Knight Fellow Trainee Covers Film Producer's Visit to Haiti

Jul 272011

Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste covered the documentary film producer Kalyanee Mam's visit to discuss socio-political similarities between her homeland Cambodia and Haiti. The article compares the NGO invasion of post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia to the strong NGO presence in post-quake Haiti. Knight Fellow Kathie Klarreich trained Le Nouvelliste reporters to track inflowing aid money to ensure transparent recovery as part of her fellowship project.

Le Nouvelliste July 25, 2011

Haiti and Cambodia are half way around the world from each other but very close in their socio-political-economic realities. Both under the ‘protectorate wing’ of the international community, they are fertile ground for the development of non-governmental organizations.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Dozens of journalists and journalism students attended the premier showing of the 2011 Academy Award winning documentary “Inside Job” on Saturday, July 23. In addition to the film, the crowd benefited from the presence of Kalyanee Mam, the film’s associate producer, director of photography and researcher. Mam, who was invited by the International Center for Journalists as part of the work it is doing on training/mentoring/coaching Haitian journalists in investigative journalism, gave two workshops for journalists as well as did a question and answer session following the film.

The lawyer turned documentary filmmaker found many similarities between Haiti and her home country, Cambodia. Born in 1977 under the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979), Kalyanee and her family took refuge in a camp before the International Organization of Migration helped them emigrate to the United States in 1981. Dictator Pol Pot’s regime killed two million people and another million - the educated, profession class – fled the country. At the time Cambodia had a population of 10 million.

The fall of the Khmer Rouge did not bring immediate political stability. In 1991 the United Nations came in and treated it as a sort of protectorate. “The country was completely under the direction of the United Nations,” Mam said. Haiti, at that period, was also struggling under its own military dictatorship after the September 30 coup d’état which ousted democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide.

The presence of the United Nations in Cambodia opened the door for an invasion of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which today number more than 3000 in a country of 14 million. They are the government, Mam said, the political period having contributed to the “loss of qualified workers, the collapse of local industries, the degradation of our education system, generalized corruption…..”

Prior to the arrival of the UN, AIDS was virtually non-existent in Cambodia. There were less than 6000 cases nationwide before 1991. Within one year the number of cases shot up to 20,000 and the figures varied between 50,000 and 90,000 by 1995. “The UN brought AIDS to Cambodia the way that it brought to cholera to Haiti,” said a participant in one of the workshops that Mam led for investigative journalists.

In the 1950s and 60s, Cambodia was considered the Pearl of the Orient, just as Haiti was considered the Pearl of the Antilles before its independence. “Today, Cambodia’s per capita is less than $800 (US),” Mam said.

The best paying jobs in Cambodia are the ones offered by the international community. As she suspects is true in Haiti, Cambodians feel like second class citizens. The large foreign presence has increased the price of housing and food and made it unaffordable for many. English is imposed as the official language, whereas Kampuchea, the mother tongue, is being taught less and less in the schools.

Carl-Henry Cadet Le Nouvelliste aloccarlo@hotmail.com