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Archive for February, 2007

Children Draw Attention to Forest Crimes With Cartoons

February 28, 2007 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

Children Draw Attention to Forest Crimes With Cartoons



28/02/2007
 

Sok Khemera reports from Washington-(1.87MB) audio clip
Listen Sok Khemera reports from Washington audio clip

VIEW CHILDRENS’ DRAWINGS, click here- GALLERY 1, GALLERY 2

The sun rises over a wasteland where forest once grew as animals flee the area
The sun rises over a wasteland where forest once grew as animals flee the area

A surprising intervention tactic in Cambodia’s ongoing battle against poachers and loggers has emerged among students in Kompong Speu’s Oral District.

The students say they’re fed up with strangers coming and going—carrying axes and chainsaws, machetes and machine guns—illegally depleting the forests of animals and trees, apparently without fear.

Students are drawing cartoons to highlight the effects of these crimes and are sending them to authorities in the hopes that something will be done in time.

Vong Reaksmei, 15, told VOA by phone she frequently sees offenders cutting down trees. She wants it to stop, so she drew pictures with other classmates and plans to send them to relevant environment and enforcement officials.

“I’ve drawn these pictures because the forest clearly is being disrupted and the wildlife is being destroyed,” she said. “I’ve seen these things, and I feel regret, because the forest and wildlife are completely destroyed, and our future is tied to them.”

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‘We have peace,’ say the birds. ‘We will be married,’ say the snakes. ‘I’m so happy that people stopped cutting the trees,’ says the elephant

Forest crimes are especially flagrant in Trapeang Chor commune, on the border of the Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, about 70 kilometers west of Phnom Penh, according to several residents who spoke to VOA anonymously for fear of their safety.

“The forest is completely destroyed, and the land is divided,” one local man said. “Some trees have been marked for logging, and now the strangers are building cottages in the area, and they grab the land too.”

“They cut the trees with chainsaws, deep in the forest, and they hire villagers to cut trees and drive the wood through the village to be sold,” another woman said. “There will be no more big logs in the future. When locals cannot prevent it, with big businessmen who have machines and trucks, they will also cut the trees to be sold as coal. They don’t have another livelihood.”

A small cottage with clear signs of occupation stands among harvested trees in Kompong Speu province
A small cottage with clear signs of occupation stands among harvested trees in Kompong Speu province

Nearly 100 primary school children, aged 10 to 16, drew cartoons, and many signed them. The bright, glittery drawings rebuke these illegal activities and explain why animals need the forest. They warn of animal extinction, flooding and erosion. In their pictures, criminals saw trees while poachers kill wildlife. Mountains are bare, and the land is stripped clean.

Primary school student Khar Kunthea, 14, said she has seen people cutting trees up to a meter in diameter. It saddens her, she said, that the trees are cut day after day.

“I hope that by speaking out that authorities can recover the forest,” she said.

“I drew these pictures because I want to address the destruction of the forest and the killing of wildlife,” she said. “I don’t want them to cut the trees and kill the wildlife, because the forest and wildlife are almost extinct.”

Birds, snakes, monkeys and other animals speak their woes.

After logs are taken from the forest, they are processed into lumber
After logs are taken from the forest, they are processed into lumber

“Don’t destroy the forest. It is my home,” advises an elephant drawn by 15-year-old Theun Thim, of Chrork Teak Primary School.

“Please help protect me because wildlife like me is close to extinction,” a deer implores in a picture by Chem John, 16, from the same school, while a tree warns: “If you cut me down and destroy me, there will be a flood.”

Kong Heang, governor of Kompong Speu, rejected the student’s accusations. There is no major illegal logging in Oral, he said, because much of the area is protected by strict measures from provincial authorities and the Ministry of the Environment, as well as non-governmental organizations.

Students from Chrork Teak Primary School, concerned over illegal logging and poaching in their area, recently drew cartoons to highlight the problem to national authorities
Students from Chrork Teak Primary School, concerned over illegal logging and poaching in their area, recently drew cartoons to highlight the problem to national authorities

“Nowadays, there are two NGOs to help watch for illegal activity,” he said. “We have better protection. No big illegal logging occurs in this area. There are only small cases where people cut the wood and load it into a car, which is normal, but to load it into trucks, there is no more.”

