What our students had to say

The PAHSA Cambodia II Short Study Program took place from 13-24 September 2015 at Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC). The focus of the program was poverty alleviation.

Students were offered a unique opportunity to learn comprehensively about some of the critical issues that affect peace and human security in Cambodia and its neighboring areas, there was a particular focus on poverty alleviation. Ten students from the PAHSA Japanese university consortium partners attended the program.

This is the story of the program as told by PAHSA students from Japanese universities


The start of day one ...


Setting the stage for the days ahead, the first day of the program got off to a great start with an interesting lecture on the concept of development and poverty alleviation. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before that, we were welcomed by Prof. Trond Gilberg, Dean of Faculty of Social Science and International Relations, Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC).

Prof. Gilberg gave a short speech on the stand of the young generation and their role in development change and poverty alleviation. He put forward his desire for PAHSA students to become agents of change through promoting education and innovation. His speech ignited our spirit and motivated us to seriously participate on the program, to make the most of the opportunities to learn here, and to share our desire to learn with each other. It was a rousing start to the program.

The first lecture was from Dr. Srivinasa Madhur who is Cambodia's Senior Economist at the Ministry of Finance, and the concept of his talk was the multifaceted aspects of development. 

For him, change in development is much about time. Further, he introduced us to the concept of 'trilemma of development,' the condition where policy makers face three difficult choices: (1) to achieve economic efficiency; (2) to achieve social justice; and (3), to achieve individual liberty.

According to Dr. Srivanasa, the three goals are impossible to achieve simultaneously and one goal must be sacrificed to achieve the others. He underlined how each country has the unique practice in terms of 'trilemma development' choices, and with each choice it brings benefits and losses. He warned us how in the future we might face difficult choices of development policy options as policy makers. At that time, he wants us to believe in ourselves, and no matter our choice, after understanding and careful consideration, let history be the judge of our actions.

As a student of economics, the day's topic was
engaging in every way.

The last lecture of the day was by San Sophany, a PUC lecturer. She explained the link of economic development and poverty alleviation. She highlighted how by inviting investment and enhancing workers’ skills, these will be key tools for economic growth and lead to alleviating poverty. So far, the country has had success in reducing its poverty rate which is down by 20% over the last decade, however there are still many issues to address and challenges ahead.

I was delighted with today's lectures. As a student of economics, the day was engaging in every way. I was surprised at Cambodia’s successes so far in its battle to alleviate poverty despite struggles to fight corruption, a low education level, and the lack of health access for many people.

As I look forward to the rest of the program, I am grateful to the PAHSA Program for giving me this chance to participate.


the Future Light Orphanage of Worldmate (FLOW)


Today began very differently to yesterday. Instead of heading to Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC), this morning we visited an NGO which looks after around 300 orphans.

Welcoming us was the executive director of the Future Light Orphanage of Worldmate (FLOW), Mr. Nuon So Thero, and he told about the history and the work that is carried out there.

In the very beginning, a Women's Center was established by Nuon So Thero’s mother. It was for those who were suffering from depression after the Cambodian Civil War. After doing this valuable work for some time, the focus of the center shifted; it became a place to offer shelter, protection, education and the home for orphans in Cambodia. They accept children from 6 to 11 years old, and at present, they are looking after around 300 children.

The children who live there are learning the skills necessary to lift themselves out of poverty and to make a better life for their future. They learn English, computer skills, traditional Cambodian dance, Karate and music. FLOW also has an extensive library where children can hone their reading and writing skills.

Impressively, FLOW doesn’t turn it back on children when they reach 18 years old and support continues to help them integrate in society. Most of the children find gainful employment because of the skills and values instilled at FLOW. More impressively, a good number of children go on to benefit from university education. So far, FLOW has seen 79 of its children graduate from university and then proceed with their own lives. At present, 37 of its children are attending university courses and this is supported by FLOW.

