Hiroshima Memo: Hiroshima should provide continuing medical support for Cambodia

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

During the five-day holiday period in September dubbed "Silver Week," a delegation comprised of 45 Japanese dentists and students left Hiroshima for Cambodia. The delegation members are surely working hard as they conduct dental checkups and teach local children how to keep their teeth healthy.

Cambodia is famous for the temple complex of Angkor Wat, a World Heritage site, but it is also known as a "land of tragedy" where more than 1 million people are believed to have lost their lives under the Pol Pot regime. These people, including intellectuals, fell victim to genocide, hunger, disease, forced labor and other brutality during the regime's reign which began in 1975 and lasted nearly four years.

In 1991, the nearly 20-year civil war ended when Cambodia signed the Paris Peace Agreement. However, a score of landmines and unexploded bombs have sullied the land, wounding and killing the unfortunate and preventing the further development of this agricultural nation.

Toshihiko Tsuka, 62, a dentist and a member of the medical support delegation dispatched to Cambodia, said present-day Cambodia is a reflection of Hiroshima after the atomic bombing, in terms of its poverty and state of reconstruction. The crucial difference between the two, though, is that Cambodia is now faced with a dearth of leaders in such fields as medicine, education, law, agriculture and technology. Since many intellectuals were killed and books were burned, a former Cambodian diplomat has lamented such conditions, saying, "We don't even know the history of our own country well."

Under these circumstances, dispatching the medical support delegation of mainly dental specialists has great significance. Dentists and experts from the School of Dentistry at Hiroshima University are treating local patients and training local dentists. At the same time, Hiroshima University is developing a cooperative relationship with a university in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and these universities will work together to nurture human resources in Cambodia through a skill-training program. If the relationship continues to develop steadily, the effort will bear fruit. The achievement will also directly lead to the improvement in the standard of living in Cambodia.

A colleague of mine, who has been engaged in support activities in Vietnam, is also a part of the delegation. Before leaving for Cambodia, he told me with feeling, "An ordinary citizen like myself can go to Cambodia and do something to help the people there because the area is now at peace. Not everyone can go to areas suffering conflict."

Contributions toward peace are not limited to conflict areas. Many people living in post-conflict areas also need help. When ordinary citizens increasingly get involved in peace activities and international contributions in various forms, Japan's standing as a nation of peace will surely grow.

Hiroshima Prefecture, which boasts the motto "Create peace," should also actively promote cooperation with universities and citizens' groups. Its contribution toward peace, including efforts to secure funds for such activities, should not devolve into a mere motto.

(Originally published on Sept. 21, 2009)

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