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Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia

31

KROM

I return to the people of Krom Akphiwat Phum as I always do when in Battambang. I am expected of course: news travels fast in Cambodia. We sit together on the floor mat as we always have, though in the rented house that is now the base there are some tables and chairs. The veteran friends from the beginning want more than anything else to tell me of their lives and their families. I make sure that I have a chance to meet new members of the team. Times change and Krom Akphiwat Phum adjusts.

A young woman has recently been selected for a place among the twelve. She has graduated after four years of university studying community development and realising that she needs experience for the theory to make sense.

Those who have gained so much from two decades out in the villages worry about how they can pass on their experience. ‘We are like old bamboo that needs to find new green shoots,’ they say. The friendly give-and-take has not changed. We joke that Ean once said he would stay with this work until his hair was like the rough outside of a coconut. ‘This is it. Your hair is like the outside of a coconut now.’

The practices and the vision of the original Krom can still be recognised, though for most of its twenty years Nee and Ka have not been involved. There is still a gender balance in the leadership: six men and six women. It is still about helping people to develop by any means possible, and watching over the development of village communities. The poorest are still listened to; their concerns mould the planning. The work has spread across many villages where the local people now manage these projects.

I read Krom’s proposals and evaluations and sometimes meet with International NGOs who are considering whether to support them financially.

An unexpected email appears in my inbox. An American friend from Site 2 days, the anthropologist Lindsay French, has kept contact with Krom during the years. She and her documentary-making husband, Peter O’Neill, have captured the story on camera. I follow the links to their site as they invite me to watch the film. I write to tell them that I am delighted with the way the spirit of the work has been depicted, but also mention my worry that the spirit being built in the villages could make the Krom and the village people a target. The rich, the powerful and the corrupt will retaliate as the poor dare to hope for a better life. Lindsay replies:

I think the Krom themselves wonder how this will all work out. It is a risky business, to create hope. I am impressed with their truly dogged determination. They need some younger staff, though; they are getting tired. Unfortunately, very few younger people share their perspective, which has been forged through experiences nobody wants repeated. BUT at least they – the younger people – can and should know about these experiences. This is where your storytelling comes in.

This time, as always, the warmth of the welcome when I return to Krom becomes a lively party. But the serious questions remain.

Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia

   by Joan Healy