In this entry, I summarize some of my experiences during my first few weeks at the Kampong Speu office.
On my first day at the Mlup Baitong Office in Krang Serei I agreed to join an activity for the “Access to Public Information” project. That meant getting up at 5 am, an obligatory shower, squeezing 7 persons into a Jeep and off we went! It took a good hour (with a break for breakfast, consisting of rice and grilled chicken, which is unexpected wonderfully suited for breakfast) to get to the village in the province of Kampong Speu where the activity would take place. At first we visited the local school whose children and parents we equipped with banners, posters and flyers. Then our little procession walked through the village while the children distributed the information to the residents. Afterwards, the villagers met in the Community Hall on the grounds of the local pagoda where the Mlup Baitong staff members held a workshop on people’s rights. I was declared to be the camera woman. A task that I gladly carried out, since I was somewhat useless with my little knowledge of Khmer.
All of our actions were part of the “Access to Public Information” project of Mlup Baitong, which has the objective to improve the rural population’s access to knowledge and general media and demands it as a fundamental right. The project also informs community members about the rights they possess. This is very important, in order for people to be able to defend their own interests and thus manage to independently improve their situation.
Another project that I got to know is the “Community Forestry” project, which was created to protect the forests of Cambodia. The aim is to support the communities in fighting illegal logging. This will, among other things, reduce the damage of climate change through the preservation of the rainforest. While participating in the project, people have learned to find sustainable alternatives to logging, with which they can generate at least an equivalent income. There are also actions for reforestation. The “Community Forestry” project is implemented by the communities themselves, supported by Mlup Baitong. This concept can actually be found in each MB project.
In recent weeks, I have participated in two Community Forestry actions: On the first day we drove to a reforested area. Using machetes, the trees had to be partially cropped in order for them to grow even higher in the future. I also made a few attempts but after a short time I was already out of energy. How the others managed to cut off branches of about 5 cm diameter in the heat for about an hour is still a mystery to me.
On the next day we went to another community where we planted 500 new trees. In my opinion that was done with the exact same methods we use at home in Germany but a co-worker asked me several times to share some of my expertise and it took a while before I could assure him successfully that my “tree planting skills” would not be able to compete with his. What irritated me a little bit though was that we fenced the field that was to be planted with barbed wire beforehand. If I have assessed the situation correctly, it would have been just as possible to do that afterwards. Maybe I was also just the only one who was too stupid to squeeze through the wire without getting stuck.
I am very curious to see what other project activities await me during the next weeks.
By Wibke Hagemeier, volunteer