Archive for the ‘Backgrounders’ Category

Backgrounder: Birth control in Cambodia

By Cindy J. Austin

Here are five things to know about birth control in Cambodia. 

  • The population growth rate of Cambodia is 1.765%,  32.6% of Cambodians are ages 0-14.
  • Many women in poor villages do not see the correlation between number of children and persistent poverty.
  • The average Cambodian woman will birth 4 children in her life.
  • In 2000, only 24 percent of currently married women were practicing family planning.
  • Cambodia has the second lowest contraceptive prevalence rate in the world.

Backgrounder: Sugar palm trees

By Beth Pollak

  • The sugar palm (Borassus flabellifer) is the national tree of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
  • The roots and male flowers are used as a traditional cure for malaria and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • It is very energy-expensive to produce palm sugar – 4 kg (8.8 lb) of firewood are required to produce 1 kg (2.2 lb) of palm syrup.
  • Farmers can make more profit feeding palm juice to pigs than converting it to palm sugar.
  • The leaves are used for thatching on houses, among other uses. They were formerly used as a writing surface by monks.

Sources: Royal Decree on Designation of Animals and Plants as National Symbols of the Kingdom of Cambodia (3/21/05); Sugar palm (Borassus flabellifer): potential feed resource for livestock in small-scale farming systems (Khieu Borin, 1998).

Backgrounder: Women in microfinance

By Brianna Randall

  • 85% of the world’s poorest microfinance clients are female.
  • Because women spend more of their income on the household, new income generated from micro-lending improves their families’ quality of life.
  • In the past, women with small businesses did not have access to credit as commercial banks focused more on men and large-scale businesses.
  • The biggest problem for small businesswomen is illiteracy and the lack of education in math and accounting.
  • Because studies point to poor women as a main hindrance to economic development, improving the lives of even a few is beneficial to a country.

Sources:“Small Change, Big Changes: Women in Microfinance,” by the International Labour Office, “Microfinance and Women: The Micro-Mystique,” by Heather Clydesdale Kajal Shah

Backgrounder: Government corruption in Cambodia

By Nicole Meadows

  • Hun Sen, a former member of the Khmer Rouge, has been Cambodia’s prime minister for the past 25 years
  • 2009 laws against defamation and prohibiting public protests over 200 people were passed; laws restricting the activities of non-governmental organizations were drafted
  • Cambodia scored a 2 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, where 0 was highly corrupt and 10 was highly clean (2009)
  • Number of people below the poverty line fell 47% to 35% from 1993 to 2004; in the same time, the per capita consumption of the richest 20% of the population rose by 45%, and only by 8% of the poorest 20%
  • In 2005, public officials were paid by the private sector an estimated $330 million of ‘unofficial fees’

Sources: Reuters AlertNet, Transparency International, Cambodian Communities out of Crisis

Backgrounder: Religious practices in Cambodia

By Colin Tom

Here are five things to know about contemporary religious practices in Cambodia.

  • Buddhism came to Cambodia with Hinduism, but became the official religion of Cambodia in the 13th and 14th centuries.
  • Cambodians practice Theravada Buddhism. “Theravada” literally means the teaching of the elders and is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. This branch of Buddhism emphasizes the four noble truths (Dukkha [suffering] Dukkha Samudaya [cause of suffering], Dukkha Nirodha [cessation of suffering] Dukkha Nirodha Gamini Patipada [pathway to freedom from suffering]), the three marks of existence Anicca (impermanence) Dukkha (suffering) Anatta (not-self), and the three noble disciplines discipline (sīla), training of mind (samādhi) and wisdom (paññā). Theradava is also distinct from other forms of Buddhism in that it does not portray Buddha as a god
  • Buddhism and Hinduism were absorbed from beyond the borders of Cambodia, fusing with the animist beliefs already present before the country’s immunization. Animist practices are still strongly present within family funerary rituals and contemporary religious practices.
  • Islam and Christianity also exist in Cambodia although they are much less prevalent than Buddhism.
  • There are divisions among “modernists” monks and “traditionalists.” “modernists” have attempted to respond to Western criticism of Buddhist institutions by re-interpreting Buddhist teachings.  “Traditionalists”, on the other hand, prefer to stick to the practices and teachings handed down through the monastic oral tradition, which have traditionally centered on the performance of merit-making ceremonies and the attainment of “heightened states” through concentration meditation.  Contemporary monks utilize modern technology while still maintaining traditional monastery practices.

