When I first came to Cambodia in 2015, I interned at the Asian Justice Initiative, focusing on the Khmer Rouge Trials and hereby Cambodia’s past. I got a crucial insight into one of the most devastating times in Cambodian history, a time shaping and haunting the country to the present day. As interesting and telling as this experience was, I felt that to truly get to know Cambodia, I needed to also learn about the current situation.
My internship at HBF Cambodia allowed me to do exactly that. The country is changing rapidly and in particular Phnom Penh seems to never stand still. These past three months have taught me what present day Cambodia is dealing with and have made it clear that the country is on a Janus-faced path to development.
The HBF office welcomed me with open arms and over the course of the past three months, I was given a variety of tasks, from research to writing reports, holding an interview and attending a number of political events on behalf of the organization. I was able to conduct various researches, providing me with a better understanding of the living situation of the different minority groups in Cambodia, whether it be the ethnic Vietnamese or the indigenous communities. Moreover, I wrote a report on the political developments 2017 and evaluated the development programs implemented by the German government in Cambodia.
Furthermore, I became particularly interested in the topic of resource governance. I was fortunate enough to get a detailed insight into the issue through my colleagues at HBF but also through attending a number of events addressing the problems. I decided to focus on the hydropower dam projects that aim to solve Cambodia’s energy shortage while also bringing down the country’s high electricity costs. Hydropower has experienced a rapid development, 6 dams are currently operating and many more are in the planning with the involvement of foreign players such as China and Korea, but also Cambodian investors. My case study became the Lower Sesan II dam in Stung Treng Province, which was inaugurated in September 2017. Like most of the dam projects, it is predicted to have a negative environmental and societal impact. I will continue this research and am planning to investigate the dams’ impacts for my upcoming Master thesis. Thus, the internship allowed me to construct a framework for my thesis and I am very grateful for that.
One particular highlight during my time at HBF was our Gender Focal Point Meeting, for which the gender focal points from all the Asian HBF offices (Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Thailand and China) came to Phnom Penh, together with one representative from a local partner organization. The meeting allowed for all of them to share their knowledge and experiences but also exchange opinions. Gender rights were something that I had taken for granted for the longest time and only started concerning myself with in recent times. Through this meeting I realized how very much present gender inequality is not only in Cambodia but in all of Asia and also Europe and that a true democracy only exists when every person regardless of their gender or identity enjoys equal rights.
Thank you to HBF Cambodia for giving me the opportunity to not only deepen my knowledge about this beautiful country but also for opening my eyes to its current challenges.