On October 10, 2015, the Phnom Penh Post published a piece called "A Return to the Roots: Diaspora Rebuild." The article begins with an introduction of a new documentary by Canadian-Cambodian graffiti artist Fonki Yav who encourages the Cambodian diaspora to come back to the motherland and contribute to the revival of the nation. The article provokes the question: Do Cambodian overseas owe a duty to their homeland?
My answer is YES.
Many in the diaspora long to reconnect with their country and give back by working or volunteering here. However, they may not have the means to for personal or professional reasons. Still, they contribute towards the development of Cambodia in other ways; through academic/professional work related to our country, promoting and teaching Khmer culture and the language to the next generation, or helping Cambodians in their local communities through social, and economic issues. Their efforts are just as important and worthwhile.
Yet, if we ever come across the chance to live here, whether for personal or professional reasons, short term or permanently, we should seize it. It is an extraordinary opportunity for us to make a direct impact on the renewal of our nation. What we get in return is an unparalleled experience to fully immerse ourselves in our homeland—something we will never be able to do anywhere else. Even if it’s just to visit, it is a first step to reconnect the roots that were abruptly torn away from us long ago.
If we are fortunate enough to live here, we should not only consider it as a duty to give back to our homeland, but a privilege. It is a privilege to wake up every day in this country to experience everything it has to offer. It is a privilege to witness the country’s rapidly changing social and economic development and play some small part in the story of our country’s transformation.
The eagerness to contribute is often driven by the sense of moral obligation many in the diaspora feel. Perhaps it is because of the guilt we carry as survivors or inheriting that guilt as direct descendants of the survivors. Through our own experience or through parents and elders, we are often reminded of our tragic history and the fluke of circumstances that allowed us to survive and prosper in a new land. Luck and hard work gave us access to quality educational and professional opportunities our peers lacked at home.
Future diaspora generations may not feel this moral obligation as strongly as they will be further removed from the illness that struck our nation. Hopefully with the passage of time there will more progress in Cambodia and the needs won't be so great. For this generation, survivors and direct descendants, driven by that moral obligation, there is an immediate and unique role we can play. There is a need for the distinctive skills and talents we have to offer, but with that comes rewarding opportunities, personally and professionally. We should absolutely answer that call to action to come back and contribute to the extent that we can, and to the extent we feel that moral obligation, but we should not be expected to bear that entire burden, nor somehow assume that it is ours alone to bear.
It is the duty of ALL Cambodians to positively contribute in any way we can to strengthen our nation’s social and economic development, to rebuild our identity, trust and camaraderie amongst each other. In doing so we can find a meaningful sense of purpose in helping to write a newer and brighter narrative for our country and her people. As we help our nation heal, we too also heal. Whatever contribution we can make towards our homeland, big or small, in country or elsewhere, can make a difference. But no where is that difference more palpable than being able to do it here. Our individual contributions alone may not seem to make a difference, but with our brothers and sisters, overseas or in country, all Khmer people can collectively help turn the page towards a more positive, prosperous chapter for Cambodia.