As foreign donors met on Wednesday to consider how much aid to give Cambodia at the annual Consultative Group meeting, ordinary people around the capital had a more basic question: What does it mean?
The answer for many is: Not much.
“I have heard they give millions of dollars in aid, but I never receive any aid,” said soldier Meas Nat, standing in the doorway of his shack near Hun Sen Park.
Asked for his advice to the donors on what Cambodia’s most pressing needs are, Meas Nat, 31, shook his head and smiled.
“This place needs a lot of help,” he said, waving toward a mud road lined with small sheds, not far from where an orange Samsung crane plowed a new street. “Lots of help.”
Others around Phnom Penh Wednesday had more concrete suggestions. Seang Rithy, 33, a motorcycle repairman from Takeo province, said he wants to see aid money go toward rural development and free schools, but he is not hopeful.
“Some government officials promised to help my village, but they only help a little bit,” he said.
For some, the government is not part of the problem—it is the problem.
“I want the donor countries to give money by themselves; it’s better than the government doing it,” said Mort Sopheap, 22, a monk at Wat Tuol Tumpong.
Ouk Ponnarith agreed. Sitting iat Lucky Burger on Sihanouk Boulevard, the 12th-grade teacher at Chroy Changva High School said the donors must act quickly before people lose hope for the future.
“The corruption in the Education Department is increasing. The teachers have lost their faith and they charge money from the poor students,” Ouk Ponnarith said.
All of that, though, was a world away from Ros Phal, 50, of Prey Veng province. She did not know what the CG meeting was, and she did not really care. She is only worried about her next meal.
“I didn’t have enough rice to eat, so I came to Phnom Penh,” she said. “Now I still don’t have enough to eat.”