Last July, we’ve once again sent a scholarship student and a staff to join the annual Sustainability Field School Conference in Hoi An, Vietnam. This year saw participants from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos joining together to discuss and learn about Team Building, Sustainable Tourism, Business & Marketing Tools and Gross National Happiness. The Hoi An Sustainability Field School offers students and participants hands-on experience in the field as well as opportunities to serve in their home communities. The project also aims to build a network among NGOs, universities, businesses and local governments in research and training in sustainable development to turn projects into sustainable social enterprises.
Our scholarship student, Yoeum Seen together with our Finance Assistant Officer, Yang Sovannmelea spent a week in Vietnam visiting businesses in Hoi An, learning about self-employment and observing the practical application of Gross National Happiness (GNH) in the local business level. Their first days were spent collaborating and participating in activities that enriched their knowledge not only about the participating countries, but also sharing best practices and skills. The phrase Gross National Happiness (GNH); (Wylie: gyal-yong ga’ a-kyid pal-‘dzoms) was coined in 1972 by Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Originally the phrase represented a commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s culture based on Buddhist spiritual values, instead of western material development gauged by gross domestic product (GDP). Today the phrase is reflected outside Bhutan. The discussion and activities about GNH has piqued the interest of our participants the most. It was interesting for them to know that GNH can be a much important objective than GDP. As they were introduced to the concept of GNH, they learned that it is also important to measure how much they enjoy their community, culture, health, and environment to know how Cambodia is developing as a nation. They also learned that a country’s development can be driven by improved living standards, better health and better education system.
Seen and Sovannmelea’s challenge now is how to share the learning and the concept of GNH to their local communities back in Cambodia. As it was the first time that they were introduced to this topic, both participants challenged themselves to understand the concept further notwithstanding a small difficulty with English as the primary language used during the meet. They enjoyed learning, but would love to have more active participation and inputs most especially on the topic of GNH.
Seen and Sovannmelea had a terrific experience and are thankful for the warm welcome in Vietnam, the organizers for taking care of them, and Irish Aid for making it all possible.