How I Changed Cambodia 2017-2018

I’m just a kid grew up in a small town, who decided to persevere her unknown passion which later is discovered. From the first time I’ve been introduced to science and its branches,  I’ve already found my area of focus. It illuminates me into the world of satisfaction; I get it, I learn it, I feel safe, and I want more. A strong bond has made between us since that time on—we’re like uranium 235 and uranium 238—almost inseparable isotopes. Everything I did in science is going to last. Undoubtedly, science is creating immense impacts on generations; scientific discoveries and inventions will continuously formulate extraordinary progress; as said by Edward Teller, “The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.”

Nevertheless, STEM education and hands-on learning often weren’t exposed to Cambodian students. Just like many others developing nations, Cambodia is one of those who is still struggling to enhance quality education or even access to education. Approximately 31% of Cambodians live under the poverty line which leads to the unaffordability for children to go to school and yes; illiteracy rate is high.

However, even though some get the chance to attend regular schools; subjects weren’t fully incorporated into the curriculum. Public schools’ atmosphere in Cambodia every day is just students listening to teachers explaining. It just wasn’t a healthy environment. One of the reasons was because our model of the education system was adapted from French model of education system during the French colonial period. Another major reason also derived from the loss of educated people due to the tragic genocide during the Khmer Rouge regime. Our education system steadily develops since.

Privileged by attending a unique school—Liger Leadership Academy—I now know what education should really look like. Students at this school are committed to being the future “change agents” of Cambodia and by perceiving quality and high education, this is the future hope of Cambodia. They taught students to look at the world in a bigger picture and use it as a classroom. During my school year, I became really interested and wanted to pursue further in the science field. Science, in general, is very broad in terms of how many branches it covered; however, the one that really matters the most to me is biology.

Given the opportunity to join an exploration, a seven-week course, on HIV/AIDS; my blood is pumping every day. In this exploration, students dove deep into the science behind HIV/AIDS. We discussed how this virus was often mistaken and was badly connotated in Cambodia. We put ourselves into people living with HIV position: how extremely hard it can be to find treatments, preventions, and how bad of the stigmas & discrimination that they receive from the surroundings. Furthermore, we’ve discovered that topic like HIV/AIDS is forbidden in Cambodia; they don’t even talk about it. Therefore, we felt the importance to normalize the conversation, making it as our daily conversation. As a result, our final product was to conduct a workshop raising awareness on HIV/AIDS!

Through this marvelous experience, I’ve become confident in disseminating information relevant to HIV/AIDS. Before the workshop begins, I took a deep breath because I’m about to do something remarkable, I’m about to share something my heart feels authentically proud of. We divided the workshop into four sessions: Basic science of HIV/AIDS, Transmission & Prevention, Treatment, and Stigma & Discrimination. We are educating people to understand that HIV is just the same as other viruses, that AIDS is not a consequence of bad activities, that people living with HIV are just like people living without HIV, and that the only difference between them is people living with HIV need to take their treatments. This is a big step towards real change with 13-, 14-, 15-, 16- year-olds to be able to talk about such sensitive topic. One of my favorite moments was when I asked participants to share their personal experiences regarding HIV/AIDS and to me, it felt like I’ve made a special connection and created a safe space for them to share. We’ve reached a step towards combating HIV/AIDS discrimination through normalizing conversations, dispelling common myths, and raising awareness about HIV/AIDS transmission, prevention, and treatment.

As my knowledge keeps expanding across the biology spectrum, I am currently pursuing marine biology which I found really fascinating. I felt the confidence to join a team—Liger Marine Research Team—which is a group of eight young passionate marine researchers that devote themselves to protect the Cambodian ocean. Our project is to recolonize the overfished and damaged Marine Ecosystems of Cambodia. As this team keeps progressing throughout the years, big accomplishments have been made! We created a baseline survey on a damaged ecosystem, which used to be a seagrass meadow and try to restore the beauty of it. A few months later, we deployed our first artificial habitats 300 meters away from Koh Seh, an island runs by a Non-profit organization called Marine Conservation Cambodia, MCC. Koh Seh located far down the Kep archipelago next to Vietnam border and is a conserved area meaning only certain activities are permitted to happen. Those artificial habitats encompass a 21 concrete block artificial reef and a “cluster” which is a fish aggregation device acts as the alternative of plastic buoys to mark the location of the artificial reef as well as providing shelter for fish.

All these activities allowed to happen because of a proposal that is made by MCC to the Cambodian government; proposing the Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA). MFMA is an 11 354 hectares protected area and is the second one in Cambodia after Sihanoukville province. In this process, they will be working on protecting sensitive habitats from illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and restoring the “dying jewels of Cambodia.”   

We know that it’s really working. A month after the deployment, it attracted more than 50 catfish, various Jacks, and we know exactly that with the more hard amount of efforts, there’s going to be more chances of rehabilitating lives.

In addition to that, whenever I’m underwater, I can’t take my eyes off whether to see the improvement or the destruction that is happening. It’s like magic, everything else disappears, except the magnificent view of this underwater paradise. Those priceless moments will always inherit into my memory. We made history here, the youngest certified scuba divers and marine researchers in Cambodia.

