the Khmer Rouge trials, go to a killing field, and tour Toul Sleng(S-21). It's such an amazing opportunity for the students! They don't really learn about what happened in the Khmer Rouge in school and most parents who endured it don't like to talk about it either. I wanted my students to know! I wanted to do it with another volunteer so the students from different areas could meet and talk about this experience together.

So it was the day of the field trip, because I'm so far away from Phnom Penh my school decided to ask to DOE (District office of education) for some money so the students could have water and a price of bread for the long trip. They were really nice, and one of them chipped in from his own pocket.

2 hours, you hear that? 2 hours before we were scheduled to leave, the POE (Provincial Office of Education) called us and said we couldn't go. WHAT?!

I didn't know this, but apparently they "needed" a letter from the ECCC saying they said it was ok for the students to come and basically accepting responsibility for the students since they paid for the trip. I talked to the ECCC, I talked to my school director, I talked to my Peace Corps Program Manager, they all talked to the POE. The POE wouldn't budge. They wouldn't accept a letter from anyone other than the ECCC, who weren't willing to write a letter, and so less than two hours before 150 students who were supposed to board the buses that were already at my site, the trip was cancelled. I felt so bad, I felt horrible. Students were already waiting at the school. They kept calling my co-teachers asking what happened. They had bought new clothes for their first trip to Phnom Penh. It was a sad moment.

Then I was mad. I was so angry. My Program Manager was so lovely. He was very comforting to talk to, saying "I am so sorry, because this is my country and I don't understand how just a piece of paper could stop this."

Well, we the POE couldn't stop us volunteers from going, so we made it to the other volunteer's site and went with her students. She lives in another province and was so lucky to work it out with her POE to go.

We had a great time and watched Pol Pot's nephew be questioned. I wish so much that my students could have gone and learned about what happened to their country during the Khmer Rouge.

This is just an example of one of the things that holds Cambodia back. They're still struggling to break the chains of the Khmer Rouge from their political system. I guess I can't really say much more, as we are here at the invitation of the government, but Cambodia is so full of amazing people and I hope one day that the people will be who matter the most.

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