Visit by Ministry of Social Affairs

Today a delegation from the Ministry of Social Affairs came to the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme for an official visit, the first time they have ever done that. Each of the Maryknoll projects is under one of the mainline ministries, and we are under MOSVY (the acronym for the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation).
First the visitors went to our classrooms and the hostel where our students sleep, and then they came to our meeting room to discuss what they saw and ask questions. I was happy to see them and to see the government taking an interest in our doing what the government should be doing. The bad side of the visit is that we have to provide transportation for their group of eight and take them to lunch!

A minuscule start….

Phnom Penh is now one of the worst cities in the world for traffic. All day long cars and tuk-tuks sit trapped in the lines of of vehicles. I’m lucky I ride a bicycle. I can get around a lot of the worst congestion. The above is a sign that there is at least one person thinking of the problem in this city/country where the government can’t control traffic. Notice the lower floors of these new apartment buildings have no windows–they’re parking floors. Finally!

Dollars or Riel?

One of the actions of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot was to abolish money, specifically the Khmer riel, the national currency. Partly because of that and partly because of inefficient handling of monetary policy after the Khmer Rouge were defeated, the riel never regained the trust and acceptance of the Khmer people. When a new post-Khmer Rouge government was established, the US dollar became the central currency in use in Cambodia, and it has remained as a fully legal currency until now. Transactions can take place in either the Cambodian riel or US dollars, and they are freely interchangeable.

Now, however, mostly for reasons of national pride, but also to give the central bank more control over the national currency, the government is encouraging de-dollarization and increased use of the riel. Recently to support use of riel, the government has discouraged the use of US $5 and $1 notes. After a period in which they could be exchanged for riel at no cost, the government has allowed banks to charge a fee to accept the $5 and $1 bills to create a disincentive for using the smaller US bills although they still remain legal.

That measure has had its intended effect. The majority of $5 and $1 bills previously in circulation for small transactions has disappeared. A typical transaction today is paid only with riel, or if a larger US dollar note is used, any change under $10 will be returned in riel. For example, if a person offers a $50 bill to buy an $11 book, the buyer will receive in change a $20 bill, a $10 bill, and the equivalent of $9 in riel. Smaller amounts of riel paper notes are also given because the Cambodian monetary system has no coins.

These smaller U.S. bills are increasingly going out of circulation in Cambodia although they are still legal tender for all transactions.
These are the smaller Cambodian riel notes that are replacing the smaller US notes. The general exchange rate is approximately 4000 riel = US $1.00. I.e., the 1000 riel note above is the equivalent of US $0.25.
These larger riel notes are being used more also as more purchases are transacted in riel. The 10,000 riel note would be the equivalent of US$2.50. There is also a 20,000 riel note and a 50,000 riel note but they are used less commonly.

Three-wheeler high tech

Young men with a vehicle in any country like to try and customize it, make it stand out. It’s the same in Cambodia with the “new” three-wheel tuk-tuks. This man has added a totally non-functional spoiler even though the vehicle’s top speed is about 25 or 30 MPH.

This modification really surprised me–adding an LCD display on top of the three-wheeler. The video he is showing is a Public Service Announcement about COVID-19. If you notice in the lower right hand corner, there is a sign language interpreter from the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme making the message accessible for deaf people.

A reunion at DDP

Today four of the Salesian Sisters from their commercial training school in Tuol Kork came to visit DDP. One of the purposes of the visit was to reconnect with Phany (C), a former student who is now the new social worker at the Deaf Development Programme.

Not a promising future…

Phnom Penh was once known as a beautiful colonial city with wide tree-shaded boulevards but most of that environment has been sacrificed to “progress,” more buildings, more people, and more traffic. Here is a surviving tree, minus many limbs but still leafy, but how long can it last growing up from a little square hole in the concrete?
50 to 75 years ago, this stump was one of the beautiful trees on a boulevard. Now it’s just a remnant, a reminder–for those who even see it–of what once was.

Launch of campaign to prevent violence against women

Today eleven DDP staff and members of the deaf community participated in the national launch of a campaign to protect women against violence. Here our DDP interpreter conveys the message of one of the early speakers.
Probably more than 500 persons attended the launch. There would have been more but the chairs were socially distanced because of the coronavirus. Another anti-COVID-19 measure: at the break it was interesting that the hotel did not supply the usual buffet of snacks and pastries and fruit, but instead prepared a foam box full of snacks for each individual. They were quite generous in the quantity of snacks in each box so it probably cost the organizers more than the usual reception.
After the morning-long ceremony, many of the DDP staff posed for a picture.