PHNOM PENH —
With only a week to go before the end of President Obama’s term in office, Cambodians have joined throngs of people around the world in praising his legacy.
Obama made history as the first African-American president, instituting the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, oversaw the legalization of gay marriage, and created the YSEALI program to encourage young Southeast Asian leaders to achieve.
Rong Lina, 21, an accountancy student at the National University of Management, told VOA Khmer that she was inspired by Obama’s “simplicity”.
“Wherever he goes, he doesn’t mind, despite his high status. He can mingle with people of low status. For example, when he shared food with people, he acted equally with them,” she said.
Seth Si Monica, 18, an English language student at Pannasastra University, said she thought Obama had valued human rights and equality.
“When he became president of the United States, he paid attention to poor people, especially African-Americans and immigrants from poor Asian countries like Cambodia,” she said. “He values them and gives them jobs.”
Monica was also inspired by Michelle, the first lady.
“His wife Michelle Obama has always been an inspiring person, especially when she motivates or encourages young women. Michelle is such a knowledgeable person,” she said.
Obama visited Cambodia in late 2012 to attend an Asean summit, while Michelle visited Siem Reap in 2015 to promote her educational program “Let Girls Learn”.
Bun Soeun, 38, a motorbike-taxi driver, said Obama’s visits to Asian countries like Cambodia reflected his care for smaller countries.
“I like his leadership because he has done a lot in Asia … in his role as the U.S. president. He came here and talked about human rights with Prime Minister Hun Sen.”
Similarly, Chea Rady, 31, a street vendor, said the Obama presidency had done a lot to curb racism.
“He does not discriminate against people. He like to get involved in any country that suppresses freedom. He wants to find a solution,” he said.
“He does not mind whether a country is large or small. If they do wrong, he would say it’s bad.”
Although Obama gained widespread respect for his leadership style abroad, some feel the jury is still out on his overall impact.
Nuch Thearo, 23, a social media officer, said he liked Obama’s personality, but not his policy.
“He wasn’t really interested in our country. He only came to Cambodia once,” Thearo said.
“Instead of Black Lives Matter reducing racism in the United States, it has created hatred among blacks and whites,” he said, echoing a criticism often repeated by supporters of Republican President-elect Donald Trump.
“The white people have been discriminated against now.”
Sok Bunthorn, a former lecturer at the Institute of Foreign Languages, said exposure to the corporate media, which he said was “biased” against Obama, had led people to view his presidency as positive.
“Looking at the bigger picture, particularly in Middle Eastern countries, the victims of bombing, for example Syria, don’t think his policies are so good,” he said.
However, Bunthorn praised the Obamas’ educational projects in Asia, urging Trump not to abandon schemes “where the younger generations in Southeast Asia are able to learn about democracy.”