From the USA where one university produces 700+ PhDs in one year, I have now come back to Cambodia where, I was told, there are ~800 PhDs in the whole country, the majority of them locally grown. From the air, it is obviously that this country is endowed with plenty of water in the form of mighty rivers and monumental lakes, abundant sunshine, and fertile land. The fact that it remains so poor is certainly down to men.
Yet there is hope. Since I came for the first time in 2010, development has been rapid. Every year there are better roads, more cars, more hotels, more coffee shops, more businesses, more universities, and more communities provided with electrical power.
Yet the infrastructure struggles to catch up. Even at the hotel not far from the city centre and the airport, electrical power cut out three times in the first evening I arrived. One minute I was working on a presentation I was going to make at a symposium on Friday, the next minute the room was plunged into darkness.
We are here to run, for the first time, a Service-Learning and Leadership Summer School - a joint venture between The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Royal University of Phnom Penh. It is being attended by 200+ students from Hong Kong, Cambodia, Israel and the USA.
One of our projects is the setting up of solar panels to generate electricity for a village in Kampong Speu, a provide an hour away from Phnom Penh. We will also furnish a recycled cargo container to be used as a community learning centre, work on sanitation and diet at a slum and a village, teach English at a primary school in a slum next to the infamous old garbage dump at Stung Meancheay. In the process, we are helping in the education reform that is on-going here.
This is the time of the year when we feel most alive, when you feel you are part of something bigger than yourselves.