Remembering SIGA in Cambodia
A conference held against the backdrop of mystic Angkor
More than 200 delegates from the ASEAN countries and Japan recently attended the 28th SIGA conference in Cambodia and adopted a number of improvements for the annual Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Programme (SSEAYP).
SSEAYP International, under the auspices of Japan, is the main organiser of SSEAYP while the annual SIGA conference is hosted by each of the 10 ASEAN countries taking turns.
SSEAYP, which started 43 years ago, aims to promote mutual understanding and friendship among ASEAN and Japanese youths, its highlight being the participants travelling on board the ship, Nippon Maru, and staying with a host family for three days in an annual programme.
The 4-day SSEAYP International General Assembly (SIGA), held from 29 April to 2 May in Siem Reap, a province in north-western Cambodia, discussed SSEAYP issues to enrich the programme and support its alumni activities.
The resort town of Siem Reap is the gateway to the world-famous temple ruins of Angkor, the seat of the Khmer kingdom from the 9th-15th centuries. The Angkor complex is now under the care of UNESCO and restoration works are undergoing. Angkor Wat is the main temple, and it is pictured on Cambodia’s flag.
The theme for this year’s conference was “SSEAYP cooperation for a greener world”. The keynote speech by Mr Tin Ponlork, Secretary General of the National Council for Sustainable Development, on the tropic “Environmental Protection, Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Living”, was followed by a “green” event in the Angkor zone.
All delegates, wearing green SIGA polo shirts, planted young trees at the Siem Reap River Bank in the Angkor zone in the morning of Day 3, while some went for cycling to spread the “green” message.
The “green” activity was preceded by a drone aerial photoshoot with the delegates lined in the formation of the letters of “SIGA”. The video was shown to the delegates on the following day at the assembly hall.
Lunch was provided in packets and everyone sat under shady trees to enjoy their food and quench their thirst with iced water, chatting and making new friends as they mingled around after the lunch before heading for Angkor Wat.
The delegates were also given the opportunities of relishing the charms of Angkor and admiring the intricate the stone settings of the magnificent Angkor Wat. However, only the brave and able climbed up the lofty structure via a safety-controlled steep stair-case to view the interior of the temple and savour in the Angkor complex from that height.
Many of the Singapore delegates got ready at 4 am on Day 3 to go to the Angkor Wat area to watch the sunrise against the picturesque silhouette contour of the temples in the background. They joined hundreds of tourists with professional and handphone cameras to capture the event.
The Singapore contingent was the largest, comprising 44 people that includes 15 host families of SSEAYP and 27 former participating youths (PYs) from different batches. It was led by Mr Yacob Hussain, 2nd Deputy Chairman of SSEAYP International Singapore (SIS).
At the Opening Ceremony of SIGA on Day 2, Mr Yacob Hussain received the SSEAYP International Award 2016 on behalf of the SSEAYP 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner Organising Committee headed by him. The ceremony also saw the official exchange of gifts.
Mr Yacob said: “I am certain all the delegates and the ex-PYs as well as the host families enjoyed the various programmes arranged by SSEAYP International Cambodia. Although the weather was very hot, we had lots of fun by being together and promoting friendship with all the ASEAN and Japanese delegates. A big thank you to the Cambodian organising committee and to our Singapore team.”
He added: “Our hotel, Empress Angkor Hotel, where we stayed and had our conference, was near to the legendary Angkor Wat and so we were able to hold some of our activities there. Also, our hotel was superb and equipped with top-class facilities.”
Ms Nurzlinna Ahmad, a host family participant, felt that the participants from the different countries were friendly. “We are like in a big happy family. Although the time was short, we managed to make friends with the delegates of the other countries and exchanged views,” she said.
Talking about the SSEAYP homestay stint for the PYs, Nur said: “The relationship between a host family and the PY doesn’t end after their three-day homestay in our homes, but continues over the years. Thus, during such conferences, we become happy when we happened to bump into our former foster children.”
My wife, Khairon Mastan, and I, who have been taking in SSEAYP PYs for the homestay stint since 1989, had such an experience during the poolside welcome dinner on Day 2 of SIGA 2016. A lady approached us and said that we were her foster parents. Immediately we recognised her as being one of our 1992 foster children, Ms Yulia Indahri from Indonesia, who was the official photographer of the Indonesian delegate. Yulia and my wife plunged into the past excitedly, and she promised to visit us in the near future.
Coordinating the administrative matters for the Singapore contingent in Siem Reap was Mr Desmond Yew Zheng Chang, Homestay Director for SSEAYP International Singapore (SIS) and Delegation Coordinator.
He organised trips to sight-seeing places, including a boat-ride in the vast Tonle Sap, which is the third largest lake in the world and the largest in ASEAN.
The ride took us deep into Tonle Sap, and, at one point, meandered our way through a floating village. It was fascinating to see a floating school with children in attendance and people going through their daily chores in their floating houses. We saw people eating, washing and even taking a mid-day nap. We also had the opportunity to stop by at a floating restaurant to drink coconut water.
Another interesting place Desmond took us was the Phnom Pluk temple which was located high up on a hill. “Some of the host family members climbed up the lengthy staircase and I really admire those ladies who went to the top from where they had a panoramic view of the surrounding,” said Desmond.
Desmond was happy to ensure that the host families enjoyed the trip and had lots of fun during the activities, both in the assembly hall and during the outings. He said: “Host families are an integral part of the SSEAYP family, and we at SIS always do our best to engage and involve our host families wherever possible. We hope to continue to engage our host families with SSEAYP.”
The host family members were thankful to Desmond for his helpfulness, care, assistance and all the effort and support he had given them before and during SIGA 2016.
Desmond’s friend, Mr John Vijayan, described the young man as a gem, one who would always go the extra mile to carry out his responsibilities. “He would leave nothing to chance but would be always conscious of the personal needs of everyone in the group, like their dietary requirements and help for those with physical disabilities. He is an exceptionally outstanding and reliable person.”
Mdm Khairon, too, has tremendous praise for Desmond. “We would like to thank Desmond from the bottom of our hearts for the valuable help and assistance he gave us during our SIGA trip, and making it exciting and memorable. He took great care of everybody,” she said and added: “We feel comfortable in his presence. Do keep in touch with the wonderful SSEAYP Family members.”
After the closing speech, the delegates felt sad but made up by singing and making more friends. The following pictures help to show the wonderful time the delegates had in their hotel, the grand Empress Angkor Hotel, and in Siem Reap.
God willing, many of the host families might meet again in the Philippines for SIGA 2017.
10 May 2016