Horiuchi Hiroko (Jesuit Service Cambodia)

A Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year, Phnom Penh, Christmas 2001

Dear Friends,

Wishing my Christmas letter finds you well and happy. How was your year 2001? I spent my Christmas 2000 and Cambodian New Year (mid April 2001) with a Thai family near the border of Cambodia. In May and June, 1 went to Japan to give talks, 30 of them, on land mines, poverty, volunteer work, child prostitution, Cambodia etc. at elementary-, junior high- and high-schools, universities and small groups within 30 days in Tokyo, Hokkaido and Yamaguchi. One high school girl wrote: "I used to fall asleep, during the so-called 90 minutes 'lecture,' but today Hiroko's talk kept me awake and made me listen to her with much interest." I am happy to hear this.

Since mid-June our representative of Jesuit Service Cambodia left for her sabbatical seven-month rest and I became busy assisting the acting representative. On September 3rd, the lady in charge of accounting gave birth to a baby boy and took three months off.

Therefore, I took over her accounting job till the end of November. In the meantime I had to be at the office/house as a guard and cook during a couple of long Khmer holidays in September and November. I am looking forward to this Christmas recess to take some rest if possible.

So I can say the year 2001 was for me the year of office work. If one stays in the office, one does not encounter much excitement. But I had lots of time to read newspapers and reports everyday. The following are some interesting articles I quote.

In Thailand 586 Thai beggars and 1902 foreign ones were arrested between October 2000 and July 2001. More than 99 percent of all foreign beggars were from Cambodia. There are many Thai and Cambodian human traffickers behind this, unfortunately.

In the year 2000 the total value of the garment industry exports represented 70 percent of all exports in Cambodia and the sector provided about 64 percent of workers in the manufacturing section. There are more than 220 garment factories and most of the factory owners are from Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Singapore and the U.S.A. Here we, including me, think immediately that foreigners are again exploiting Cambodian low-cost labor force. Apparently it is not totally so in Cambodia. Factory owners estimated that "bureaucracy costs" (bribes/corruption) accounted for about 7 percent of all sales, which is about the same as the net profit and about half the total of labor costs. If there were no "bureaucracy costs" to pay, the owners could pay each worker $100 US per month, instead of the present $40 to $60 US.
At one of the anti-corruption conferences in April 2001, Prime Minister Hun Sen contended that corruption could be dealt with better if more FUNDING were thrown now at the problem, although he has little political will to reduce corruption because lots of money get into his pocket. One Ambassador said clearly that the government needs to take NOW to show its will and commitment in order to lessen the risk of losing the support of donors. The very next day, a Khmer official criticized the fact that some Ambassadors were impolite to tell the above to the Prime Minister. Why not to tell the truth?

Half of the national budget goes to the military and police forces although Cambodia has had no big fights for the last few years. The long awaited demobilization program finally began in October 2001 with great hopes for a slimmed down military, in order to allocate the hyper military budget to education, health and social welfare. The government has more than 100,000 "ghost" soldiers. Therefore the entire demobilization program, a 42 million US dollar project, is based on false figures supplied to the donors by the government.
One said, "Most disturbing, the project's chief donor, the World Bank (18 million US dollar) knows the false assumptions and other donors like Japan (10 million US dollars), are either complicit or negligent in failing to do the research and simple math. There are 400,000 soldiers at maximum in Cambodia. What started out as a good and well intentioned idea for the people of Cambodia has the tendency to end up with Hun Sen's own economic and political interest, that is, his own personal pocket. I sometimes wonder why international organizations and governments keep contributing so much wasteful money to the corruption of the present government."

Many young people in Japan asked me to give their donation to help the handicapped children and the children out of school. They realized that they were part of those twenty-percent people in the world, the minority, who could enjoy three meals a day, have access to water, electricity, school etc.

Instead of having their own happy vacation with lots of fun, a few medical doctors from Taiwan, South Korea and Spain came to Cambodia voluntarily to treat sick people in our offices in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang. Dara, 12 year-old Cambodian boy with crab feet was taken to Spain for 9 months to have his feet operated. A few doctors and their families took care of him. He came back to Cambodia and now he can walk straight in his shoes.

There are many wonderful and kind people around us. The majority is nice and beautiful, but a few bad leaders make their world sad and miserable.

Before I started thinking of my future for next year, I have already been booked in one program at the end of March in Cambodia. Another program is a trip to Tokyo and Hiroshima, with Tun Chan Nareth, a Landmine Goodwill Ambassador in his wheelchair and Kike, S.J., Apostolic Prefect of Battambang (Cambodia), from May 20 to June 5, 2002.

I wish and pray the year 2002 be another fruitful and happy one for all of you. I thank you for your prayers, encouragement, support and loving-kindness toward me and for the donations to the poor in Cambodia.

* * * * ** * * * ** * * * *

[From the editor]
Suddenly, on December 27 near the end of the year, the mass media reported the executions of two prisoners sentenced to death at Nagoya's Penitentiary. A TV show, at the beginning of the year, presented Mr. Harada Masaharu who is against death penalty facing the corpse of Mr. Hasegawa Toshihiko, one of the two just executed who had formerly killed Mr. Harada's younger brother. It was an impressive TV scene.
I just finished reading a book The Buddha Was Not Demolished in Afghanistan; It Collapsed Out of Shame. The author, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, is the director of the well-known film "Kandahar." The faces of Afghan citizens that the TV cameras do not show appear in this book. An unbearable number of deaths continue piling up.
Due to unpredictable circumstances we could not polish the English text of the present issue. We apologize for the inconveniences.
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