How I Change Cambodia| The Beauty of Change

 

     On the busy street of London, among the lost crowd in front of the world most influential news platform, there I was, sniffling through the cold air of spring, minutes away from my first live TV interview with BBC. I was sat in between the interviewer and the founder of the Liger Leadership Academy, Trevor Gile. The automated camera started rolling as soon as the last advertisement show stopped. Under the brightest spotlight, I focused my mind on answering the questions, while mentally recalling the training I got the day before. ABC: acknowledge, bridge, and control the conversation. Bam, bam, and bam answers after answers, I finished the five minutes interview where I discuss my transforming experiences attending the Liger Leadership Academy, along with my passion for psychology and plan for the future, with the biggest smile on my face. It was done. We celebrated. I received compliments. That was it — that was what I thought at the moment.

After the video went up on social media pages, it received likes after likes, comments after comments, and shares after shares, and that was when it really hit me. This meant so much more. My family and friends saw it, anyone with access to Facebook and own a smartphone could have seen it. People watched it! They heard my message. They know my story!

It was the shortest five minutes, yet, most impactful time of my life. I was the inspiration.

I grew up in a family of five: my mother, father, and two younger sisters. Education is highly valued in my family, but, unfortunately, only the boys are the priority. Among the many female relatives that I know of, pursuing higher education was never their prime concern; they were all expected to get married and have kids. Naturally, a similar expectation was set upon me and my siblings: finish high school, find some job, then get married. In a small conservative village of Cambodia, my two sisters quickly learned the negative stereotypes of what they can and can’t do because of their gender.

The interview was an opportunity that allows me to show the parents of my capability as a woman. I’ve shown them that I am so much more than the brown color of skin, my high pitched-female voice, the flowy dress that I wore, the puffy black hair that I have, and the feminine body that I own since birth. I am able to show my sisters that their gender does not limit what they are capable of. I am able to show that as a human we all possess the ability to make a difference, and all it takes is opportunity and courage.

Anybody could have done the live interview, but I was lucky to be award with this tremendous chance: a chance to share my story. And I was also, the voice of Cambodia.

Many people learn about my country only of the tragedy and genocide that happened years ago. However, Cambodia is not the death that is caused by landmines, it is not the bloody genocide of 1968, it is absolutely not the nation of poor and traumatized people. Cambodia will be known for the young generation sending satellite to space, the cultural business that is run by 16-year-olds, artificial reefs that were implemented into the ocean by a group of 15-year-olds marine conservationists, the first ever LGBTQ submit in the entire country that was led by a passionate young Cambodian girl, and Cambodia will be known for its success stories. This is who we are. This is what I’ve shown to the world. We are the Cambodians that is going to change this planet.

Watch your back world, we are coming at you!

I used to see change as the direct actions, that is time-consuming, and requires a lot of dedication from many people. However, I have come to realize that change does not need to be direct, time-consuming, or needs a lot of human energy to make it happen. Change could be subtle, yet, impactful. A five minutes video could be equivalent to five years of impact that has the potential to change many lives. Anyone could have done it, and all it takes is an opportunity.

Retain the Voice — (2017 – 2018)

For the first ten years of my life, I lived in a confined community and was less exposed to the world-views. I know many women who gave up their education for marriage or so that their brothers could continue. But I thought, why must women have to make the sacrifice for men? I heard of many jokes about my male friend who seems “FEMINIST” — they sound insulting in my ears, but I never understand why people said them. I felt that it was wrong, but I never have the courage to speak up. Because of that, I thought that I might just be different. I was taught to not question the elders, I was held back because I felt that I was too young to have a voice. I grew up understanding that I should not voice my opinion.

 

Earlier this school year, I have stepped out of my comfort zone to permit myself a voice by giving a Ted Talk on Cultural Acceptance and Sharing. “Home is where the heart is” was the principle quote of my speech. I was inspired by the many refugees including Cambodian, who have left their home to other countries seeking help. Not only that those people are physically vulnerable, but they also are mentally and emotionally sensitive. Throughout the entire Ted Talk, I emphasize the bond of cultures that gives people purposes and hopes, and that is a bond that holds the communities together. I have investigated the Rohingya refugees, who are being forced to deny their culture, breaking their bonds, and is facing an enormous crisis. I finally spoke up for what I felt was right.

 

I have to admit, speaking in the Ted Talk and continue to be aware of the world’s issues just isn’t enough. I know that every moment that I breathe, and continue to live this comfortable life there are women who suffered silently from domestic violence and being the victim of rape and sexual harassment. Sometimes, it is just a problem where girls are told to learn to do house chores while guys do not have to do them. The kind of inequality rooted in many young people’s mind. I used to be in that same situation. Do I have to do this if I were a boy? I wish I were a boy. This thought continues to circulate in me. However, being a part of the Gender Equity Exploration has completely shifted my thought. In class, we’ve discussed a variety of gender stereotypes: why are women being seen as weak compared to men, and since when is women were ASSIGNED to the house chores and being a caretaker. I’ve learned that there are people who would listen to my story, and I have the capability to share mine. The conversations were emotional and uncomfortable, but that was what really gave me ideas to speak out and wanting other people to do the same. Not only that we’ve discussed these critical problems, but we also started a comfortable environment that allows people to discuss the same issues and share their stories through an event called Gender Summit. The Gender Summit itself was not a tangible solution, but the end of the day people have comes to many realizations in the gender perspective. Sometimes change comes with a conversation, dialogue, and questions.

 

Having my voice heard is what I ever wish for. Sharing my story, and allowing myself to hear others, but most importantly inspiring others to do the same was the greatest accomplishment in this school year. I might not start with the strongest voice, but I have made the first move. Therefore, I am encouraging YOU to do the same. “It’s not about finding your voice, it’s about giving yourself permission to use your voice” – Kris Carr.

2016-2017

          Wars in the history of Cambodia has strongly destroyed this country. In 1991, Cambodia has started its first election after 20 years and the country slowly recovered itself from the tragedy. As the next generation of Cambodia, I strongly believe that there are so much, I can do as a change agent for my country. Another school year has ended, there are countless of activities and projects that I’ve done that contributed changes to this nation.

          Khmer Rouge regime is known to be the most adversity time in Cambodia’s history. Many intelligent and high-class citizen were killed, children were forced to work rather than attending school, many people starved, and experienced forced labor. The war has separated many families, people from their loved one and taken away many lives. This scandalized history had left a deep wound in a lot of Cambodian’s hearts. That is why nowadays, a lot of elders in Cambodia insisted in talking and sharing about this horrifying history. Every time, the topic comes up in conversation they felt a sentimental experienced in their life. After learning about this history, I felt there are needed to spread words to Cambodian’s next generation in order to prevent the history repetition. During the Liger Sharation, our group’s presentation tackled the daily lives of our elders before and after the regime. Moreover, we emphasized the influence of the regime towards the entire country until today. I believe that the presentation will inspire the youngster to learn about their country’s history and the elders to open up and share their experience.

        There are a lot of people living in the rural and isolated part of Cambodia such as the island. Kong Rong, the island that is two hours on a boat away from Sihanoukville Port is known to be one of the best places for tourists. However, on the other side of the island, there are many uneducated people including children. During our field trip, we learned that most families can’t afford their children to study further than grade 9 because it’s the only available grades on the island. Annually, Song Saa Foundation has brought in volunteers and experts to check the villager’s health mainly their teeth. Despite the communication problem, the organization help to cure much major health problem for those island people. This year I was a part of an exploration called Preventative Health. The other members and I did research and prepare an educational play to mainly teach the community about topics of the importance of eating the variety of food, teeth, and diabetes. We’ve reach out to most children in school because as we believe that they will be able to understand the content and share it with their parents and relative. Although it was a small action from our school, it was effective.

         A lot of students in Cambodia government school didn’t have the access to technology such as Camera or Computer. Filmmaking filed in Cambodia is rapidly growing, there are needed for Cambodia young filmmaker. The exploration called Filming with Government Students allows 10 government students to work closely with the eight Liger’s students to learn about how to make the film. In the course of seven weeks, they are learning about how to write a screenplay, storyboarding, using Camera and a little bit about acting. My teammates and I work closely with the students to ensure that they’re learning the contents and having fun with the new experience. With the help from Liger’s students, by the end of the project, they finalized with two short stories that were sent to the competition Phnom Penh Youth Film Festival (PPYFF). I am very proud of my team members, for providing such a rare experience to the government students and giving them the best curriculum as we possibly could, that inspire them to have a different perspective on filmmaking filed or might lead them to be apart of filming industry.

         This country continuously growing, there are numerous changes and development in the past few years. Nonetheless, this country isn’t perfect there are so much that could be done. I believe that changes start from yourself, and it doesn’t matter how old you are. This was such a brilliant school year, I’ve done so much as well as the other students. Yet, there are more to come next year, and I’m looking forward to it.

2015-2016

Hunting and illegal logging are one of the major problems in Cambodia as well as the world. Most people aren’t educated enough to understand the importance of wild animals and the forest. That is why the Liger students decided to take action. During this school year, a group of 13 students including me was learning about the wildlife in Cambodia. We have traveled to many different provinces in Cambodia and contacting with experts worldwide to deeply understand about the animals in the five classes such as mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. As a result, we have written a book called The Illustrated Guide to Wildlife of Cambodia. The book was written, illustrated, and translated by the Liger students. We have worked closely with Art in a Box organization to paint the animals and ecosystem in the books. The Ministry of Education Youth and Sport had agreed to help us distribute the books to every government school in Cambodia. With our books, children in Cambodia will have a better understanding of the animals in their country and hopefully, they will help to protect them. Lastly, I believe that everyone can make a difference, and it doesn’t matter how old you are.

My Changing Cambodia (2015)

Animals are vital to the ecosystem in the world. Simultaneously, many species in the world are listed as extinct, endangered or vulnerable in the IUCN red list. Continuously, the population of the animals and the land area of the forest are declining. In countries like Cambodia, illegal hunting and logging happened because of the lack of education as well as a conflict with the cultural practices. Therefore, in the past six months, my teammates and I were working on writing, researching and with the help of the other students to translated and illustrated the books about animals in Cambodia called, The Illustrated Guided to Wildlife of Cambodia. The books were written in two languages Khmer and English. As a  change agent, we wrote those books with the goal of educating young people about the importance of wildlife and why they should protect them. We did a fundraising on an Online website to publish the books in Cambodia. We’ve collaborated with the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport to distributed the books to all the government schools in this country. I believe that the books would help to educate young people about the importance of animals and ecosystems to our world.  

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