Re-building IofC transnational bridges: individuals from Cambodia and Vietnam endeavour to honour history through an exchange programme
In a quest to bring life back to the exchange programmes we used to have with Initiatives of Change (IofC) Vietnam, six Cambodian Initiatives of Change Association (ICA) friends travelled over the weekend of 11-12 March to Ho Chi Minh City. Three of the Cambodians had never been to Vietnam, and so our local friends showed us around the large city that is home to eight million people and five million motorbikes on any working day. Since member nations in ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) can travel freely in the area without the need for a visa nowadays, travel has become much easier. Kim Vuth from Cambodia reminded us that we travel for six hours by bus within Cambodia without complaint, which is the same time on the bus to travel from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.
The main purpose of our visit was to rebuild our friendships and to talk about things we can do together. Kim Vuth said, 'We should stop wanting to talk about the past and the wars and focus on getting to know each other better and becoming friends.' During our meeting one of the Cambodian ladies said that her parents were worried about her travelling to Vietnam. I reminded the group that this is exactly what the Vietnamese parents said to their children when they decided to visit ICA friends in Cambodia during the first Cambodia-Vietnam exchange programme. Since that time Cambodians and Vietnamese IofC friends have travelled back and forth, working together, staying with local families, sharing their lives and becoming friends. One Vietnamese friend said she'd learnt nothing about Cambodia and its history with Vietnam while in school and now, as a young adult, she still knew very little. Chem Thornin, from Cambodia, commented that relationships within our families were also important; he told the group that he hadn't spoken to his own father for almost a year but decided to change his attitude after meeting Initiatives of Change.
We see this exchange programme as something that helps to bridge the gaps, created by history and cultural differences, that have kept the people of Vietnam and Cambodia apart—but I told the group that we need to see that our efforts help in other areas. Recently, ICA Cambodia was contacted by a German NGO involved in peace and trust-building in Cambodia. They have found it difficult knowing how to start building trust with the different groups with whom they want to work. They had heard about our exchange programmes so they asked to meet with us to learn from us. The German NGO have asked if we can work together. I therefore explained to the group that what we are doing through IofC is being noticed and is helping others to build bridges.
At our meeting we decided to bring Vietnamese and Cambodian IofC friends together in July to do practical work at a children's home outside Phnom Penh run by an old friend of IofC, Son Soubert. The youth would join with the children doing planting, maintenance, rubbish cleanup etc., and share life stories and IofC ideals with the children. The group will also visit a Vietnamese community living near the children's home. This community had been visited by our young friends during earlier Cambodia-Vietnam exchange programmes. The visitors would end their time in Cambodia staying with families in Phnom Penh.
After a fruitful visit to Ho Chi Minh to rebuild friendships with IofC Vietnam, we returned to Cambodia excited about the idea of breathing new life into the exchange programme.