Action at grass roots

Angkor’s tourist income is funding community projects beyond the Cambodian heritage site, writes Leisa Tyler.



Cambodia’s Angkor Heritage Park is the fastest-growing tourism attraction of any World Heritage monument. Increasing at an average rate of 30 per cent a year, arrivals are expected to reach 3 million this year, up from 200,000 visitors 10 years ago.

Tourism has turned the temples into one of the most sought-after experiences in the world and brought development and infrastructure to the nearby town of Siem Reap.

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But few people in Siem Reap province benefit from these tourist dollars. Predominantly rural, the people remain among the poorest in Cambodia, many living on less than a dollar a day.

A Bangkok-based hotel management group is hoping to change this. “Tourism is better equipped and in a better position to deal with poverty than many governments,” says Bill Black, the managing director of Ativa Hospitality, a management company that has the Hotel de la Paix and Shinta Mani hotel in Siem Reap in its portfolio.

Black is a man on a mission. Diverting a percentage of room rates into community-based projects, the genteel Canadian wants to prove that, with a little effort and imagination, tourism can be a vehicle for community development.

Black’s first project, the Shinta Mani Hospitality School (now called the Institute of Hospitality), started in 2004. It enrolled 20 disadvantaged youths in a year-long hospitality course conducted at the Shinta Mani hotel that would prepare them to work in the town’s burgeoning hotel industry.

The program was a success and became the model for similar projects in Cambodia. Another Shinta Mani initiative is the Connect program, in which hotel guests can buy and deliver practical items such as wells and vegetable seed, piglets or bicycles to families in need.

Since its inception in 2005, the program has built 1043 water wells with mini-market gardens and 97 small concrete houses with septic tanks.

Black has since established the Hotel de la Paix Sewing Centre with funds from the five-star hotel, which teaches needlework and accounting skills to young women.

More recently the Hotel de la Paix teamed with MasterCard to raise money for a new workshop, which is now under construction at the sewing centre. A previous project with the credit-card company bought 900 bicycles for underprivileged school children.

“The idea is to give people the opportunity to be self-sufficient,” Black says, explaining that first they give families a well and vegetable seed. When they see the family has successfully grown vegetables, including surplus to sell for income, then they may buy them a bicycle or a female piglet to raise and breed.

Fiona Donato and daughter Felicity, 10, from Dover in Tasmania, became involved with Black’s Connect during a school trip to Cambodia, buying two water wells and a piglet and delivering them to the donors. Donato says the experience was “life changing”, and the school has since donated two more piglets, a house and 500 mosquito nets through fund raising.

RI still waiting for Thailand`s signal to meet Cambodia

Jakarta, March 25  (ANTARA) – Indonesia`s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it had yet to receive an official statement from Thailand regarding its intention to hold a bilateral meeting with Cambodia to settle their border problem without the presence of a third party.

“We have yet to receive an official statement from Thailand`s representative regarding the matrer. Therefore, we cannot comment on this issue yet,” Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Michael Tene said here on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the Bangkok Post quoted Thailand`s Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon as saying the next General Border Committee (GBC) meeting with Cambdoia must be between Thailand and Cambodia only, without a third party.

Col Thanathip Sawngsaeng, the defence spokesman, said Gen Prawit reaffirmed to the meeting that the GBC must be bilateral without the presence of representatives from Indonesia or any other third country.

“We will not go to Indonesia. The meeting must be held in either Thailand or Cambodia. However, there would be no problems if Indonesia wants to come as a listener,” he quoted Gen Prawit as saying.

Gen Prawit said he had personally discussed the matter with Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh.

Moreover, the Thai Defence Ministry had sent a letter to his Cambodian counterpart, asking for a GBC meeting as soon as possible so that the military leaders of the two countries can discuss the border problem.

The GBC is co-chaired by the defence ministers of Thailand and Cambodia. It is separate from the Joint Border Commission (JBC), under the foreign ministry.

Gen Prawit said he believed Cambodia would not postpone the meeting again and that a date would be agreed upon soon.

He said Cambodia was supposed to host the 8th GBC meeting this year. But if Cambodia was not ready, Thailand would be willing to host it, he added.

At the next GBC meeting the two sides would discuss problems in implementing agreements over the disputed border area, security along the border, illegal labour, drug smuggling and other crimes, he said. (ANTARA)