I visited Phnom Penh with my wife over the Chinese New Year break with a friend who had been in and out of that country for a very long time. We wanted to visit the Muslim communities in Cambodia and to see for ourselves their living environment and social development.
Our first stop was just across the Tonle Sap river which flows across Phnom Penh. We went to visit a community living by the riverside in the district of Chroy Changvar. This community consists of around 180 families and some of them joined this community when they were displaced by development projects elsewhere. Some live in small boats anchored by the riverside and some have their small shacks made of wood and plastics.
Their children go to the nearby schools and when they are free, they wonder around and play along the riverbank. It would be tough for them to break away from the hardship of their parents although we met a few who studied in Malaysia before.
While I passed a new and modern mosque not far from this community, I wonder whether they offer education and skill training which could empower this community to be able to live on their own feet.
The next day we went to visit another Muslim community at Kampung Cham, around 3 hours drive from Phnom Penh. The community is located around another hour drive from the town centre.
The community which I visited live in a more organised way. They have a mosque and a simple school, better homes and water supply. They received aids from abroad including from Malaysia.
I was invited to one of the community leaders' home and we were served with grilled river fish and vegetable soup. Very mouth watering considering the journey which we took to be there.
Perhaps what they need to focus on moving forward is to find ways to equip themselves with knowledge and skills so that they could develop economically and intellectually. I am sure Muslims would be more respected if they can take care of themselves better and contribute more towards nation building.
The third community which we wanted to visit was in Kampot, which is closer to the Vietnamese border. It is also famous for its durian. I can assure you that it tastes amongst the best which I had ever tasted. The journey was very rough as we took an alternative route where a third of the road was heavily damaged and was in the process of re-construction.
After a very nice seafood lunch, we visited a village where a nice mosque was re-built with the assistance of Malaysians. I had a peek at a school which offers the skills of reading Quran. A number of boys were reading in front of a teacher to ensure they got it right. The rest were happily rehearsing their reading and made a lot of noice. They were cool enough to pose for me when I snapped their photos.
One bit which concerns me right across the trip was the level of integrity of people. I was told that when it comes to money, we must be very careful in ensuring the funds get spent according to the wishes of the donors. Better to give them money in front of others so that other people know that the money is meant for specific purposes, not for personal use of the recipient.
Given the whole country is going through a fast phase of modernisation especially with investments from China and South Korea, these communities could be trained to access knowledge using technology such as e-learning. Could sound far fetch but I view relevant knowledge and skills to be as critical as the traditional education which is made available to their young generation.