I am now two weeks into my 12 week program working for IBJ Cambodia, and have decided it was about time to post my early experiences in Phnom Penh and Cambodia. After about 18 hours of flights and crossing 12 time zones I arrived in the outskirts of Phnom Penh late at night and took my first Tuk-Tuk to a hostel. A Tuk-Tuk is relatively common mode of transportation in SE Asia that involves a motor-cycle or motorized scooter pulling a small cart, which cost anywhere between 4000 - 36,000 riel or $1 - $9 usd depending on your language comprehension and ability to bargain. I stayed at the hostel for a few days until I was able to find an apartment that I'm sharing with two very nice and friendly Vietnamese expats. The walk to work took around 20 minutes and in the 100+ degree weather meant I was commonly drenched in sweat upon arrival. After a few days of this I purchased a bicycle and braved the traffic; which while initially intimidating; ive found that the hordes of cars, tuk-tuks, motos, and bicyclists share the road surprisingly well and the experience is actually quite enjoyable.
My main task my first week at International Bridges to Justices (IBJ) was to familiarize myself with the Cambodian legal system, the work that IBJ had done to date, and their goals for the future. IBJ has been working on providing free legal representation to the poorest members of Cambodian society since 2001. Since that time they have established resource centers in 22 of the 25 provinces and have represented over 5,000 cases. Through early access to legal representation IBJ has cut back instances of torture, forced confessions, and has decreased pretrial detention times for their clients. Outside of providing for their specific clients IBJ hosts street law programs where they inform citizens of their legal rights, explain the role of lawyers, and answer questions from the community. IBJ train young lawyers and legal interns which are in high demand and greatly needed in Cambodia, and are working with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to establish a national pro bono legal aid system.
Last week, Ouk Chandyna (the office administer), KimHong Chan, Tola KH-Fan, Jenessy Rodriquez (fellow interns) and myself were able to travel to two of the provinces to help set up a street law discussion between citizens and the provincial lawyers. On Tuesday we took a six hour bus ride to Battambang province in north eastern Cambodia and met Ouk Kalyan IBJ's lawyer for the province. The questions ranged from divorce, to theft, and small business loans. The lawyer helped to clarify legal rights and ramifications and the gathered citizens were very engaged and enthusiastic with high levels of participation. On Friday we travelled to Banteay Maenchey and helped Nop Kunthol conduct a street law discussion in that province as well. Jenessy Rodriquez (a fellow american intern) and I, were also able to interview her about a case that she had recently won involving a taxi driver wrongfully charged for extortion. We will hopefully write this up to illustrate to potential donors the good work IBJ is achieving.
We spent that weekend before coming back to Phnom Penh in Siem Reap where were able to visit Angkor Wat and some of the other amazing temple complexes in the area. Next week I might right a little more about that and hopefully a prison visit that I have scheduled as well.