“It’s going to be an exchange of cultures. We are looking forward to a unique relationship with them,” said Bill George of People for Care and Learning.
The connections between the two places may be more than one would think. Phnom Penh Governor His Excellency Kep Chuk Tema enjoyed the music of Elvis Presley when he was younger, and was excited to visit the state where the king of Rock and Roll lived. He also has a KitchenAid refrigerator. The visiting group had a chance to tour the Whirlpool Cleveland Division plant during their visit.
“We have developed some lasting friendships, I hope, over the last few days,” said Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland at the Rotarian gathering. “I look forward to visiting your country.”
“These have been friends of mine for some time and I am always telling them about my hometown. It’s just great to be able to show them Cleveland,” said Fred Garmon of People for Care and Learning.
During the noon gathering, the foreign governor spoke through an interpretor, saying he was enjoying his visit to Cleveland and the opportunity to speak about his country.
The Phnom Penh leader said progress is being made through the government’s partnership with People for Care and Learning. This partnership has allowed the organization to begin the Build a City project to revitalize the village of Andong. As part of the Build a City project, People for Care and Learning is providing job training and educational opportunities to the people of Andong.
“It is our job to have jobs and a decent living set up,” the visiting dignitary said.
He said the Build a City approach is like “giving them (Andong) a fishing line.”
“Thank you to all of you and hope to see you in Cambodia,” the Phnom Penh governor said.
Part of the project includes negotiating with potential companies to build near the site to provide jobs for the 8,000 people who live there. George said about 45 percent of the population of Cambodia makes, on average, less than $1.25 a day.
Garmon said the organization employs locals to do the construction and development of the city.
“We try to employ Cambodians first. ... We want to give ... the poor a working chance, so if they can build them, we want to pay them the hourly wage to do that,” Garmon said.
Cambodia’s history has had an impact on the economic well-being of many.
“From 1975 to 1979, a radical communist government took control of Cambodia and the results were fierce,” George said.
He said during this time the government worked to return Cambodia to an agrarian society.
“So they evacuated all the cities and destroyed the infrastructure,” George said.
According to the Phnom Penh governor, it was after the first national election in 1993 that people began moving to the cities in large numbers. Today, Phnom Penh is a thriving city again. However, poverty continues to be an issue in some areas, including Andong.
Garmon said many of the Rotarians present had been a part of trips to Cambodia. He said he hoped all of them would take an opportunity to become a part of the project.
Rotarian Johnathan Cantrell and state Rep. Kevin Brooks are already planning to join the organization on their next trip.