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Interview with a field support officer: Salla Mankinen

November 23, 2015

We have seven Field Support Officers (FSOs) currently working on our programs across the Asia Pacific. We have skilled professionals all lending their expertise to our programs in Fiji, Tonga, Cambodia, Philippines and Indonesia. With expert eyes and ears on the ground, our FSOs are bursting with remarkable stories that we look forward to bringing you in our Interview with an FSO series.

This month we interviewed Salla Mankinen. Salla is living and working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as Good Return’s app developer. Technology is one of the fastest growing sectors in Cambodia and Salla is on the ground immersed in a climate of rapid change, innovation and growth.

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Good Return: What were you doing prior to leaving Australia to work with GR and what inspired you to go?

Salla Mankinen: I was a software developer. I have been working for different insurance companies and banks building software for big enterprise systems. When joining Good Return in Cambodia I wanted to help out people from poor backgrounds to build their lives as they don’t have the same life opportunities as we do in the west.

What is the tech culture like for young people in Cambodia?

It’s at its infancy compared to Australia, but a lot of people are getting excited and wanting to learn new things and catch up with the rest of the world. There are new IT conferences, hackathons, IT co-working spaces, popping up constantly. Young people are very tech and social media savvy in Cambodia, as anywhere in the world. Most of the people in the city have smart phones and especially Facebook is omnipresent. The mobile phone penetration is around 95% and most people have multiple SIM cards.

What is the most innovative thing you have seen in the hacker space you visit?

The guys (and girls) at the hacker space build all kinds of things; laser guns, rain water power electricity generators, drones, robots etc. A less techy but very important thing we built is the balcony composting bin that I have been eagerly using. Now I just have to decide what to do with 10kg of high quality compost. Cambodia is such a tropical country that the compost was ready for use in just a few months.

Tell us about an unusual custom or tradition you have encountered

I can think of something that I’m still struggling to understand, the practise of scraping sickness away with a metal coin. The method consists of taking a normal coin and scraping a person’s skin for a long time till just before it starts bleeding. It leaves bright red marks for a long time and looks very painful. Most Cambodians would rather go to the Pagoda to pray or visit the traditional healer or grandmother for some coining than see a doctor. Another interesting custom is the child birth, it is called “chloong tunlee” which translates to crossing the river, presumably describing the life changing event that the child birth is to a mother. After the birth the mother spends the night sleeping on a bed with fire burning under it, eats very spicy food and drinks strong alcohol. All this create as much sweat as possible to clean the body.

At the Why Technology Should be a Girl Thing conference in Phnom Penh.

At the Why Technology Should be a Girl Thing conference in Phnom Penh.

Tell us about the most interesting person you have met, what’s their story?

I would say the most interesting person would be my Khmer teacher, Sochiet. He always has very interesting stories to tell, starting from the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period that he lived through, ending by him walking 250km back to Phnom Penh over the period of many months. He then spent 5 years in the Soviet Union studying engineering but eventually ended up working with the NGOs in Phnom Penh as they provide better salaries than the private sector. He worked at UNTAC for the infamous 1993 election, the first democratic election in Cambodia after a few decades of war. After working for numerous NGOs for a few decades he started to teach Khmer to foreigners as he didn’t manage to find any more NGO jobs being much older than the other job candidates.
He is a great teacher, travels to student’s house punctually with his old style moto scooter and now teaches the whole Good Return team based in Phnom Penh. He probably knows more of his students’ lives than their mothers and the gossiping when practising Khmer gets retold to the next student and to the neighbors, as many of us students are connected as friends too.

We heard you have a fruit grading system! How and why do you grade fruit?

Well, most fruits are tasty but some fruits are definitely more tasty than others, and tropical Cambodia is the place to eat them. So we came up with the rating system where you give each fruit a score based on taste but also on how complex the eating process is, such as how much peeling is involved, tools required, how quick does the fruit spoil (so that it make is hard to carry it from the market). For example, a banana is both tasty and easy to eat, mango is super tasty but requires tools of preparation, longan involves lot of pealing and doesn’t have much meat etc. To justify eating a fruit the taste/complexity ratio needs to be high enough to make it worthwhile the effort. Before going to the market, just check the fruit graph to buy the right fruit and get the best bang for your buck!

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What can you see from your bedroom window?

Construction work! It wakes me up every morning. I have experimented with several ear plugs and have come up with a way of maximizing the ambient noise with fans and air conditioning, so it’s not so bad at the moment. But definitely keeps you from staying up too late in the evening.

What you have learned from the culture that you’d like to apply to your own life?

Cambodians don’t seem to be fazed by the traffic. It might seem chaotic to a new comer but there actually is a system. It’s rare, especially in the daily commute times, to see people show signs of aggression, get upset or use high speeds. It all just flows softly but chaotically like a swarm of insects.

What is the headline in today’s newspaper?

To be honest, they are quite depressing most of the time. Today there are comments about immaturity of Cambodia’s democracy, shootings of forestry officers related to illegal logging and the usual death reports from traffic accidents. On a happier note, the Cambodian independence from the French was celebrated yesterday which added to the long list of public holidays in a year. Fireworks and colourful decorations were on display in Phnom Penh.

Read our interview with FSO in Indonesia, Bridget Martin.
And find out more about Salla’s visit to the Why Technology Should be a Girl Thing conference in Cambodia.

Categories: Cambodia, Field Support Officers
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