Twenty-two Cleveland residents recently made the 9,100-mile journey to their Sister City, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and were welcomed as governmental dignitaries, including a red-carpet reception with the country’s Permanent Deputy Prime Minister, whose office is generally equivalent to the vice presidency of the United States.
While it was a multipurpose trip, the two principal goals were to witness the official signing of the Sister City agreement and to dedicate the first year’s progress on People for Care and Learning’s “Build a City” development
Chamber of Commerce President Gary Farlow and Cleveland City Councilman Bill Estes led a delegation who were guests of Permanent Deputy Prime Minister Her Excellency Madam Dr. Men Sam An. Using a formal reception room in the nation’s Peace Palace where heads of state are greeted, she welcomed the group and presided over the Sister City signing.
Besides the representatives of the city and the Chamber, the group included Fred Garmon, director of People for Care and Learning; Jake Stum, PCL’s development director; Bill George, chairman of the nonprofit board; Tim Hill, director of Church of God World Missions; John and Debbie Childers, also of the missions office; Richard Baker, chief operating officer of the Lazarus Foundation; and Julie Martinez and Bien Raneses, Cambodian area directors of PCL.
Madam Men Sam An, as the nation’s first woman deputy prime minister, occupies an unusual niche in Cambodia’s history. During the nation’s devastating civil war, she was a nurse who rose to leadership in the rebel forces against the terrorist Khmer Rouge army. Although she presented as a quiet, demure, soft-spoken governmental leader, photos available in Cambodia’s history books show her dressed as a soldier, carrying an automatic rifle. Her position in the nation’s government places her second in line after the highest ruler, Prime Minister Hun Sen. A royal family participates in government affairs, but only in a symbolic role. The deputy greeted the Cleveland group and thanked them for their contributions to the country’s well being.
“The Royal Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia, under the wise leadership of Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, prime minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, has brought about restoration, development, national unity, national reconciliation and national prestige after the almost three decades of civil war,” she said. “On behalf of the Royal Government and myself, I would like to express my profound sincere thanks to our developmental partners like People for Care and Learning for continuing to provide technical and financial support to the people of Cambodia.”
Later in the week, the group from Cleveland attended the dedication of the parts of the village of Andong 3 that have been completed in the first year, including the installation of the understreet infrastructure (sewer, drainage, water and electrical service), the public market building, medical clinic and police station. The project will take three years to complete.
One of Cambodia’s highest governing leaders, who accompanied the group that visited Cleveland last summer, privately shared his insights based on the trip to Tennessee.
“[A U.S.-based international television network] does not tell our nation the truth about the United States,” he told us. “We found your people to be generous, patriotic and religious, and that is not the picture that has been painted for us.”
Dr. Garmon, speaking of the PCL partnership with Cambodia, said, “Although the United Nations has classified Cambodia as a ‘Less Developed Nation,’ we have found the people with whom we work to be zealous for bettering their country. When we began the ambitious project of building a whole city, they linked arms with us and are making our work go smoothly.”
Cleveland businessman Roger Pickett, owner of Murmaid Mattress, who is investigating the possibility of investing in mattress production in Cambodia for domestic sales there, attended the Andong 3 dedication.
“These people are open and friendly, and I have been impressed by their desire for a better life for their families and children,” Pickett said.
A large group of Cambodian business leaders are tentatively planning a visit to Cleveland in early 2014 to pursue import-export opportunities with Tennessee-based companies.
PCL plans future trips to Cambodia, usually a week or 10 days in length, and they invite Clevelanders who wish to travel to join them. The local address is 235 T.L. Rogers Street N.E., just off Stuart Road near Hobby Lobby, and the telephone number is 478-7071.
(Next: A closer look at People for Care and Learning, and what the Cleveland-based nonprofit organization is all about. And most importantly, what PCL is working to accomplish in Cambodia, and how the group doing it.)