Mr. Nuon So Thero said that they continue to support those who are older than 18 because if they leave them to fend by themselves, then they may struggle to integrate in society once moving from an institutionalized environment.

While visiting FLOW, we attending a short lecture and then toured the facilities. We saw English classes, a computer skills class, and we also visited the library. Along the way we spoke to students and they were happy, busy, and seemed to be relishing the opportunities available. This was incredibly heartening.

As our visit came to a close, we watched a performance of Cambodian traditional dance and karate. The performance was fabulous and it lifted the spirits of the PHASA students and professors.

After a brief lunch we headed back to PUC for a debate. We discussed the earlier visit, and then four NGO members working in Cambodia joined us and there was a presentation about poverty alleviation programs.

As the second day’s events came to a close, the PAHSA students were exhausted and yet nobody wanted the day to end. 


16 September 2016. PAHSA students at the Ministry of Justice.
Never forgetting the tragedies of the past ...


This is the third day of the PAHSA short program in Cambodia. Today things started with a lecture from Mr. Chin Malin about the political development and rule of law in Cambodia. His presentation covered a lot of ground, ranging from the historical background of Cambodia's political system, right up to the legal and judicial reform that is going on today.

For me, the most interesting thing about the political system in Cambodia is the role of the King. Cambodia’s politics operate in a framework of a constitutional monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government and a Monarch is head of state. But somehow for Cambodia, the King is more than that; today the King is also the mark of unity for the country.

As is well known, Cambodia experienced terrible tragedy from 1975 to 1979. This was the era of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot totalitarian dictatorship where urban dwellers were made to move to the countryside to work in collective farms and on forced labor projects. Massive numbers of Cambodian were killed. With the combined effects of executions, strenuous working conditions, malnutrition and poor medical care, together they caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population.

When Pol Pot’s era came to an end in 1979, The Vietnamese set up a government in the country. Later in 1989 the Vietnamese finally withdrew, and in 1993, Cambodia accomplished a fledgling democratic system. But with so much upheaval over the previous years, Cambodia’s ministries, intellectuals, and all the bureaucracy for running a nation had been largely wiped out. Therefore, as Cambodia moves forward on its path of rebuilding, it now finds itself needing legal and judicial reform.

In the afternoon we visited the Ministry of Justice, and then the Japan International Cooperation Agency office of Cambodia (JICA). At the Ministry of Justice, we listened to a presentation from the staff about the structure of the Ministry. And later at JICA, we had a chance to see a short presentation about its work in the country, we also spoke with the JICA staff about some of the challenges that face Cambodia as it moves forward.

JICA is supporting the development of Cambodia’s legal system, and also the cultivation of human resources, especially legal experts. Since 1999, JICA (Japan) supported the institution of civil law, specifically, Cambodia’s Civil Procedure Law. This is an area in which Cambodia requested Japan’s assistance. While chatting to JICA staff we were told that very few Cambodian legal minds in this area had survived the Pol Pot era.

My takeaway from today’s events is the importance of never forgetting the tragedies of the past so that the same mistake are never be repeated. With this in mind, I’m looking forward to the rest of the short program here in Cambodia and feel certain that the country has much more to teach me.



Today, on the fourth day of the PAHSA short program in Cambodia, students and professors visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Unquestionably, nothing can prepare a first-time visitor for its darkness: the solemn atmosphere is palpable. It is a place of instruments of torture. The sickening pictures attesting their use adorn the walls today, and the remains of victims, skulls and shattered bones, are displayed inside the museum.

Death is everywhere. Out of the estimated 17,000 people imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, there were only twelve known survivors (Wikipedia). The building is a monument to inhumanity and the visit was deeply unsettling.

At one time, the building was a happier place; it was one of the secondary schools in the capital, called 'Tuol Svay Prey' High school. After April 17th, 1975 Pol Pot and his clique transformed it into feared prison called ‘S-21’ (Security Office 21) which was the biggest torture center in Democratic Kampuchea.

