March 25, 2009


Well, what part of the trip left the greatest impression? Of course, Unesco-listed Angkor Wat couldn’t fail to impress even the most cynical of visitors and was "truly awesome" as American tourists would annoyingly keep repeating like some Buddhist mantra. Before, that is, rushing back to their luxury hotels for luxury massages and luxury meals - serious pampering to compensate for the serious sweating - their limbs oozing over the edge of their seats like ripe Camembert.

But it isn’t memories of one of the oldest and largest religious structures in the world I’ve taken away with me. Rather it’s images of beautiful young Cambodian women with horribly scarred faces and even more horribly mutilated, limbless bodies. Victims of landmines still prevalent in rural areas, they are a constant reminder of Cambodia’s past. A past from which the current government is so keen to escape.

You see this nod to the future everywhere in the large, modern hospitals solely for children (not to mention new schools). Such paediatric medical facilities would put the NHS to shame and wouldn’t look out of place in, say, Los Angeles where I lived for a number of years. The reason, Me explained, is that the authorities are looking to the future generation to lift Cambodia from third world status to first by means of tourism. To this end, as much emphasis is placed on health care as on education - with Maths- and English-teaching a priority. (UK authorities please note as employers - not to mention university admissions departments - regularly complain about the increasing number of illiterate, innumerate young applicants they deal with.)

But why so many paediatric hospitals, I wanted to know? Reluctantly Me admitted that, in addition to malaria, thousands of Cambodian children succumb every year to lethal dengue fever (like malaria, endemic throughout Cambodia) and it was to deal with this that the hospitals were built.

To safeguard the country’s future - and fortune. If only UK governments were so concerned.

3.9 million children in the UK live in "severe" poverty with a shorter life expectancy than their peers (Save The Children, 2009).
Forty-two per cent of pupils in 2008 finished 11 years of compulsory education without achieving at least a grade C in GCSE English ie they struggled to read and summarise information accurately or use basic grammar (Department for Children, Schools and Families).

Perhaps it's this Government, not schools, that should be placed in Special Measures. What's your take?

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