Internet Access is a Human Right, says United Nations report

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 8:33 am (UTC+7)
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VOA Khmer’s Heng Reaksmey reported Tuesday that a rights group called for “greater Internet freedoms” as it released its report on “Internet Censorship: the ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression in Cambodia.” The Cambodian Center for Human Rights concluded the report saying that

“The RGC to develop mechanisms to increase Internet penetration in Cambodia, to reject the Internet censorship policies which it currently appears to be adopting, and to promote online space for free expression by ensuring that old barriers are not applied to new frontiers.”

The report came following the United Nations last month published a report declaring “Internet access is a human right.”

Suggested links:
Who is blocking Internet access, acting against government policy?
Why I canceled my Internet account with Online

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Facebook App Released for Cambodian Users

Posted June 10th, 2011 at 2:27 pm (UTC+7)
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Apple users can now communicate in Khmer language over social site Facebook thanks to a new free app, Facebook Khmer, released by a Cambodian software development firm.

A screen-shot of Facebook on an iPhone

Khemara-Soft, which previously released free Radio Khmer app for Apple users, has just launched Facebook Khmer that “allows you to read/view text typing in Khmer within Facebook.”

While the firm says Facebook Khmer “app does not translate Facebook contents into Khmer,” it means Khmer Unicode texts that input by users on Facebook, Cambodia’s most visited site, can be properly displayed without technical difficulties. As operating systems that power most smart phones don’t include Khmer Unicode, using Khmer language for mobile users has been a problem for users who prefer Khmer to English. But this solution by Khmera-Soft is similar to one implemented by web developers who rely on the Internet to automatically transmit Khmer fonts from Google servers to users’ devices. By injecting a few lines of scripts to the web pages, developers can tell users’ web browsers to download the Khmer script from Google Web Fonts. This means the end-users are no longer required to have Khmer Unicode software installed on their personal computers or mobile devices to be able to read Khmer texts.

According to Google Analytics that tracks visits to VOA Khmer sites (both Khmer and English), most visitors use Apple devices to read news stories.

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Fake Online Identity Raises Concern as Facebook Is Taking off

Posted June 3rd, 2011 at 1:34 pm (UTC+7)
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As Facebook is taking off in Cambodia, concerns over online identity also arise when several public profiles of Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen were found online, but denied by the premier cabinet.

Cambodians surf the Internet at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP

Cambodians surf the Internet at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP

With more than 600 million users world wide, Facebook has a policy that allows its users to report fake profiles. But a quick search on the site shows that there are two profiles and three Pages that represent the Cambodian premier, whose cabinet told that the accounts “were not created by sources close the prime minister”. One of the Pages, usually used by public figures and businesses, has more than 20000 fans. Via micro-blogging site Twitter, Thomas Crampton, a Hong Kong-based social media expert, told me that there are “290k Facebook users in Cambodia, with 90% under the age of 30 and more than 60% male”.

When asked what’s the implication of this online fake identity, Saray Samedy, who researched on Facebook use among Cambodians, told me that “It’s like you’re wearing a mask, no one know who you are in a way you could protect yourself from going public in the online world”. A negative thing about this is that “people make advantages from that by hiding their identity and do something inappropriate,” added Samedy.

Suggested links:
News of Journalism Mentor’s Death Broke on Facebook

Keeping a True Identity Becomes a Battle Online

PM’s daughter doesn’t ‘like’ Facebook profile

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Conference to Foster Ideas Worth Spreading

Posted May 23rd, 2011 at 4:59 pm (UTC+7)
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A TED-styled event is happening at a Phnom Penh university on June the 4th, and an organizer hopes the conference will help foster the concept of sharing ideas and knowledge. “Unshared thoughts and ideas have little value. We understand that the greatest progress and development in the world comes through open discussion and sharing of ideas,” says its website.

KhmerTalks conference on “Sharing Success Together“ at Zaman University is open to registration online now and only 250 seats available.

In January the first TEDx Phnom Penh conference was held in the Cambodian capital, which attracted some of the most influential speakers in arts, technologies, and media to generate ideas on building Cambodia’s future.

You can find out more information about this social event KhmerTalks on Facebook and see who’s attending. I’ll be there covering this KhmerTalks event for this blog.

Suggested links:
TED: Ideas worth spreading
TEDx Phnom Penh

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Net Users Turn to Tribunal Sites for Video Coverage

Posted May 19th, 2011 at 4:47 pm (UTC+7)
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“…a society cannot know itself if it does not have an accurate memory of its own history,” reads a message on the main website of Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam).

As DC-Cam publishes ‘Searching for the Truth,’ a monthly print publication on the Khmer Rouge for over a decade, in 2007 the independent research institute took a major step when it launched Cambodia Tribunal Monitor (CTM), a rich-content site that aggregates Khmer Rouge tribunal news and serves trial footage and video feed from the United Nations-backed court.

“Exclusive video coverage of the Khmer Rouge trial is CTM’s most important site feature,” Peou Dara Vanthan, a deputy director of the Center, told me in an interview this week. CTM also aggregates and picks up trial related-news items from media news outlets.

A spike in traffic (from June until August 2010) to the CTM site as it made video footage of the verdict in the case of Duch was available. Click to zoom in.

The graphic compares the official site of The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) with Cambodia Tribunal Monitor.

 

While a 2009-report says “Yet 85 percent of those surveyed had little or no knowledge about the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC),” Peou Dara Vanthan and his team have until now visited several thousands of university students to present CTM site and its key tools for academic research.

Suggested links:
From Archiving to Legacy: The Virtual Tribunal Project at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal
The Virtual Tribunal Project (PDF)

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

News of Journalism Mentor’s Death Broke on Facebook

Posted May 15th, 2011 at 5:36 pm (UTC+7)
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On 10 May at around 6 PM, a media student of Reach Sambath wrote on her lecturer’s Facebook profile that “Dear Lokru [lecturer or teacher], I hope you are fine now. We are worrying about you. Take care our dear lecturer”.

A Wikipedia entry about Reach Sambath, a Cambodian journalism mentor

Largely known for nurturing and mentoring young Cambodian journalists, Reach Sambath’s death shocked his students and friends. Through the Internet, they quickly learned of his suffering of a stroke and staying a hospital in Phnom Penh.

On 11 May at 9 PM, another online friend, who regards Sambath as an uncle, posted on the site saying that “I’m so sorry to hear that na lork Pou!! I will remember you and yr kindness forever… Please rest in peace…:'(”.

Reach Sambath’s Facebook friends were among the first to learn of his being hospitalized at Calmet hospital in the Cambodian capital. Following the breaking news on Facebook, people who had met Sambath in person or through the networking site started to flood his Facebook profile with notes praying for his quick recovery. Friends who couldn’t visit him at the hospital turned to Facebook and prayed for him and call for donations to help his family cover the expense. It’s the last best hope for the survival of the much-loved family man, who’s survived by his wife and three children.

Reach Sambath, 47, is more respected for being a ‘Lok Krou’ (teacher or lecturer) among media students, young reporters and people working in the mainstream media in Cambodia.

Before falling sick, he served as a chief of public affairs for the United Nations-backed tribunal. On 9 May, a day before the stroke attack, he posted pictures from his field trip to a university in Battambang province where he helped raise awareness of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

In the last few years Sambath began posting old memoirs mostly captured through his camera lens. On his Facebook profile, there are more than six hundred photos that could well describe his work as a reporter, lecturer, spokesman and good friend of many.

Sambath’s contribution to the Cambodian media in the last two decade will continue to inspire journalism students and working reporters here. In a blog post, journalism student Sun Narin wrote that

We are really saddened to hear about the demise of our respectful lecturer Reach Sambath. We had honor to know him and had the greatest respect for him. He was a really good guy that we remember his goodness to us. We spent our time with him last year both in academic and social life.

Another junior student, Koam Tivea, posted his condolence message saying “You are an inspiration. You made us laugh and enjoy the study with you all the time. You motivated us to work harder to get bright future and of course work to help the society. I can’t say anything more”.


VOA Khmer’s Kong Sothanarith and Say Mony report from Phnom Penh.

On 12 May, an entry about Reach Sambath on Wikipedia, the world’s largest and free encyclopedia, was appeared on the Internet serving anyone to learn more about Reach Sambath. His former students began to posted his favorite most picture with an old bicycle he once used to earn a living.

On 15 May, Sambath’s former student wrote: “Whenever I log into Facebook, I feel so sad for everyone’s status reminds me that I have lost my dearest lecturer. That sucks and hurts”.

Suggested links:
Reach Sambath, Revered Journalism Mentor, Dies
Reach Sambath on Wikipedia
What Happens to Your Facebook After You Die?
Spokesperson for Ghosts
Reach Sambath, Tribunal Spokesman in Cambodia, Dies at 47
Former AFP journalist Reach Sambath dies
Reach Sambath, 1964-2011
In Loving Memory of Reach Sambath

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Note on VOACambodia.com Contest

Posted May 10th, 2011 at 3:14 pm (UTC+7)
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As VOACambodia.com contest came to an end last week after a 27-year-old Voice of America (VOA) Khmer listener collected an Apple iPad (the contest grand prize), I have a few things to mention in this blog post.

I began working on VOACambodia.com contest since late last year. Primarily designed to promote and enhance VOA Khmer’s online presence and visibility, the contest’s main aim is to reach out and build a new group of VOA Khmer’s audience, some of the 194,282 Internet users in Cambodia (according to a 2010-data from Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and Posts of Ministry). VOA Khmer has been on air since 1955, the Khmer Service’s radio broadcast and its twice daily broadcast reaches Cambodian homes throughout the country, making it easier to publicize this Internet contest.

VOACambodia.com contest in pictures

Aimed at getting Cambodian Internet users to visit VOA Khmer’s news site (in Khmer and English language), the contest announcement was first broadcast on the air wave. However, while it’s easy to get first-time visitors to the site, it’s more important to keep them coming to consume the news content on VOA Khmer website.

From January to April, the contest called for the radio listeners to join the contest via email. More than six thousand email messages were submitted from the audience from most parts of Cambodia. There are seven, among several thousand contestants, who won a prize each from this question & answer competition and luck draw. The gadget prizes included 3 digital video cameras, 3 iPods, and an iPad. At first, I was worried that all the winners are from the Cambodian capital city, but it turned out there are winners from various provinces.

VOACambodia.com contest in pictures

One morning on the way to his workplace, Hoy Meng Leang heard about VOACambodia.com contest through his car radio. Although he didn’t have Internet connection at home. “It’s just my luck. I don’t think it has anything to do with hard work. So I hope that other contestants won’t get disappointed,” said Hoy Meng Leang, who’s a long-time listener of VOA Khmer.

Hoy Meng Leang won the grand prize at his high time. The young VOA Khmer listener collected the iPad from me on his very first day at work for a new company in Phnom Penh. He previously worked in Kandal province. “I’m very excited. Everyone at my home are talking about my winning,” said Hoy Meng Leang after the grand prize winner was informed about the lucky draw. The grand prize winner added that, “We should listen to news, specially Cambodian affairs.”

Hoy Meng Leang, originally from Kampong Cham province, won VOACambodia.com's grand prize, Apple iPad.

As VOA Khmer has leveraged the potential of social media to build and engage audience online, the contest’s questions aims to introduce Cambodian Internet users to VOA Khmer’s YouTube channel, Facebook, and mobile sites. VOA Khmer’s Facebook Page now has nearly 8000 users who stay connected with the main news site, which publishes daily news about Cambodian politics, Khmer Rouges, human rights, economy, and social issues. The Facebook Page was launched by the Khmer Service in November 2009. But the past six months saw the rising number of people who like the Page.

2011 and the next couple of years will be important for VOA Khmer to deliver reliable, original and quality news and information to Cambodian audience through Internet-based platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Essentially, it’s now possible for the VOA Khmer audience to communicate conveniently with invited guests of the bi-weekly Hello VOA talk show. The program is usually open to questions from the radio listener through phone call. Facebook users leave comments on the Page before the start of the show and the talk show host reads the question for the guest. This online activity enables the radio broadcast more interactivity thanks to the growing Internet-based audience. This is why the contest was run across platforms, radio and the Internet.

Media lecturer and researcher Peou Chivoin says, “The number of facebook users is generally anywhere between 1/3 and 1/4 of that of internet users. The number of internet users in Cambodia is a bit over 100,000”. The figure makes it more reasonable for digital strategists to do more work to engage with the audience through the popular social networking site.

According Google Analytics used by VOA Khmer to track visitors to the site, over 80% are ‘Returning Visitors’. This means the contest contributed to building a loyal online audience. The statistic monitor service also says Facebook is among the top ten sites that send traffic to the VOA Khmer news site. Nearly 40% of the Facebook Page fans are aged between 18-24.

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

What Information Means in Cambodia Today

Posted May 5th, 2011 at 9:24 am (UTC+7)
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Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

On Tuesday, I attended a World Press Freedom Day forum in Phnom Penh. The theme this year was “21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers.” And while everyone was talking about Facebook and Twitter, what I found interesting was the way that information is changing in Cambodia—how it’s gathered, delivered and consumed.

In the early 2000s there were only a few online news sites, with sporadic updates, serving the Cambodian audience; none of them were actually published in Khmer language.

A decade later, Cambodia is now home to 30 Internet service providers. It’s estimated that there are around 100,000 Internet users, which has pushed major print newspapers to go online for wider distribution.

More and more computer users have adopted Khmer Unicode, with interchangeable characters on their machines, taking the exchange of information and content to the next level, something that was only possible in an alternative workaround a year earlier.

The era of dial-up connections with a speed of less than 56 kbps has been taken over by broadband and mobile Internet 3G. This new transformation in technology has changed how Cambodians consume news. Meanwhile, the media have become faster at reporting and delivering news.

World Press Freedom Day offered a chance to put all this together in many different discussions Tuesday.

Professionals debated new media, questioned how much the Internet can contribute to freer expression, and how online content can spawn new topics of discussion.

They discussed KI Media, a news aggregator openly opposed to the Cambodian government, which has been unavailable through the country’s biggest ISPs since early this year.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said in a talk Tuesday the government has no policy to block websites or blogs. He pointed to examples from the Middle East, Burma, Vietnam and especially China to demonstrate how hard it is to disconnect people from the Internet and the information there.

Media groups representing newspapers and radio stations say that while new media is a new threat, they’ve actually transformed it into an integral part of their newsrooms. Many Khmer-language papers now have an online edition that is updated more than once a day—a difficulty feat for daily print papers.

Pen Samitthy, president of the Cambodian Club of Journalists, told participants that the Internet has actually improved how journalists file stories. People can post from anywhere—the office, home, a café—anytime. The Internet has also made it hard for the government to censor content, he said.

In between sessions at the forum, a documentary on social media played, demonstrating how young Cambodians use Facebook to get news, updates about their friends and other information. One segment examined how Facebook helped spread news of last year’s Diamond Bridge stampede, one of the worst tragedies in Cambodia’s modern history.
This 7-minute video is courtesy of media students at Royal University of Phnom Penh, Department of Media and Communication.


Discussing the roles of social media in Cambodia, this 7-minute video was produced by journalism students at Department of Media and Communication, Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Websites for newspapers, too, are becoming increasingly popular. While a print run might circulate around 10,000 copies, some news organizations are see double that the number of unique visitors to the sites. The popularity of online news became very apparent when Cambodian and Thai troops clashed on the border; newspapers used their Web pages to update injuries and casualties and other information from the front.

A graphic from compete.com shows the number of unique visitors to three Cambodian newspaper sites. Click the image to zoom in.

In 2002, the International Telecommunications Union called Cambodia a “late comer” to the Internet, with commercial service launching late, in 1997. That may be true, but the past decade has seen a boom in infrastructure, which is helping more and more people access breaking news and information. That power comes with a warning, however. Media organizations must be careful not to sacrifice accuracy for immediacy—just for a few extra clicks.

Recommended links:
Encoded Property

World Press Freedom Day 2011

“What Does Press Freedom Mean to You?”

21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers

A Joint Message for 2011 from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General

Reporters With Thought Borders

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

After New Year, New Online Relationships

Posted April 13th, 2011 at 2:27 pm (UTC+7)
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Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

As Cambodia’s New Year approaches, many of the nation’s young will be traveling home, to see old friends and spend time with their families. This is a time-honored tradition. But after the festivities are concluded and people return to their modern lives, they’ll increasingly grapple with social relationships that take place online.

Khmer New Year

Cambodian New Year's celebration which lasts for three days, from April 14 through 16 this year. Photo: AP

Young Cambodians dominate the online space of social networking sites like Facebook. A large number of Cambodia’s Facebook users are aged between 18 and 34.

Relationships are changing as a result, and that includes romance.

In Cambodia, parents traditionally have much say in their children’s marriage. They believe they they’ve been through years of experience in building and maintaining family lives, and likely think their choices are better for the future of their children.

But more and more people are finding their personal lives conducted inside the walled gardens of the Internet, on sites like Facebook, which is only accessible for registered users and among those one chooses to admit, disconnected from the entire Web.

This means it’s a comfortable, virtual space for people to meet with their old classmates, as well as to build and break relationships.

Roath, 23, first met his girlfriend when they were dining out together with a group of friends. Since then he keeps in touch with his girlfriend, who’s now in Singapore for her studies, through Internet calls, using desktop software Skype and mobile app Vibe. Roath, who works in Phnom Penh, says he’s recently changed his Facebook relationship status from “complicated” to “in a relationship” to announce publicly that he’s no longer available.

In a recent email, Roath, who asked that his surname be withheld, told me: “actually, i dun wanna put in relationship. but since she is far away from me she wants me to change to in relationship hmm… that’s y i change to ‘in relationship.’”

In a sign of how the Internet has become more commonplace in Cambodian relationships, famous vocalist Preap Sovath struck a hit recently with, “To Start Facebook, To Start Love.” The song tells a story of a lonesome man who first met a woman on networking site Facebook. As the friendship later become a love relation. The man became obsessed with the site by spending much of the time forgetting his day meals and waiting for her reply to his messages. [link to the music video on YouTube].

The trend of Facebook love songs doesn’t end here. Popular singers like Khemarak Sereymon and his sister, Khemrak Sreypov, have also joined in.

The popular Internet site is often the first stop for the Internet savvy to find out what their friends are up to, as well. From old family and colleague photos, to last-night party snapshots, to complains about traffic jams, the instant stream of updates makes users feel more connected within their peers and surroundings than ever.

When asked to compare her parents’ generation to this generation, Sokkea, a former DJ at Love FM 97.5 Phnom Penh, said: “I think it’s different in a way that it’s faster and easier, but it’s more costly. Since people have more access to these ways of communication, they tend to spend more. i have more opportunities than they did just because I use internet to keep my friendship and to network.”

Sokkea told me that she’s more connected with friends and others, saying, “my generation is completely different from my parents’. i have more opportunities than they did just because I use internet to keep my friendship and to network…. My parents never seemed to communicate as much as I do, which reserve some disadvantages.”

Meas Sopheak, a lecturer at Institute of Foreign Language, echoed Sokkea’s thoughts, telling me, “If in my parents’ generation there were such modern mobile phones and the internet, they would certainly have used them. But the thing is that there weren’t any.”

“I admit Facebook is a great medium not only to keep in touch with friends around the world, but also to make new connection,” wrote a Cambodian Facebook user, Borei Sylyvann. “It’s really effective that it can both reach my real friends and my virtual friends abroad. I believe we should appreciate this technology. My parents would lost connection with many of their old friends.”

This kind of online social interaction is likely to increase, as more people become used to Facebook and the Internet in their social lives. There are more questions to navigate, and more social challenges.

“Logging in facebook is still the first thing I do every time I start up my netbook,” a user wrote on Facebook recently (she asked to remain anonymous); “however, I no longer have much to do in that which result in me spending less time. Yet, from a friendship point of view I think I don’t know what is going on with my friends now, which is not a good sign at all.”

“Although possessing these modern applications and devices would be a lot beneficial to the young, at the same time these things also present lots of harmful effects to they themselves and the society at large,” Meas Sopheak said. “Perhaps it would be a good idea to have some public awareness raising to educate young people about living morally and healthily.”

As more and more Cambodians get online and on Facebook, people are going to have to learn to navigate a new social landscape.

For Teng Somongkol, a research assistant currently at the University of Minnesota, it came as a surprise to get a friend request from his father. Last week he updated his Facebook status: “OMG! My dad wants a Facebook account.”

In a response to my email asking how he’s going to handle this situation, Teng Somongkol said, “His presence on Facebook will remind me to be more vigilant on what I post and do. As a son and as someone who is living away from him, I do have a mixed feeling for his decision.”

Note:
According to media lecturer Peou Chivoin, “The number of facebook users is generally anywhere between 1/3 and 1/4 of that of internet users. The number of internet users in Cambodia is a bit over 100,000,” adding that “Internet World Stats seems to give more realistic estimate of FB users in Cambodia, for it takes into account of the nature of FB and its users (not necessarily persons).”

“The number of internet users is also not very reliable, considering ITU’s estimate at just below 100,000; IWS’s estimate at about 130,000; and MPTC’s estimate at over 200,000.”

Recommended links:
Cambodians and Facebook, a Love Story

Going 24 Hours Without Media

AngkorOne: Local site for online dating

Feel Like a Wallflower? Maybe It’s Your Facebook Wall

Pdeum Leng Facebook Pdeum Mean Snaeha

Facebook ចាំស្នេហ៍

មួយយប់ជាមួយ facebook

Facebook Rom Kan Snaeh Bong

Facebook phdach sneah by Sreypov

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Sympathy for Japan, Online and Off

Posted March 30th, 2011 at 3:36 pm (UTC+7)
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Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

I visited the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh last week after hearing that the embassy compound was open to residents for donations to the earthquake victims in Japan. Buddhist monks, students, business people and ordinary citizens were standing in line to pay tribute to the victims of the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami, by writing sympathy notes, bringing bunches of flowers and giving donations to embassy representatives.

When the tragic news broke out in Japan, I was at home in front of my computer screen, reading the news stories and viewing photographs. I was also on TweetDeck, a web-based Twitter application, to read tweets from people I follow, as this is also a way I can get news from more sources. It was heartbreaking to see the destruction brought by the natural disaster. The technology allowed me to quickly know what was happening in Japan and to connect with the disaster in a way that was not possible a few years ago.

But it was at the embassy that I decided to give a donation. Not online. Although it’s possible to make donation to the Japanese Red Cross online via Google Crisis Response, I felt it would be better to stop by the embassy and see other people visiting the memorial to pay condolences to the victims. The experience would be more heartfelt, I thought, than donating money online through my debit card.

Being there and having a sense of the memorial was quite different from seeing the pictures on the Internet or television. I was able to see other Cambodians generously making small contributions through the Japanese staff to the victims in the compound. Importantly, to be there means I can pay respect to the victims. That gave me the feeling I was seeking. I’d have felt nothing if I only clicked to transfer money over the Internet.

As much as technology can do, there are some things it can’t do. So there, at the embassy, I decided to give $5 to the Red Cross. In return, I received a certificate for my small donation. As more and more people kept coming into the embassy compound to donate, I wrote, by hand, a condolence note on one of the books for guests like me. In my note, I wanted to send a message to the Japanese people that what brought them down to earth would only make them stronger.

As modern media continue to report what’s happening in Japan, among Cambodians, various efforts by groups and individuals have been carried out, both online and off.

From fundraising, to Buddhist ceremonies, to expressing emotional support for the victims, more informed people here feel how they care about a developed country like Japan, which has been one of the major donors to Cambodia since the 1990s.

It’s approximately 4,400 kilometers from Phnom Penh to Tokyo, and the earthquake tragedy, one of the worst in Japan’s history, was felt here in the Cambodian capital. In a blog post by venerable Thach Preichea Koeun, a poem was written to the earthquake victims, describing the tragedy as the teardrops of human beings.

Hak Chansy, a former student at Royal University of Phnom Penh who now works at the Cambodia Japan Center for Cooperation, learned about the disaster at her workplace through NHK, Japan’s state TV.

Hak Chansy, who has visited Japan twice, wrote in an email: “I am very sorry when i heard about this. I love Japan so much and i like Japanese people very much also. I have many Cambodian friends and Japanese friends living there. I wish them be safe, good luck, injoy living there, dont want tsunami and earthquake happening again.”

Chansy didn’t visit the embassy to donate, but she instead joined a “bang skol” Buddhist ceremony dedicated to the souls of the dead, held at center.

Others showed their sympathy to Japan in different ways.

In a note to his online friends, Eng Vannak, a 28-year-old NGO staffer who has never been to Japan, wrote: “let’s start donate some bucks to help our Japanese people… I did it already and YOU???”

“What make me donate my money is because Japan is a big donor for cambodia and we so far have a good relationship,” he told me later in an e-mail.

Eng Vannak first learned about the Japan disaster through online news outlets and encouraged friends to help the victims by any means possible. He told me that he gave 10,000 riel, about $2.50, a week after the disaster. A coworker collected the money from the staff and took it to the embassy.

Eng Vannak said he would have donated online, where it would be easier and more reliable, but he couldn’t find a way to do it at the time, adding, “the money can be lost or stolen when it is brought to the embassy.”

A Buddhist ceremony held Sunday in Phnom Penh for Japan earthquake victims

On Sunday, Japan Alumni of Cambodia held a Buddhist ceremony for the victims of the disaster. Nearly 100 people brought food for 50 monks. Later, along Sisowath Quay, near Wat Botum pagoda, volunteers from the Japanese NGO Network in Cambodia held their own call for donations. They sold T-shirts bearing the message: “Pray for Japan.”

Recommended links:
http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html

http://www.jac-khmer.org/

http://www.kh.emb-japan.go.jp/pressrelease/2011/3/20110324-e.pdf

កំណាព្យៈទឹកភ្នែកមនុស្សជាតិ

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

About

About

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2005, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

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