Jun 16, 2013

Brunei - Bridging of social, economic gaps will make Asean community a success

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BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN —There is an adorable short animation about the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) Community on YouTube.

ASEAN Community in 2015 En-sub

Produced by the Asean Public Affairs Office in 2007, it talks about the 10 Asean member-states in bite-sized pieces of information, and what an Asean Community could mean for future generations.

Written with a young audience in mind, the clip centers around a group of children who are taken on a “special adventure” through the member-state countries before arriving at a place called the “Asean Community.”


The reality of personifying an Asean Community, however, is obviously far more complicated. Urging 10 countries with unique social, political and economic identities to come together into one cohesive community would also be nothing short of an “adventure,” either.

A lot of work has already taken place in trying to realize this community. Exchanges on all levels of government and non-government organizations happen on a regular basis. Ideas and conversations are often shared, and there is a lot of economic activity going on, one way or another, between the 10 Asean nations.

The truth is, with the clock ticking away, realizing the Asean Community before 2015 might be stretching it.

Some time ago, a member of an Indonesian nongovernment organization whose work focused on developing rural areas, shared his opinion on how the Asean Community was only something that could exist in their leader’s imagination.

100M people no electricity

HE said in Indonesia, out of 60,000 villages, more than 30,000 are without electricity. Most of these people without power often only concern themselves with their day-to-day survival, and have next-to-no room for thought on something as grand as an Asean Community.

Over a hundred million people in the region, approximately one-sixth of the Asean population, are living without electrical power, and it is likely those people are also more concerned about their own troubles, even rightfully so.

Focusing on a broader picture proves to be challenging when there are many loose ends still left untied. It is no secret that all 10 member-states have national issues of their own, some duly attended to while others, though glaringly obvious, are left alone for the sake of order and balance.

This is why the proposal of a regional volunteer corps, that should be established later on in the year, is considered timely. Three initial short-term projects are marked to be carried out in Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia, and are aimed at bringing together many young professionals to these countries to make a difference. As one senior government official remarked, “It is a powerful image”—the image of a unified and strengthened Asean that would leave a powerful impression on the lives of people.

And this is the kind of image that communities living throughout Asean need to see: young people, working hand in hand to build bridges, teaching children, educating farmers or helping create local businesses and opportunities whilst outright ignoring the boundaries of ethnicity, race, religion or affiliation of nationality in order to make the quality of life, just generally better.

It is this kind of goodwill and trust that needs to be seeded among communities across Asean, to know that the borders that separate us are merely lines drawn on a map. Such goodwill is usually short in supply, perhaps not just in this region, maybe even throughout the world.

Come to fruition

The regional volunteer corps is a good idea, and the fact that nations are contributing only a small start-up fund ($10,000 per nation) is actually a good thing, because anything beyond that is proof that it is a community that cares, through the contributions of its people.

For this vision to come to fruition, the people in positions of authority, with the necessary means must open their eyes and hearts to those who are in need of help. Ultimately, it boils down to compassion and hope, ideas and willpower, of these individuals that will determine the success of the Asean community of the future.

Koo Jin Shen

The Brunei Times

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