The US Agency for International Development announced Monday a three-year, $800,000 grant agreement with Veterans International Cambodia aimed at facilitating the integration of Cambodians deported from the US.
The agreement to implement the new Returnee Integration Support Program on Oct 1 follows a lengthy proposal process, and ends months of uncertainty surrounding the management and direction of the three-year-old Returnee Assistance Program.
“In July we noticed advertisements by USAID seeking proposals for the management of the program,” Pining McAndrew, associate director of VIC, which is the Cambodian branch of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, said Tuesday.
“Because these are victims of war, we were interested. We submitted a proposal that enumerated how we will run it, and showed a clear implementation of the USAID grant. We have a reputation for efficiency and transparency. We feel that this is a new road for us, but with our experience we can do it,” he said.
According to a US Embassy statement, the RISP program will provide orientation programs, essential documentation, counseling and other support services for the returnees.
“Almost all the returnees were forced out of Cambodia during the 20-year civil conflict. They are examples of the consequences of the war and are in critical need of assistance integrating in their former homeland,” Larrie Warren, director of VVAF’s Post-Conflict Rehabilitation program, said in the statement.
“In fact, many of these returnees spent a lifetime growing up outside Cambodia and they need our assistance integrating into a land they know little or nothing about,” he said.
RAP currently receives $150,000 per year from USAID, RAP officials said. Distributed evenly over the three-year agreement the new USAID grant represents a nearly 75-percent annual increase.
“The role of the US Embassy will be minimal. The VVAF will handle all the details. Of the proposals that were submitted this was the best one,” US Embassy spokesman John Daigle said. “It’s their program, funded by the US government through USAID.”
Also Monday, VIC announced the hiring of Dr George Ellis, a clinical psychologist from the US, to be RISP project manager. Ellis arrives Oct 8 to oversee the acquisition of a new headquarters and the transition of RAP programs to RISP management, McAndrew said.
The hiring of Ellis closes a chapter on RAP, as RAP’s Project Coordinator Bill Herod steps aside to become a paid consultant.
“I’ve blown up the balloon as big as it will go. It’s time for me to move on,” Herod said. “I think that most of us who became involved in 2002 are happy with the work that has been accomplished. It is a dramatically improved program, and we’re happy about that,” he said.
Herod’s efforts to aid returnees began in 2002 when the first group of six arrived.
There are currently 137 returnees in Cambodia and Herod anticipates 100 to 150 more over the next year.
“We started with nothing,” Herod said. “We put a couple of guys up in a donated guest house and made referrals for health problems and job placement. Then we had a drop-in center where returnees could visit, read the papers, watch TV and get some very basic orientation. Over time, this informal activity expanded into the RAP, funded by NGOs, private donors and, eventually, USAID.”
RAP, which runs two residential facilities in Phnom Penh and one in Battambang, has played an important role in the returnees’ integration.
“Bill always thought about us first,” said 26-year-old returnee Om Roeun who goes by the nickname Lucky and has been in Cambodia for three years.
“If you needed to go to the hospital, he would take you. If you needed a place to sleep you could go to him. He’d give you money out of his own pocket—that’s just Bill,” he said.