I cleaned my desk today. Partly because it was very messy and partly because we have a new paper shredder in the office that I really enjoy using. The satisfying sound when the machine is shredding the papers, combined with the thrill created by the fact that my fingers might get stuck, makes the paper shredder almost impossible to resist.
However, when I cleaned my desk I found an old folder with documents from the development phase of the project some three years ago. I remember that I at that time read somewhere that there were over 3,000 NGOs in Cambodia and that over 300 of them worked with human rights. I recall that it made me really sceptical towards developing a Cambodia programme. Would there be any added value of an RWI office/programme in Cambodia? What could we do, that had not already been done?
However, we realised rather quickly that the international community over the last 30 years had invested millions of dollars in development cooperation in Cambodia, but almost nothing in human rights education at academic institutions. In addition, when the Khmer Rouge regime fell in Cambodia in 1979, most intellectuals in Cambodia had been executed. Less than 10 lawyers survived the brutal regime. The education system had been ruined and all teaching at universities had vanished. On top of that, 70% of the Cambodian population is below 30 years old.
Keeping in mind RWI’s previous long and successful experience of supporting academic institutions in Asia (and around the world), we understood that there was an important role for RWI to play in Cambodia.
We now implement a unique programme focusing in particular on academic institutions. RWI has a strong added value in the otherwise so crowded development cooperation arena. We are cooperating with a couple of excellent and committed universities and we have jointly, already after less than two years, obtained some amazing results, for example the launch of a two year human rights master programme and the establishment of the first academic research centre with full-time human rights researchers.
Credits should also go to Sida and the Swedish Embassy in Cambodia for believing in our strategies of how to promote human rights in Cambodia. I believe a reason for the limited support to similar initiatives in the past could be that it is very difficult to show quick annual results. Something many donors like.
However, to work with academic institutions is a long-term commitment. There will be no quick results. Nevertheless, the results that will be obtained will be sustainable due to a strong local ownership. I am for example convinced that many of the students in the master programme will have important positions within the next 10 years and will then take decisions based on human rights considerations.
Enough about that. I really have to get back to work, but first I will run down to the local drink shop. One of the tuk-tuk drivers I used frequently in the past has now changed business and opened a mobile drink shop. He is normally parked around the corner at this time of the day. I have to support him. And I need a drink.