We had a meeting with the Governor of Battambang, Chan Sopha, and he spoke about economic development and tourism in the province.
He has been governor for three years. He encourages the locals to appreciate and restore what they have, rather than tear down or alter a building too much. He is working with UNESCO, trying to have them recognize the homes and buildings of Battambang as a world heritage site. The French cinema and Hollywood have used the city’s French colonial buildings as movie sets. He tells people that tourists will come if they preserve what they have. He would like to establish districts in the city-business, residential, and historical. His action plan for 2020 includes providing a healthy, affordable drinking water supply. He is trying to teach via all media how to take care of garbage, waste, and recycling. Right now, because of changing climate and limited water, farmers plant rice only once a year. He has built dams to store water so that people can stay on the land and plant several times per year. His thinks his role as governor is to make people happy
Mid-day, we visited an orange grove and learned about small business entrepreneurship.
Banan Province is famous for its orange groves. The entrepreneur we visited worked and bartered her way to ownership of one acre of land for an orange grove. She said that it takes three to four years for an orange tree to produce. Oranges are more profitable than rice. She said that she makes about $10,000 per year from her grove. When we asked her if she ever hires workers, she said that there is communal sharing of work. They still help each other as they did before the Khmer Rouge era.
In the afternoon we went to Buddhism for Development (BFD) and met with the director, Mr. Heng Monychenda. It began in 1990 in a Thailand border refugee camp. In 1993, during the repatriation period, it opened its first office in Battambang. Now it is in seven provinces. It is not an NGO that builds pagodas. It trains monks and others. It has many goals, which include:
1. Increasing the income of the people
2. Encouraging them to form cooperatives, but not like during the Khmer Rouge period; now, the word means community
3. Trying to deal with local government and have the constituency understand its rights. 4. Focusing on general social development. Trying to build a network at the local level. Trying to be an agent of change. Addressing the lack of trust between perpetrators and victims (from the Khmer Rouge era).
5. Aiding access to health care. A volunteer, Catherine, helps to do research on HIV AIDS. There are 4,000 cases in Battambang. They need to plan for the long term. They have worked with this community for more than one year.
6. Fostering access to education. Most of the people have only a 5th to 10th grade education.
7. Doing work on the environment. “Put down the saw and plant the seed. You eat the fruit, but you plant the seed or a tree; we offer the tree for the spirit, for the mountain.” Some monks are working on the environment. Monks for social justice expose bad activities and risk their lives.
Buddhism for Development once had a budget of $1.2 million, but now works with $300,000.