For the mayor of a small Canadian municipality, Sooke Mayor Maja Tait is punching well above her weight class.
The program is designed to support economic prosperity and poverty reduction in Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Vietnam, Bolivia, and Cambodia. It’s the second time Tait was tapped to travel to Cambodia to help with the initiative.
“The program is delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on behalf of Global Affairs, and in Cambodia it focuses on building internal associations that are similar to the UBCM as well as working to empower women in local leadership,” Tait said.
“It is, after all, hard to move your country forward if fully half the population is not part of the process.”
Tait is well positioned to deliver the message as the female leader of a municipality and the president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities and that’s just what she did as facilitated sessions in Cambodia.
But the learning process was definitely not a one-way proposition.
In Cambodia, she said, municipal councillors get directly involved in cases of spousal abuse and divorce, where property division and child custody are factors.
“It was interesting since in B.C. there has been a move to introduce more mediation into a variety of situations. We saw what is working there and bring back some of those lessons to apply here,” Tait said.
She added other aspects of travel to Cambodia were equally instructive.
“Last time we went to the Killing Fields and S21 (a notorious prison in Cambodia) and it was horrific. This time we visited museums and art galleries. Of course, it’s at a very different level, but seeing how resilient people can be after a genocide like that made me think about how our own indigenous people have had to come back from how they were treated. Policies like the residential school system ended fairly recently and we’re still healing from that experience,” Tait said.
Over the course of four years in the 1970s, the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia killed a quarter of the country’s population.
Tait’s travels on behalf of Canada may continue, as the FCM recently renewed it’s commitment to the Global Affairs program.
“It’s not likely that I’ll be returning to Cambodia, but there are other countries within the program where I may be asked to go. I’ll have to consider those requests when, and if they arise,” Tait said.
Tait’s trip came at no expense to Sooke taxpayers and was funded through the federal government.
“I believe that there’s a benefit to trips like this as they provide perspectives on issues that we have right here at home. These are lessons you might never otherwise learn,” she added.