I couldn't have asked for a better first week of work! I started this past Tuesday and, after only one day, I felt as if I already belonged. I was so humbled by the kindness of the EWMI-ODC staff. The first few days of a new job can be stressful as one learns the ropes and tries to make good impressions; but everyone was so welcoming that I immediately felt like part of the group.
I was formally, and very warmly, introduced to my co-workers who come from such diverse and interesting backgrounds. Many are young, recent college graduates with backgrounds in law, information technology, economics, finance and marketing. Others have been in the development field for a longer period of time and are working towards advanced graduate degrees. I had a wonderful conversation with one of the older staff members who had originally been a physician's assistant with the U.N. but later switched to a legal career where he is now working for EWMI-ODC as the head legal consultant. He is hoping to enroll in an MBA program in Canada or Australia. He mentioned the difficulties of educational advancement in Cambodia, even in the capital city, so locals must maximize every opportunity that comes their way.
My boss's inspiring background represents this quite clearly. Originally from a remote province in the northwest, her family came from humble beginnings and fled to Thailand during the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975. Her family eventually returned to Cambodia after the regime fell and, upon graduating from high school, she won a United World College scholarship-one of four given nationwide-to Norway. There, she lived for two years until winning another prestigious scholarship to study economics at Skidmore College in New York. After four years of study, she returned to Phnom Penh, where she is now the research coordinator for ODC and my direct supervisor for my internship.
I also learned about the core objectives of EWMI-ODC and some of my own responsibilities for the next two months. I have primarily been assigned to work with ODC, which focuses on promoting open source data in Cambodia. Essentially, ODC seeks to inform the general public about relevant legal, environmental, and socioeconomic issues happening in the country. For example, ODC maintains up-to-date map coverage of the disappearing forested lands in the country and indicates which companies have been granted land concessions on them. ODC also provides informative briefings on topics such as the mining industry, railway system, special economic zones, and election processes in the country.
My first assignment concerns the country's rubber plantations and the legal framework behind the industry. Since the 1990s, the Cambodian government has been granting economic land concessions (ELCs) to domestic and international, privately-owned companies that then exploit the land for agro-industrial purposes (such as rice, rubber, and acacia production). As a result, rubber has become a vital part of Cambodia's emergent economy and is now its second largest export behind rice. However, there have been consequences to this growing industry. Some civil society advocates indicate that not all foreign companies are following the regulations specified by the laws governing ELCs. Others have even cited human rights violations and environmental abuses.
I am learning a lot about Cambodia's rubber plantations and their development throughout recent history. I am expected to give a brief presentation to a panel that is working on mapping the country's rubber plantations. I look forward to my first assignment and applying the research and writing skills I’ve gained from law school.
In addition to work, I’ve made sure to enjoy new places to eat in Phnom Penh. Vietnamese cuisine is popular here and I’ve come to love their dishes! The noodles with spring rolls have quickly become one of my favorites.
I’ve also discovered a way to combat the unbearable heat in Phnom Penh: freshly-squeezed, fruit shakes! I try to enjoy these as often as possible, even when it’s not hot out.