However, what we are doing are not going to be enough. Therefore, we’re doing this to inspire many more individuals how ignorance some human beings are to overlook the importance of understanding the world’s problems and to truly open their eyes and feel the irritation when they saw all those destructions. Approximately 40 percent of Cambodian lack knowledge of HIV/AIDS. Sex education, which is helpful to reduce risks, is prohibited in school curriculum.  MCC said, although plastic is not designed or produced in Asia, 82% of leakage into the ocean occurs in Asia. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish population. Rate as having the highest IUU fishing, up to 34 percent of the overall catch, in the Western Pacific; as said by World Ocean Review. How long are we going to stay blind? As young kid, I’m investing my time and my energy to what I love doing and I know others should too.

Changing Cambodia – 2016-2017

Cambodia is a developing country, what this country want is people to be change agents and now this exists. In term of just approaching the Liger Learning Center, Liger did a really great job on connecting how each thing that they provide us affect Cambodia and also help to make changes. Everything that we give intention on always results as the effect of something. So, there are some reasons to prove that we’re changing Cambodia and we truly are.

A throwback to the exploration called “Geology of Cambodia”, this exploration gave such an inspirational things to help Cambodia. In this exploration, we are studying the history of how rocks form and geological history of Cambodia. Why it is shaped like the way they look now. The goal for this exploration is to spread information about geology to others Cambodian since there weren’t many sources about geology in Cambodia. In this exploration, we traveled to 5 provinces to see, learn about rocks and also do a lot of field research with pencil and notebook in each hand. In term of that, we are the first young bright mind Cambodians who came up with our own problems and solve it. For example, when we travel to the provinces, we saw lots of different rocks that look like ordinary rocks, but despite that we desperately curious of how that rocks are formed and decide to learn and find it out together. We were learning how Cambodia used to look like since it is the rare subject for our national curriculum. Moreover, we had created facebook group and blog for spreading the information about Geology of Cambodia to the public. While we are learning, lots of sources that we are using are from other countries. So, we eager to create our own source for Cambodia about this subject. We are changing Cambodia by commencing to learn a subject that Cambodia hasn’t thought of for a long time ago. By that, I hope that in the future, I have a chance to write a book about all the information about geology and share it to all over the country.

Previously, I am a part of the Khmer Rouge round 4 explorations, one of the final products for our exploration in term of what we have learned is hosting an event at DC-Cam in the favor of having an exhibition about all of the Khmer Rouge products from round 1 until round 4. In round 4, we are in the process of learning the downfall of Khmer Rouge and from now until the future. We have been to Killing field, S-21 and soon will be ECCC. By having what we have known, we want to inspire lots of other people to look back to their past and think. So, the good way of doing that is hosting an exhibition of Khmer Rouge products at DC-Cam since this organization is the most well-known place for Khmer Rouge documentary. We want to share our information about Khmer Rouge to High Schoolers, Workers and many other people to look how Cambodia has grown so far since the Khmer Rouge had fallen. In this exploration, we are trying really hard to come up with a solution to know which is the best way to share. Right now, we had solved it by increasing the next level of thinking and calculating problem to solve and it is also one of the change agents characteristics. In this point, we are trying to change Cambodia by the braveness and intention of young kids to do something that related to its own history. Now, we will do it. We are doing what Cambodia wants the young generation to do. I expect that everyone that join this event will be inspired.

Recently, there is an opportunity offered by Karen and MCC about being a long-term marine field researchers. As one of the students of the Liger Marine Research Team. This opportunity gives a really big impact on Cambodia on Marine Ecosystems. This opportunity is about doing work in a science field and also learning to scuba dive. The goal is to survey the fish population in different marine ecosystems such as Coral reefs, Seagrass beds, and mangroves along the Cambodian coastline of the Kep Archipelago. We will learn how to properly do marine survey including reef, invertebrates, substrates, seahorses, and seagrasses. We will focus strongly on marine organisms while having a good partnership from MCC. As we all know that illegal fishing such as trawling is really causing a big damage to Cambodia marine ecosystems. We came up with a possible solution on surveying marine organisms, including the way to protect our fish population for example by deploying artificial reefs and others project. Some of us will be taking an AP statistics class next year in order to learn how to make statistics of something or how to make a graph about something way more easier. This is a big impact on Cambodia as a new generation to study and do field research about marine ecosystems in a long term. Moreover, it is about the passionate on these students to eager not just to learn, but to implement and deploy our own projects in the real science field. This is a big adventure and challenge for us since we need to travel to our field work to do the projects every month. This opportunity allows us to involve and care more about our marine ecosystem since there are lots of things happening to our ocean. Historically, Liger had many different opportunities for students to learn about their marine biologies such as marine conservation in Cambodia, crimes in Cambodia and lots more project that involve marine ecosystem. This is what happens when Liger introduces them to their underwater marine ecosystems. We will start this project next year after our summer break. These eight students will have a strong commitment and strong intention to put all together the hard work for these long-term marine research.

To sum up, it is important for us as students to start to do something that helps to make changes for our own country. Throughout these projects, such as, Geology of Cambodia, DC-Cam event and one of the students that participate in Liger Marine Research Team, we can know how much Cambodian kids had done and about to start more of their inspirational projects. I hope that in the future, we can create something that more extremely impacts Cambodia as a young kid.        


Thank you!