Pol Pot was born Saloth Sar in 1925 to a rural farming family that was considered moderately wealthy by the standards of the day. Because of good family connections, he was able to relocate to a Catholic school in Phnom Penh and later qualified for a scholarship for technical studies in France. It was during his time in France where he fell under the influence of radical socialism.

After unsuccessful study in France, he returned along with his new ideology, started plotting, and became a key mover in the underground socialist movements. Gradually over a sustained period, the ideology of the Khmer Rouge was developed and a national uprising was launched in 1968. By the summer of 1968, Sar began transitioning from a party leader working with a collective leadership, into the absolutist leader of the Khmer Rouge movement.

Children killed several thousands of the victims. Ironically, several of the children working in the prison where taken from the victims that perished there.

Over the years that followed the Khmer Rouge advanced, until in 1975, Phnom Penh fell to the communists. As the leader of the Party, Saloth Sar became the de-facto leader of the country. He adopted the title ‘brother number one’ and used the name ‘Pol Pot.’ This was when the darkest period began.

Any notions of individual liberty was quashed; it was the start of terrible genocide. Under his control, around 2 million of the population perished, especially intellects like doctors and teachers, artists, and engineers; they all became the target of killings. Pol Pot hired only children because they were easy to brainwash and they were seen as pure. Children became fighters, and played roles of doctors and prison guards. Children killed several thousands of the victims. Ironically, several of the children working in the prison where taken from the victims that perished there. This poisoning of young minds is especially abhorrent.

Spending time here now, I am interested in how the Cambodian people understand or view what took place in the past. I’ve been told that that some Cambodians see Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum with such shame that they wouldn’t even visit. This stuck me as odd.

The Japanese too also have dark and terrible periods in history, but my friends and I wish to understand and learn from these. This is why so many young people in Japan are deeply uncomfortable with Prime Minister Abe enacting legislation for a policy shift that would allow Japanese troops to fight abroad for the first time since World War Two. My friends, along with thousands of other young people in Japan, are now demonstrating in front of Japan’s parliament in protest.

Today’s visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum will stay with me for the rest of my life.


Today we visited The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Despite what has already been written about this place, nothing can prepare a first-time visitor. It is truly harrowing, even traumatic. The real horror of being an inmate is documented by the photos on the walls and is encapsulated in the rules for prisoners, this is a translation:

In Building D, there was an a room dedicated to the current museum activity and there was an exhibition about a collaboration project between Cambodia and Okinawa, called "Cambodia-Okinawa 'Peace Museum’ Cooperation Project" which was supported by JICA. For the project, Okinawa and Cambodia, both of which share war experience on their soil, worked together in creating museums that would generate a ‘peace culture’ based on the painful lessons learnt from their past. Through this project, seven members of the museum staff were trained in Okinawa. After returning to Cambodia, they utilized their new skills in preserving the country’s significant historical artifacts. The project started in 2012 and it was concluded in 2014.

I’m from Okinawa and yet knew nothing of this. Surprised, I would never have guessed there was a link between Cambodia and my home prefecture. The exhibition was impressive and I’m proud that Okinawa could support Cambodia, sharing minds and spreading the message of peace to the world.

During my visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum I felt many things, many which are difficult to describe. But it also gave me the opportunity to think about peace, about the importance of peace. A lone monument in the grounds of the museum neatly sums up this mood, it says:

Never will we forget the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.


Never forget the crimes committed: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The experience from the entire program will strongly motivate me to continue my research about peace building and conflict resolution issues.


Today, on the fifth day of the PAHSA short program in Cambodia, we all headed to PUC for the first lecture of the day. It was given by Ms Emma Leslie on the topic of Reconciliation as a Concept. She is Executive Director of the Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS). The CPCS has an office in Siem Reap City, Cambodia, and it works to further strengthen, support and share Asian approaches to conflict transformation. According to the CPCS, these are undertakings that aim to contribute to peacebuilding efforts in the region with the overall goal of enhancing the sustainability and efficiency of peace work.

