The funny thing about Cambodia, is one minute you can be sitting on the French colonial balcony of a Western cafe, cooling off with a gelato, when just hours before you were sitting in a floating hut off Mekong island, talking about life with the locals. You can see brand new black shiny range rovers pushing their way past tuk tuks and motorbikes while little children beg on the side of the street.
Cambodia is a country of contrast. It’s a mixture of the best in people, the smiling happy energetic children, amidst a history so dark and destructive that you wander how any society could manage to recover.
I was talking to a local friend about the most persistent issue Cambodians deal with, and his answer was education. When the Khmer Rouge took hold of Cambodia from 1975-1979 they completely wiped out the education system and it has never fully recovered. Corruption is rampant. Teachers aren’t paid enough, which has created a culture of bribery. Students pay for good grades, pay to pass classes, and for the many who cannot afford the bribes, education starts and ends with elementary school.
Without a solid educated class, larger issues like corruption, human rights abuses and unequal development will continue to thrive. The money is there. The United States, China, and many other developed nations have provided Cambodia with billions and billions of aid dollars, yet what is often the case in developing nations, aid comes with stipulations that don’t always help those who need it the most.