Khmer Communication – An Eye Opener

“I have always been interested in doing development work. I want to do something, which makes sense, and then I wanted to come to Asia”, says 26 year old Maia Kahlke Lorentzen. These are some of the reasons why she chose to work for Dan Church Aid (Folkekirkens Nødhjælp) in Phnom Pehn.

Crazy differences

“Problems in Denmark can somehow seem very superficial when you compare them to peoples problems here”, says Maia. The internship is the last part of her degree in Film and Media Studies from University of Copenhagen. Among other things she chose DCA for her internship due to their work with gender policies.
“I wrote my master thesis about how Danish men experience their rights being violated because women are taking gaining to much power. And then I come to Cambodia, where woman have no rights, where they are trafficked into prostitution, and there are lobbies that work against the law against domestic violence”, she says. I am not saying that the problems are not relevant in Denmark but it is crazy to see how different things are here. It is a good eye opener and that is why I wanted to come here”.

Lost in translation
An other reason why Maia came to Cambodia was to make use of her theoretical knowledge. She is currently developing a communication strategy for one of DCA’s partner organization, the Lutheran World Federation Cambodia. “This is a huge challenge. You cannot just transferee your knowledge from Denmark. You have to take in to consideration that half of the population here is illiterate and don’t have access to independent medias. So first we have to go and visit the rural areas and identify which problems they have. Then we make posters with cartoons, so everybody can understand the message”, she says.In addition to that Maia has to learn how to operate in the Khmer working culture. “It is a very authoritative culture, which makes it hard to work independently because everything needs to be approved of on many levels by several people who all need to feel they have a voice. This makes some things go really slow here”, she says.

And then there is the language barrier, which Maia sees as her greatest challenge.  

“It is so frustrating to not know whether we understand each other or not. When I am in the villages and want to talk to people everything goes though an interpreter who’s English is not so good either. You hear them talk and talk but when they translate into English they just tell me one or two words. “It’s a bit like the Movie Lost in Translation. I know there are so much more but I just cannot have all the information. This is very frustrating”, she says.

In spite of the differences and difficulties, Maia still feels that she gains more from doing her internship in Cambodia than if she had stayed in Denmark.

“I think it is much more exiting to work here. I think I make better use of my skills and I get the opportunity to follow all the programs very closely. I learn a lot from how organizations work from within”, she says.
 is planning to stay in Cambodia until the end of January. And once she finishes her degree maybe even longer. “I would like to do something similar to what I do here. Either development work or with an organisation with a social perspective. I have considered looking for something here. Cambodia is an exiting place to be right now”, Maia finishes.

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