Her lecture started by reviewing the history of religion in Cambodia. Before the sixth century Cambodia's major religion was animism, and then until the 12th century, there came the Hindu influence. Over these years, strict social structure was established, such as hierarchy based on social class. After Buddhism took hold in Cambodia, the ruling class was unhappy that changes would lead to a more equal society. A religious war followed and this continued for almost 200 years. When the war settled, the traditions of all three religious became amalgamated.

I was very surprised that religion was linked to a great deal of tragedy under the Khmer Rouge regime. It outlawed all religion and any people seen taking part in religious rituals or services were executed. Several thousand Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians were killed for exercising their beliefs. Family relationships not sanctioned by the state were also banned.

Several thousand Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians were killed for exercising their beliefs.

Linking back to these times, in her talk, Ms. Emma Leslie also mentioned three types of reconciliation. They were; Political Reconciliation, International Reconciliation, and Cultural Reconciliation. I was particularly interested in the third of these, Cultural Reconciliation, especially in terms of Cambodia’s past.

Cultural Reconciliation provides interaction between victims and descendants of Khmer Rouge members. Through this they can work together and understand each other. I realize that Political and International Reconciliation is important too, but at the same time, Cultural Reconciliation is more personal for so many people given the importance of drawing a line under the past and moving forward in their lives. This type of reconciliation is critical for society to heal.

In the afternoon we had the opportunity to listen to the life story of Emma’s husband, Plai Ngarm Soth, he is a Board Member/Consultant, at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. His stories brought to life the toxic situation after the Khmer Rouge crack down. He also spoke about the importance of education and forgiveness; things that are crucial as Cambodian society rebuilds.

In the afternoon we had the opportunity to listen to the life story of Emma’s husband, Plai Ngarm Soth, he is a Board Member/Consultant, at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. His stories brought to life the toxic situation after the Khmer Rouge crack down. He also spoke about the importance of education and forgiveness; things that are crucial as Cambodian society rebuilds.

I will always remember his stories and what we leaned today. The experience from the entire program will strongly motivate me to continue my research about peace building and conflict resolution issues. 



Today is the sixth day of the PAHSA short program in Cambodia and it is already half way though.

Actually, this is my third trip to Cambodia. The first time I was an undergraduate student and knew nothing about Cambodia. My only purpose was to do some sightseeing – such as visiting Angkor Wat. But my tour also allowed us to learn a little about Cambodian culture and history. I was able to learn many things about Cambodia although at the time I didn't learn about development per se. That has changed on this trip where all the key issues of development have been explored.

Traveling from Japan, the degree of polarization in Cambodian society is striking. The difference between the rich and the poor is more than a gap; it’s a huge chasm. Previously in Siem Reap or Battambang, the gulf was less apparent, but in Phnom Penh the wealth divide seems monstrous. Luxury shopping malls sit cheek-by-jowl with abject poverty. Impoverished beggars and luxury limousines are side-by-side. Visiting a primary school here, we were told that children were absent because they needed to work. For many families, the struggle just to survive is uppermost. In the roundtable meeting that morning, we discussed many topics, such as genocide, education, history, politics … but for most of us, the most pressing issue is dealing with poverty, to strive for freedom from want.

Coming from Japan, a place of hardships and disasters in the past, I have been asked by some Cambodian students how Japan rebuilt, especially after the devastation of World War II. Not being an economist, it’s difficult to know how to address those queries at the technical level. But I could share with my new student friends the importance of a strong spirit and hope. I particularly feel this coming from Nagasaki, a city that was obliterated by the second atomic bombing. For Nagasaki, when the first buds returned to the trees that had been stripped by fire, hope for people also returned. For Cambodia, its young people are like the buds on the trees, they are the hope for the future.

For most of us, the most pressing issue is dealing with poverty, to strive for freedom from want.

