Irrigation “the most important subject”
October 7, 2007, 3:39 am
Filed under: Education

Irrigation “the most important subject”
By Moeun Chhean Nariddh


TAKEO – When Tong Siv My won a scholarship to Russia 11 years ago to study irrigation techniques he was very unhappy.

Agricultural studies were at the time considered boring and unrewarding – the most lucrative subjects were either medical or in the economic fields of finance and trade.

However, only rich students, or those from strong “clans”, were given such favored scholarships, said My, 32.Siv My was not connected to powerful patrons. But he was very bright – and an orphan. Orphans were given special dispensations to study, and from 1984 till 1989 he flew through his studies, the first year at Tashkent University, then four years in the Ukraine.

On his return to Cambodia, all his fears about studying irrigation seemed founded – he could not find a job till 1991.

Now all that is changed. “I feel that irrigation is the most important subject in Cambodia,” says My, whose work is helping to transform this poor border province into one with a more rosy, prosperous future.

Siv My and his family fled Phnom Penh to the Sa’ang district in Kandal province in 1975. He lived in a Khmer Rouge concentration camp after both his parents and three brothers – two of whom were professors, one a doctor – died of forced labor and starvation.

After the Vietnamese occupation in 1979, Siv My found his one surviving sister and spent a poverty-stricken year farming.

Eventually he returned to Phnom Penh and, desperate for education, applied for scholarships to Vietnam and Russia, and was successful with both. He chose the Russian offer; though he was told to study irrigation.

His big break came in 1991 when Oxfam set up an office in Takeo and advertised for a Khmer irrigation technician.

Siv My could only speak Russian, not English, so Oxfam sent a Bulgarian expert to begin its irrigation program.

Siv My has been an integral part of the success Oxfam has achieved in Takeo. His English is now “a world different than before, I can speak and also write some English now,” he says.

Siv My said his foreign colleagues were very helpful and necessary for his agricultural work. He said his last expatriate friend had even taught him how to use a computer in addition to administrative and technical advice.

“There is something I lack so it’s like they’ve come here to fill in my practical knowledge,” he said.

Though he is now married and already has two children, 32-year-old Siv My revealed that his other ambition was to pursue his agricultural studies in Thailand for one or two years so that he could work more efficiently in Cambodia.

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 4/3, February 10 – 23, 1995
© Michael Hayes, 2000. All rights revert to authors and artists on publication.
For permission to publish any part of this publication, contact
Michael Hayes, Editor-in-Chief – Any comments on the website to



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