Work…and Road Safety

Who needs a tuk tuk?

Who needs a tuk tuk?

Work work work…that’s what everyone wants to know about….so here’s a bit of a rundown so that everyone is kept up to date with what I am doing and where…Mick will have to update yáll on his own work situation which involves moving to his office space in the front of our apartment.

My placement through the program is with an international NGO who is working in the field of road safety…a huge issue here in Cambodia. With nearly 2,000 people dying on the roads every year and hundreds of thousands more injured, it is the biggest killer in the country. More people die on the roads or are permanently disabled from road crashes than from land mines which is interesting considering most people would think that land mines were a bigger issue.

Colourful Motos

Colourful Motos

Here’s a few tidbits to let you know the real situation on the road here:

  • Nearly 1.3 million people die every year on the worlds roads with over 50 million people suffering severe injury including permanent disability, acquired brain injury and ongoing health problems. 
  • Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists make up approximately half of all fatality crashes.
  • In Cambodia, there were 1,905 fatality crashes in 2011, although it should be noted that this number is only crashes where there is police or hospital intervention. The real number of fatalities would be greater.
  • Nearly 50% of all fatality crashes involving people aged 15-29 years old. 21 % of all fatalities are aged 20-24 years old.
  • Approximately 10% of all motorcyclists hold a licence.
  • Over the last 7 years in Cambodia the number of fatalities has doubled.
  • Only 6 % of passengers and 23 % of drivers were wearing a helmet.
Cheers!

Cheers!

So….as you can see, the road situation is pretty dire here. From driving around in a tuk tuk or on a motodop it is pretty apparent that there are major problems. In the last few years, there has been increase in cars on the road (and huge 4wd’s at that!) thanks to increasing development and interest in Cambodia – some people are earning more money so buying a car seems a good thing to do plus there are many NGO’s here, active development agencies and embassy staff meaning more cars, taxis and mini buses ferrying people all over the place. Good in theory until you realise that the road system itself is unable to cope with this change in traffic. Small roads and intersections become easily clogged with motos, cyclists,tuk tuks and big cars. There is a madness and chaos as everyone just tries to shove through. Eventually it works but peak hour times are getting longer because of the congestion. In addition, unlicensed riders and drivers, overloaded motorbikes, no helmets, serious drink driving issues and major road works going on everywhere (to improve drainage) combines for a fun road situation.

My organisation is working on advocating for changes to the existing road traffic laws relating to helmet wearing. At present there is only mandatory helmet wearing laws for drivers not passengers which is a serious issue. Passengers are just as at risk of being involved in a crash as drivers so it makes sense for them to wear a helmet. The proposed changes to the law would also include helmet wearing for children and standards for helmets which do not exist right now. Most people who do wear helmets are not wearing high quality, safe helmets. They are wearing helmets that look good, are heavy but would provide very little protection in the case of a crash.

Helmet?

Helmet?

The other projects that the organisation is involved in include education for students from kindergarten and into universities about road safety. Helmets are donated to students at schools that are determined to be high risk schools – namely those on major highways in and around Phnom Penh. There are excellent gains and when informed about the serious risk of death and/or injury parents and teachers seem genuinely interested in making a commitment to road safety.

Day-to-day wise, I am based in an office close to the Olympic Market area. It doesn’t look like an office from the outside, more like a house with a gate at the front. There are 7 full-time staff (including myself) and a few volunteers who come and go. There is a head office based in Vietnam that I hope to go and visit soon too – a side trip to Saigon for some AMAZING Vietnamese food would be so awesome! I work in a small room with the program director who is a 30-ish (i think!) professional, well-educated guy who just got married. Everyone in the office is extremely well-educated with international study experience and very good English skills which makes it very easy for me. Some of the other volunteers have struggled to fit in their organisations due to language issues.

Everyone is dying to know what it is like in the office – are there differences and similarities to working in Australia? Do you eat lunch together? Do you have aircon? How long is your lunch break? What time do you finish. Well, for me it is a whole new experience working for a small organisation. In Australia I was one of hundreds, thousands even working in the public service. Here, its small and intimate. The work culture is similar to Australia, but also different to other volunteer placements here. I was led to believe that everyone in Cambodia took long lunches, didn’t do much work and always ate together. Unfortunately, I seem to be placed in the only organisation that has a 1 hour lunch break (some peeps have up to 3 hours!), half the office goes home at lunch because of family commitments and the others tend to bring lunch from home. Sometimes we eat together, other times I strike a lonely figure eating at my desk while I catch up on the news. I do have aircon that is a little too effective at cooling the room down. My room-buddy likes to keep the temperature at a very cool 20 degrees which has meant I have needed to bring a jacket with me! Crazy! That is of course only applicable when the electricity is working which it doesn’t always thanks to the power outages. I work a very reasonable 8:30am – 5:30pm and get brought to and from work on a motodop at the cost of 5000 krl (~$1.25) each way.

No relaxing time like this in the office!

No relaxing time like this in the office!

Culture wise, it is similar to working in the public service I would say, but I must make it clear that my role and my organisation are very different to other NGO’s here. All the staff, as I said before, well-educated and have been exposed to working with Westerners. The organisation is headed up by a CEO and Director who are from the US who expect and receive very high quality reporting. Projects are well run, evaluated, reported on and there is a lot of contact with local Khmer and English language media.

So…any other questions about my work? I am sure I will update everyone more on projects etc as I go along on this crazy work-volunteer-adventure.

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  • A side-trip to Saigon would be amazing. Fingers crossed for you – thanks for the informative post 🙂

  • You’re telling me! I’m hoping it goes through soon, it has been far too long since we’ve visited Ho Chi Minh.