In the afternoon on the sixth day, we visited the Royal Palace. I have never been to the Imperial Palace in Japan so it was very excited. The Cambodian students were excellent guides and I was especially interested in the exquisite traditional products we saw. There were many exhibited inside the palace, such as traditional clothes and art works, there was even a live orchestra with traditional Cambodian instruments. It was a wonderful experience.

Tomorrow we’re visiting a local market and I think we’re all looking forward to checking out the lively scene there.


FLOW: A place that offers shelter, protection, education and a home for orphans in Cambodia


Without doubt, the past few days have been an incredible learning experience. Not only have we had lectures at PUC and field trips, but the time here has also been a wonderful opportunity for knowledge exchange such as round tables. These discussions allowed us to acquire knowledge from different perspectives.

Cambodia is a good example of a recovering nation in the post-conflict phase. Much hard work has taken place to improve the quality of life for Cambodians by providing education and access to basic services, and yet there is still much to be done after society's earlier decimation at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Gradually, the country is working toward a brighter future. Some aspects that need reinforcement are, for example, health services — in which is necessary to have a more inclusive approach in order to help those with low income — and education; teachers need to be trained to improve the quality of education offered in public institutions.

Education is the prime tool to boost the Cambodian economy even though poverty has many
different dimensions.

On the educative theme, as many program participants noted, peace education is a key element as the country moves forward. This is because understanding the importance of creating and maintaining peace it is critical. On this issue, Mr. Plai Ngarm Soth, (Board Member/Consultant at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Siem Reap) mentioned that it is necessary to provide images of peace, so that when people are faced with conflict, they will choose to be peaceful, they will learn that non-violent alternatives do exist. Peace education has to look at the problem of violence and then offer nonviolent alternatives.

Lectures regarding economic development particularly caught my attention, and I realized that education is the prime tool to boost the Cambodian economy even though poverty has many different dimensions. Illiteracy, lack of resources, social exclusion; all are compounded by the lack of education. That is why education is key; it allows incremental gains in economic efficiency by improving the quality of the human resource as well as allowing the country to be competitive with other nations. Education’s benefits can be felt in every strata of society.

Also imprinted on my mind is one the saddest moments, the visit to the Genocide Museum. This was to truly feel the brutal horrors of the Khmer Rouge, a calamitous page in Cambodian history that was full of suffering, torture and death.

There was one particular picture that for me that was emotionally shocking. It was a mother holding her baby, she was being photographed for registration, and after that, barbaric torture and death would follow. In her eyes one can see her pain. There is desperation and desolation. She knows she has lost her child. Life is over.

Despicable degrees of inhumanity can be inflicted by humanity; this is what the Genocide Museum reminds us.

It has been a privilege to have had the opportunity to participate on the program. It has led me to develop my abilities, such as autonomy, certain leadership skills, and, multifaceted and creative thinking. All of these are important aspects to contribute to society by providing solutions at the local, domestic and international level and for contributing towards a more peaceful world.


We have been witnessing many crises in recent times, from flows of refugee, ongoing conflicts in different parts of the world, and also numerous natural disasters. All these events threaten peace and security in the world and leave the most vulnerable, often women and children, in harms way in terms of violence and abuse.

Linked to some of these issues, today's lecture, from PUC’s Ms. Kazumi Nakagawa, was about the state of the role of women, their empowerment (or lack of it), and gender equality in Cambodia.

The lecture started by examining some of the efforts being made by different organizations, such as the UN and civil society groups in Cambodia. One key point that was returned to often was the need to help women and girls who face sexual violence.

Sexual violence commonly takes place in conflict areas. With Cambodia violent past, crimes against women have taken place, and still today, the issue hasn’t been fully addressed and even now there is still wrongdoing. 

The most vulnerable, often women and children, are in harms way in terms of violence and abuse.

According to Ms. Nakagawa, dealing with this issue isn’t always straightforward and strategy needs to be put in place with short, medium and long-term goals. Each of these efforts needs different stages of support with alternative measures ready at each turn.

