Working for a Former Human Rights Defender, Up Against Boundaries Set by Government | #5 & Informational Interview 1

This is my very first informational interview required by my ALA 225 internship course, and my interview guest is Pao, my supervisor and the executive director in the NGO, Youth Education for Development and Peace. He is truly a simple man, who wears cap, and t-shirt every single day. Pao, with his simple understanding of fashion, has proven to have a unique, not necessarily joyful, story in his career. And my favorite experience as a summer intern in Cambodia is to get to talk to Pao about his story with democracy and youth advocacy.

As I have stated in some of my blogs prior, the dominant party, Cambodian People’s Party has been winning in communal and general elections for 25 years in Cambodia. Even though CPP has a hobby of using “democracy” as their slogan and campaigns, according to failed state index conducted by The Fund for Peace Research, Cambodia was ranked at 50th most failed state among all 178 countires or areas in the world. Pao used to work as a human rights defender aggressively, and because Cambodian government has implemented measures of threats and arrests on him to make sure that his advocacy for democracy does not risk the regime, in which local leaders could have find a way to create a win-win corruption with business. He shared with me that there was protest taking place for his release when he was arrested for talking with locals in communes and provinces. Even after the release, he knew that he was under government’s surveillance because of his commitment to democracy and changes in Cambodia. This story gives me chills and makes me feel that I have been working with a reform or revolution leader unknowingly.

But why did he decide to quit his job as a human rights defender, and create an NGO, YEDP. Because he realized that one person with passion is not enough for changes to come, even dangerous at times; he is determined to create a team of leaders, a group of young people to support the cause of education of democracy. NGO is forbidden from partisan talk in Cambodia, but this makes him check on his boundaries more often because he wants to seek for a peaceful change for generations to come. He insists now he will be more patient for his long term goal of YEDP, and change the communities with all people with democratic goals in mind. His work is different from office job because he does not like to work in office, but instead, he chooses to go to provinces and communes during the weekend and engage with the local communities. He says he is thankful for international and Cambodian interns to volunteer in YEDP because he sees diversity of skills and opinions essential for the future of NGOs in Cambodia.

He teaches me passion and patience in social works and advocacy. Passion leads you to fight for your belief and patience inspires you to seek for a sustainable path rather than a radical one. I have learned more about Cambodia and NGO works in general. But as I share my insights of NGOs with him, he said he is not an expert in managing NGO but he always starts from the people, and work cooperatively with the experts. In general, no matter what our interests are, we mature and gain confidence as we concentrate and work. I will have to learn to set some short-term and long-term goals in the career of public service as Pao always brings up in his weekly meetings. He told me that he had been to different training programs in many Asian countries and had found inspiring in learning comparatively from others. Being book-smart is not enough; being people-smart, always learning from your work, and applying your knowledges in practices matter more in non-profit works.

As a traveler, my favorite experience is the sunset cruise in Kampot, and I will share some of pictures below. It is nearly impossible to take bad pictures in this paradise.


2 thoughts on “Working for a Former Human Rights Defender, Up Against Boundaries Set by Government | #5 & Informational Interview 1

  • June 21, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    Johnny, that sounds like an amazing person to have as your supervisor! It’s so interesting to have an insider’s view on how the Cambodian government is running, and how easy it is for a government to use corruption to stay in power for so long.

    Beautiful photos, and great reflection!

  • July 21, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    Wow, what an amazing resource. It will be great to see how your experience with Pao and YEDP influence your future years at U-M and beyond!


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