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Meet Bunthang Eang, a young Cambodian who is using his Master of Public Policy to help re-build his country after devastating genocides.
For Bunthan Eang, his masters degree from Crawford School of Public Policy is more than just a qualification; it’s about developing the skills he needs to help shape his country’s future.
“Cambodia’s human capital was destroyed during the genocide and now there is still a great need of human resource to build everything, from infrastructure, to government institutions – everything.
“I have six years’ experience with UN agencies in Cambodia, including UNHCR where I worked on a project to try to establish a national asylum system in Cambodia, and UNDP where I was involved in the project called Strengthening Democracy and Election Processes. But, I think back to my work experience there, and I know I can’t just play my part with the UN to help the country. Policy is one really major issue. If you don’t have a good policy to start with, you can’t even start talking about how to implement policy or make it work. It’s a huge hindrance to development in Cambodia.”
Bunthan says his studies will be of direct relevance to his work building and strengthening Cambodian government institutions.
“When I studied the Policy Advocacy course here, I realised the work I did trying to establish an asylum system in Cambodia was policy advocacy, but I didn’t know it at the time! After studying that subject I realised it would have been better if I had known something about this particular area and applied it.
“The whole program is really eye-opening, especially when you discover the policy of another country is very similar to the situation in your country, and you have a chance to see many areas and many policies that are in need of reform, for example, or are missing in a particular country at a certain time. It opens your eyes and you can see there are many things you can learn from.”
Bunthan says one of the program’s greatest strengths is the calibre of teaching staff and visiting lecturers.
“ANU is here in Canberra, where policy decisions are made so you can hear from the experts themselves, like policymakers and politicians. We have a great chance through school programs, like roundtable discussions and debates, to talk to them. Last week I got the chance to meet and talk with Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN!
“Also, many of the students are local students and most work in the public sector, so you don’t just learn through the lecturers but through chit-chatting with other students and getting to know what the public sector is like here. It’s interesting.”
Bunthan has played an active role in helping students to meet each other as president of the Crawford School Students’ Association, one of the many organisations he’s been involved with during his time in Canberra.
“The major purpose of the Crawford Association is to get students to interact with each other from the different programs. We put ourselves too much in our academic area, and we forget that a network is really important and really useful for the future.”
As for Bunthan’s future, he is soon due to return to Cambodia.
“A lot of people ask me if I am sad to leave Australia,” he says. “It seems to me that I need Australia, but Cambodia needs me. I’ve learnt a lot here, from both academic and social settings, and I want to return to Cambodia and apply those things.”