Positively though, serious consideration is now being given to this issue and genuine efforts are taking place to improve the lot of women in conflict and post-conflict areas, while at the same time, support is being offered for women to assert their rights.

At the international level, the UN Security Council has adopted seven resolutions on Women Peace and Security in its efforts to create a more equal world. Other organizations are also working in this area in Cambodia, such as Action Aid, Human Rights Watch, as well as local organizations. But it is not only women who face the threat of violence, sexual or otherwise. Minority groups like the LGBT community has to deal with this too, and additionally for Cambodia, the magnitude of sexual crimes that took place during the Khmer Rouge rise and period in power have never been fully addressed.

For Cambodia, it is imperative that efforts to improve the situation of gender equality continue and intensify. There is still much to do and it is an area in which I’m particularly interested. These issues pose a huge challenge for the country as it strives to develop and it’s crucially important that the most vulnerable find a voice. As a researcher, I would like to play a small part in these efforts. Continued action in this area will ensure peace and security for all.



Time flies and today is the final day of PAHSA program. We've experienced so much during the last few days and nobody wants the program to end.

Taking a look back over the last eight days, we’ve had daily lectures, covering topics ranging from economic development, poverty alleviation, to women’s peace and security. The students participating on the program come from different academic backgrounds, and this fact, together with the diverse range of lectures helped to broaden our vision massively.

Besides the excellent lectures, we also had three visits to places outside the university. These included an NGO working with children, Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice, and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. These visits helped put into context some of the content from the classroom. It also made everything more tangible; we had the opportunity to taste the real Cambodia first hand.

In addition to lectures and trips, we also had informal discussions during the program. These sessions offered the chance to exchange personal views in a more informal setting. This was enlightening especially during the roundtable discussions with PUC students and these helped to further our understanding of Cambodia's history and contemporary society as well as the PUC students’ understanding of Japan and it’s responsibilities.

In our free time, PUC students kindly took us sightseeing around Phnom Penh. As strange as it seems, although we have only spent a limited together, bonds formed quickly and we became good friends.

As the program wound down, participants from the Japanese side made presentations about what we learned and thought during our time here. Each of us picked different topics and all gave 100 percent.

Ms. Kajita from Osaka University talked about the legal and judicial reform in Cambodia; Ms. Chen, also from Osaka University, shared opinions on the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in Cambodia; Mr. Shiroma, from Meio University, presented on the theme of development with peace, and since he is from Okinawa, also talked about the Cambodia-Okinawa 'Peace Museum’ Cooperation Project; Mr. Tengku, from Osaka University, offered analysis on development strategy for poverty in Cambodia using the SWOT method; Ms. Horiguchi, a student from Osaka University, talked about migrant workers in Cambodia; Ms. Iwane, from Osaka University too, made a presentation on reconciliation and peacebuilding, she also connected the case of Cambodia with her own research; Ms. Oyama, from Hiroshima University, an expert on education, shared some of her Cambodian field work; and finally, Ms. Adriana, also from Hiroshima University, talked about the importance of peace education.

Closing out the formal part of the program, Prof. Trond and Prof. Matsuno summed things up on a positive note and everyone received ASAD hats.

Two students from PUC will come to study at Osaka University for one semester in September 2015 and excitedly arranged a reunion in Osaka.

As I close this the last report, I would like to steal a line from Ms. Adriana’s presentation where she quoted from the Dalai Lama:

When educating the minds of youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.

I’m sure I speak for us all when I say the PAHSA short program in Cambodia educated out minds and hearts, but it also did more. Cambodia and the issues we’ve investigated touched our hearts too.

I’m certain that we’re all more resourceful students and researchers than before we came here. 

Thank you PAHSA.


Read the Immersive Story from the first PAHSA short program in Cambodia which took place from 7-16 March 2013 at Pannasastra University of Cambodia.