Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Friends NGO and Hikikomori

In March I had the opportunity to meet Sebastien Marot, the founder of the Cambodian-based NGO, Friends, also known as Mith Samlanh. I went for a visit to the Friends headquarters in Phnom Penh with the group of students from INSEAD, the business school.

As followers of the blog would know, I am not a fan of NGOs in general, having seen too many inefficient, corrupt and lying ones in my time here and in Singapore (hello, Singapore National Kidney Foundation). But I have to tell readers Friends is a great project. Since that meeting, I've directed many tourists to the Friends shop in the Old Market here in Siem Reap. They have a brilliant, well thought out project going which I'll write in detail in another entry.

Friends works with Cambodian street children and youth and have been so successful they have been invited by government agencies elsewhere in the world to provide advice on how to deal with street kids. In developed countries, they are not called street kids, but "marginalised urban youth", said Sebastien. These young people who drop out of society and shut themselves out (or in, as the case may be) are also a problem for society and government agencies are struggling to understand and deal with them. It is in this context that an agency in Hong Kong has approached Friends for help.

Anyway, I was thinking of Friends after reading this New York Times article on Japan's hikikomori, young men and women who shut themselves in their rooms playing video games or being online all day. South Korea and Taiwan have also reported the same problem.

From the NYT article:
"Japanese young people are considered the safest in the world because the crime rate is so low," Saito said. "But I think it's related to the emotional state of people. In every country, young people have adjustment disorders. In Western culture, people are homeless or drug addicts. In Japan, it's apathy problems like hikikomori."
Cambodia has the homeless and drug addicts, but as Cambodia becomes more urbanised, I wonder if they'll also have hikikomoris--young people who cannot cope with the system, or choose not to. In Singapore, I knew of a 30-something man like this. He would not get a job, lived with his parents who eventually gave up on him but yet allowed to him to continue as he did. Occasionally he would buy expensive things using his parents' credit card--without permission of course. I always wondered why his parents did not throw him out of the house.

I have met middle-class Cambodian mothers who say their sons, while not shutting themselves out, take to drink and drugs and in general live off their parents' wealth, without a thought of the future. I wonder if they'll grow up or will they form another class of social deviants Cambodia will have to deal with.

1 comment:

leahch said...

I like your comparison, but have to disagree with your theory. Hikikomori first off is essentially a form of social anxiety and severe agoraphobia, while the drug/alcohol abuse in Cambodia is due to many things such as boredom, extreme poverty and PTSD. Also Hikikomori is very culturally specific to the pressures of having a limited number of children in a household matched with very high (educational/career/social) expectations starting at a young age. It also includes the severe bullying seen in Japanese and Korean schools that essentially completely isolates the unpopular child from both peers and faculty (yes, teachers do bully students that dont fit in). Also, Japanese/Korean parents are able to support their shut-in children almost indefinitely, while that is not feasible in Cambodia. Japanese/Korean parents tend to support a shut-in and avoid confrontation and possible shame on the family, while Cambodians would see more shame in having their child be lazy or unable to contribute to the family.


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