His Excellency Governor Kep Chuk Tema and a delegation from Cambodia were welcomed to Cleveland by Mayor Tom Rowland and city leaders at a special banquet Monday night.
According to a recent press release by People for Care and Learning, the banquet formalized the sister city accord. Speakers included Rowland; Dr. Bill George, board chair of PCL; state Rep. Kevin Brooks; Dr. John Gregory, PCL partner; and the visiting dignitary. Rowland welcomed the delegation once more before relaying the day’s events to the attentive crowd.
“We’ve made a lot of friendships in the last couple of hours and days,” Rowland said. “To the City Council members, I like the idea of a big picture on the side of a building.”
The banquet was full of goodwill and laughter as Southeast Tennessee met with Southeast Asia.
“Since Phnom Penh is a city of 1 1/2 million and we don’t have that many, then we will definitely be the little sister,” George said. “Phnom Penh will be our big sister and we look forward to this relationship as it develops. We welcome you here tonight.”
The welcome dinner was hosted by Lee University President Dr. Paul Conn in the recently dedicated chapel on campus. A band provided music during meet-and-greet and Voices of Lee later sang several selections.
“Tonight is the culmination of months of planning. It is also a vision and a dream of finding cooperative partners that will help People for Care and Learning address the cyclical and systemic issues of poverty in Cambodia,” said Fred Garmon, PCL international director. “We knew when we began this project in Cambodia it could not be done without partnership. The idea of helping the poor was contagious as can be seen by this event tonight.
“You could feel the excitement of the people in this room tonight. You can feel the enthusiasm, the compassion toward those who are poor. So from Southeast Tennessee to Southeast Asia, People for Care and Learning, and now Cleveland, Tenn., are inspiring hope and empowering potential.”
Rowland presented the dignitary with an official Sister City Proclamation. He accepted the proclamation and presented Rowland with a silver, bejeweled pumpkin. Brooks presented him with an official Tennessee State Proclamation. Additional gifts were presented by the Cambodian delegation to City Council representatives and Brooks.
“This is our first visit to Cleveland, Tenn., and we are proud to be here from a very long distance,” the governor said. “Dr. Fred (Garmon) and some of you already know about Phnom Penh and we are glad some of you have already enjoyed the progress of Phnom Penh. It takes about 20 hours by plane to get to Cleveland, but today we form a sister city to stay close together.”
The dignitary invited Rowland and his wife to visit Cambodia to see the sights and sign the sister city document. He thanked everyone for coming and blessed everyone in longevity, nobility, loyalty, and strength.
Rowland said several factors made becoming a sister city to Phnom Penh an easy decision.
“When I saw the progress that was being made in Cambodia with the Build a City program and I realized you could build a home from a thousand dollars, it just kind of seemed like a worthwhile Christian project to do,” Rowland said. “Being a sister city means we exchange cultures, we encourage one another, and we extol one another. It’s just a way to spread peace in the world.”
The mayor and his wife plan to visit Cambodia in the future. He looks forward to seeing the progress that has been made in the country over the last 30 years.
“Many people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 25 years since democracy came to the country,” Rowland said. “It just gives you a good feeling to know People for Care and Learning have reached out to another culture, another country and given the people a hand up.”
The Cambodian delegation were given the rest of the night to recuperate before another day of touring Cleveland. Today, the group will be touring Murmaid Mattress Factory, visiting Walmart, and attending a barbecue, among other events.