Wow! Thank you to everyone for the wonderful feedback and questions I
received after my first “Ask the Ambassador” column last week. I am
excited by how many Cambodians are interested in having a dialogue with
me, and I hope to continue to hear from you at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov.
This week, I will answer three questions that I received that I feel are very well related. The first question, “Why did I choose Cambodia?” is very easy for me to answer. It is a great country at a very important time in its history, and I feel I can make a positive difference.
This is not the first time I have been to Cambodia. Over the years I have visited several times, most recently about two years ago when I came with my family. At the time I was the U.S. Ambassador to Brunei. We wanted to see Cambodia’s beautiful countryside, get to know its people, and enjoy the country’s culture. We visited throughout the country including Phnom Penh and Siem Reap – we fell in love with the amazing temples, the excellent food, and most of all, the people. Cambodians are wonderful and welcoming, and I felt blessed to show my wife and my children this “Kingdom of Wonder.”
I also knew if I could ever become Ambassador I could make a difference. Fortunately for me two years later, I am very happy to be here.
That brings me directly to the next question I will answer today, “What is the United States doing for Cambodia?” As U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, my primary goal is to promote an effective partnership between our two nations.
To that end, the United States provides funding to many NGOs that work throughout the country on a wide range of issues important to Cambodians – from the prevention of human trafficking to environmental issues with the Mekong River. Beyond that, U.S. government agencies such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit (NAMRU-2), and the Peace Corps work directly to improve opportunities and the general quality of life for Cambodians.
Many of you may have heard that the U.S. Department of State issued its 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report last week. For Cambodia, we wish to raise awareness on the subject of human slavery and assist Cambodia with its own efforts to address the problem. This year was a special year for combating trafficking-in-persons in Cambodia as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized Prum Vannak Anan, whose personal efforts have made an extraordinary difference in the global fight against modern slavery. Mr. Vannak Anan’s work is a clear indicator that Cambodia is determined to eliminate this scourge, and the United States wants to be an engaged partner to make this happen.
Much of what we do is behind the scenes. We are not building bridges or resorts, but rather, we are directly helping to advance the health, education, and security of everyday Cambodians. If you want to learn more about our embassy’s programs, please visit the U.S. Embassy website at http://cambodia.usembassy.gov/.
Lastly, several people wrote to ask “What do you think of Cambodia’s situation nowadays?” This is a big question, and one that I will address again and again in this column and on my blog (http://blogs.usembassy.gov/todd). But from my last trip to Cambodia to now, I can definitely say that I am impressed by the development all over the country. Roads are improving, and there are skyscrapers being built all over Phnom Penh. These are sure signs of positive economic growth. The country is beginning to transition from an agricultural-based economy to an industrial-based economy, which is a good sign of progress.
Children need an education, people with education need to be able to find meaningful work in Cambodia, and Cambodia needs to continue working to become more attractive to business investors. Young people need to stay in school as long as they can to get as much education as possible. The youth of this country are its future. The other day someone asked me, “In your opinion, Ambassador, what is the most important ‘sector or asset’ in Cambodia?” I responded that it is the Cambodian youth; they are the future with over 70% of the population being 30 years of age or younger. Through training, experience and opportunity, they will be the business and government leaders of this nation someday.
All of these things are related, and they are what I want to work on directly with Cambodians.
Cambodia is a wonderful place to live, and I am glad to be here working with the government, civil society, and the Cambodian people. I know that together, by having these discussions, we can become even closer.
Please keep sending me your questions! I look forward to hearing from you at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov.
William E. Todd is U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia