US first lady in Cambodia to promote girls’ education

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U.S. first lady Michelle Obama arrives at Siem Reap International Airport on Friday, March 20, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Mrs. Obama's Friday evening arrival in Cambodia comes after a three-day visit to Japan. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama traveled Friday from Japan to Cambodia — a journey from one of Asia’s richest countries to one of its poorest — as part of a campaign to help millions of girls around the world stay in school.

Mrs. Obama arrived in the city of Siem Reap, home to Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple complex, where she planned to sightsee following activities Saturday focused on the U.S.-led education initiative “Let Girls Learn.”

The White House has said Mrs. Obama is expected to “share American perspectives about education and good governance” but was unlikely to directly criticize Cambodia’s human rights record.

Mrs. Obama’s trip is the first by a sitting American first lady to Cambodia, whose strongman leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen, has ruled for 30 years with little tolerance for dissent.

She was not expected to meet Hun Sen but will spend Saturday with his wife, Bun Rany, who greeted Mrs. Obama at the airport Friday night.

The two first ladies are to meet Cambodian high school students participating in community-led programs. Mrs. Obama will also deliver a speech to U.S. Peace Corps volunteers and later hold a round-table discussion with those volunteers and others working on projects to support girls’ education in Cambodia.

Earlier this month, she and President Barack Obama launched “Let Girls Learn” to lift barriers that block more than 62 million girls around the world from attending school.

Japan is partnering with the U.S. to promote the campaign and announced during Mrs. Obama’s three-day stay it will devote 42 billion yen ($340 million) to girls’ education projects.

The U.S. has earmarked $250 million in initial funding for the program, which will be run by the Peace Corps and begin in 11 countries — Cambodia, Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda.

The White House said Japan and Cambodia were chosen for Mrs. Obama’s trip because one is a donor country and one is a country in need, and it reflects a U.S. commitment to be more involved in the Asia-Pacific region.

In an online travel journal, Mrs. Obama said the trip felt personal. She shared a story, now familiar to Americans, in the hopes of inspiring children overseas.

“This visit is part of a journey that began decades ago, back when I was a little girl,” wrote Mrs. Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer, saying she came from a modest background, but worked hard in school and her education transformed her life. “My education is the starting point for every opportunity in my life.”

The trip also allowed the first lady to soak up some of Asia’s rich culture. Before leaving Japan on Friday, Mrs. Obama flew from Tokyo to the ancient capital of Kyoto to visit shrines and temples including Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple founded in 780. She also tried her hand at taiko drums after watching a rousing performance by students who drummed, jumped and gesticulated with all their might.

“You guys are good!” she said. “That’s good exercise. Wonderful.”

The students then invited Mrs. Obama to join them, and performed a number as she and a student drummed on a big, round taiko drum.

In Cambodia, she will get a first-hand look at the country’s educational challenges.

Cambodia was devastated by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. The brutal regime closed schools and executed intellectuals. Foreign aid and investment have helped the economy grow rapidly in the past decade but its education system and overall development remain stunted.

Even today, most Cambodian children drop out of school, according to 2014 government statistics that show 95 percent of children enter primary school but only 20 percent finish secondary school.

Poverty is the main problem, especially in rural areas, where children are pulled out of school to help support their families, according to UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency.

Cambodia’s problems with child prostitution, child labor and human trafficking also play a role, and often target girls.

In 2012, President Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cambodia and held a private meeting with Hun Sen that White House officials described as tense. The president privately pressed Hun Sen on a variety of human rights and political issues but made no public comments critical of his host.

Human rights groups hope Mrs. Obama will speak out publicly.

“While it’s welcome that Michelle Obama is taking up the important cause of educating girls, she also needs to recognize that Cambodia is a human rights basket case,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. He urged her to “speak up about rampant violence against women, impunity of security forces and failure of democratic governance.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Investors have to read Khmer history – when assessing the supply chain and political risk in Cambodia.

    Ultimately,Cambodia will become a SAR of the PRC. dindooohindoo

    The Khmer nation was pillaged by looted,by the Thai and Vietnamese Kings. Large tracts of land and treasures, of the Khmer, are with the Thais and Viets.

    This is the history of the Khmer,after the 1st invasion of Thais 1000 years ago.Thereafter came the French and Pol Pot and the US-Viet war.

    Today the nation and economy and real estate of the Khmer,is owned by the Chinese,Viets and Thais – who hold KHMER PASSPORTS.

    The Viets have taken over Khmer land and timber ( as a compensation for the war on the Khmer Rouge), There are millions of Viets settled in Khmer land – as traders – and not manufacturers or industrialists. They are also the hidden voters of Hun Sen and the eyes and ears of Viet Intelligence in Khmer land.

    Hoon Sen has not raised the issue of the millions of Viet, in Khmer land – as they vote for him ! And Hoon Sen has not raised Khmer Krom with the Viet govtt, ever – not the land seized by the Viets !

    Y ? Hoon Sen is a Viet spy and stooge.The Viet intel have dirt on Hoon Sen – w.r.t his work with Pol Pot and his collaboration with Viet Intel – when he was with the Khmer Rouge – and his extra-marital affairs, rapes,murders and mistresses.

    The Viet contribution to the nation of the Khmer is Nil and if the Khmer cannot do, what the Viets do – then the Khmer do not deserve a nation.Even the Rubber and timber goes back to Vietnam for processing.

    The Thais are on the Thai-Khmer border with rice mills and other industries,which run on the concessional power sold by the Thai Grid.Inspite of that,the marginal Thai Population is settled only near the border areas

    The Chinese have built the infra,ports,SEZ,roads and whatever little industry exists in Khmer land.Like in Thailand – the Han Chinese control the trade, commerce, manufacturing etc.Even in so called Muslim nations like Indon-ass-eeah, all that works, from Railways to bureaucracy is due to the Han Chinese

    In essence, THE KHMER ARE SLAVES TO THE VIETS,THAI AND CHINESE.

    Once Hun Sen dies,the Viets,Thai and Chinese will try to instal the son of Hun Sen – and if the Khmer people revolt (courtesy the CIA etc.),they will target the Viets in Cambodia,There are millions of Viets in Cambodia

    That is Civil war – it is an inevitable,as is the death of Hun Sen

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