Sources:  Lonely Planet, Cambodian Culture, Wikipedia, Buddhism in Cambodia, Monk chat. 

Backgrounder: Sports in Cambodia

By Elliot Ambrose

  • Cambodia has increasingly become involved in international and Western sports in the last 30 years. Such sports include volleyball, bodybuilding, golf, and baseball. Organized sports, however, are not as common as in other parts of the world due to economic conditions.
  • Many traditional Cambodian sports such as Pradal Serey, Bokator, and Khmer wrestling, forms of martial arts, nearly died out during the reign of the Khmer rouge but have seen a major resurgence since the end of the dictatorship. Numerous gyms providing classes and instruction have opened since. Other traditional sports such as water buffalo racing and elephant trekking are also still practiced.
  • Water sports are popular in Cambodia, especially in the regions around the Mekong River. Traditional Boat racing is especially popular during the time of the water festival which occurs before the start of the rainy season.
  • Football (Soccer) was introduced by the French and has long been popular in Cambodia, but was also affected by the Khmer Rouge. Many of the best players died or left the country during this time. The national team was rebuilt under German supervision and has been a member of FIFA since 1953. The team placed fourth in the 1972 Asian Cup.
  • Cambodia first participated in the Olympics during the 1956 Summer Games sending equestrian riders. Cambodia also hosted the GANEFO games, an alternative to the Olympics, in the 1960’s.

Sources: ,,

Backgrounder: Clean water in Cambodia

By Frances Micklow

  • 884 million people world wide lack access to safe water supplies. That is approximately one in every eight people. 
  • One tenth of the global disease burden is preventable by achievable improvements in the way we manage water.
  • 35 percent of the Cambodian population does not have access to improved water sources. Cambodia ranks 120 out of all countries with this percentage.
  • There are an estimated 21,000 deaths a year in Cambodia caused by water, sanitation, and hygiene related issues 
  • Journeys With in Our Community identifies and works with whole communities and villages to make sure that every person and every household has access to supplies of clean water. Since starting the Clean Water Project in 2006, JWOC has installed over 300 wells in the Siem Reap area.

Sources: JWOC Clean Water Project website; WHO/UNICEF Report for Water Sanitation; World Health Organization Report: Safer Water, Better Health; Human Development Report 2009 by the United Nations Development Programme

Backgrounder: Buddhist monks and education

By Elizabeth Wilson

  • Cambodia is 96.4% Buddhist, 2.1% Muslim, and 1.5 % other.
  • 84,7 % of men over 15 can read while only 64.1% of women can read.
  • The school life expectancy is 10 years.
  • The number of monks and novices has risen since the late 1980s, from 8,000 to more than 60,000 today.
  • Traditionally, the Buddhist wat, using monks as teachers, provided the only formal education in Cambodia.

Sources: ( ( (

Backgrounder: Cambodian youth fashion

By Kema Hodge

A fashion gap exists between young and old Cambodians. The older generation appears to prefer the traditional Cambodian attire. The younger generation seems willing to try styles from all over the world, including America.

  • Traditional attire includes a cotton sarong (generally tied at the waist) and a krama (multipurpose checkered scarf), with the exception of the wealthy and royal who wear silk.
  • This traditional attire was established in the late 13th century when the prince declared that only he was allowed to wear fabrics with floral patterns, and the lower class needed to wear cloth tied around the waist while slaves had to weave their own fabrics, which were thick and contained old-fashioned patterns.
  • It wasn’t until the French colonization in 1863 that Cambodians were forced to adopt shirts.
  • Following a long period of civil unrest, political corruption, and colonization uncertainty, Cambodia finally achieved civil liberty in 1995, and with it, a desire by the young to modernize and remove themselves from their tumultuous past. Some of these events include: Khmer rouge and World War II.
  • In the last decade or so, a lot of knock-off brands and second-hand or discarded designs seemed to have found their way into the markets in Cambodia, many of which are affordable enough for members of the lower class.
  • Among these are American brands and clothing with American style writing.

Sources:, Artisans D’Angkor Silk Factory,,  Andra Ross – Director of Journey’s Within Bed & Breakfast