The governor said his police have acted on illegal logging and deforestation many times, confiscating tools and arresting perpetrators.

But villagers say that armed forces like soldiers and the police, backed by businessmen, are those who actually cut down trees, confiscate land and, instead of protecting the forest, set up checkpoints to squeeze money from travelers.

Meanwhile, a complaint signed by local men and women has been submitted to public and non-government agencies, giving the name, age, and address of signatories, some as young as five.

A monk points out a tree in a typical Cambodian forest. Forests like these are under threat from rampant illegal logging
A monk points out a tree in a typical Cambodian forest. Forests like these are under threat from rampant illegal logging

The petition demands, among other things, that the government and local and international groups stop illegal logging and land grabs, curb related corruption and support those who preserve the land.

The World Bank last year announced $14 million for forest protection. In the past, the World Bank was criticized for not doing enough by the forest monitor Global Witness, an organization that has since been banned from the country.

Cambodia has promised donor countries many reforms, including in forestry, but donors remain concerned that the loss of forest will disrupt the lives of Cambodians living in rural areas now and in the future. Much illegal logging is linked to high-level corruption, making authorities hesitant—or unable—to curb the practice.

The Effect is Distressing.

February 17, 2007 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

Lander, Wyoming. I am waiting for a Skype call from my assistant in Phnom Penh. Our letters have reached many news organizations. Voice of America called the village and spoke to many students and villagers. The effect is distressing, as evident in the school director’s most recent message.

ngim-so-bun-side-2.jpg“Nhim So Bun will be arriving in PP around 3 o’clock tomorrow. He will bring some current pictures to scan them for you because the villagers saw many activities of the perpetrators have been continuing to destroy the forests in Arual district more enormous than when you and Andre were staying there. They have moved forward in burning the forests at the Buddhism center and will soon cut down all the trees over there. The monks are concerned a lot about their future if forest is extinct.”
It is so frustrating to me that we have many local villagers who want to protect their environment, but they have no support. Even the environmental organizations seem to be giving up on the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary. What they need to do is support and empower the local people – the desire is already there. How do we get these people some help? Hopefully Voice of America will air the story Monday or Tuesday. That’s a start. I continue to pass the information to media sources and human rights groups, to make our students voices heard.
The simplest way to help is to buy the book, and spread the word.

Getting Some Attention

February 08, 2007 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

Lander, Wyoming: I’m home and recovering from jetlag, still working diligently to get our students letters to as many media sources as possible. I’ve been talking daily with the Voice of America. They will air the story next week. And just when I was beginning to get depressed that this effort might be all for naught, I received the following email from my assistant in Phnom Penh.

Yesterday, Nhim So Bun told me on the phone that there were an environmental official and army officer alerting the wood-cutter /perpetrators to leave the forest immediately because on Saturday the task force and reporter will be heading down this area and that the provincial police will soon take action to confiscate some chainsaws and sawmills from them.

Meanwhile, he would like to inform you that the residents think that they don’t want to come to PP because there will be an intervention from Free Asia, Cambodge Sior and Licadho.

Okay, later today I’m going to deliver things to your school and I will send you the expense form after I return from your school. Already I purchased 2 rattan shelves, 2 batteries, 1 invertor, 5 water filters, 5 baskets, 12 cups, 1 English dictionary, 1 compact flash and 5 brooms.A student at the Grady Grossman School writing a letter to save the nearby forest.

It really is worth all the effort!
A student at the Grady Grossman School writing a letter to save the nearby forest.

Be the Change
Spread the Word

Book coverGo to www.BonesThatFloat.com to order pre-publication hardcover copies at a discount price of $20 (+tax & shipping).
25% of the proceeds benefit the Friends of the Grady Grossman School, Cambodia.

A link to an eBook is available with each order. Autographed hardcover copies will be sent in March. Regular price is $24.95 (+tax & shipping).

Delivering the Letters

February 03, 2007 By: Kari Category: 2007 January Trip, General 2 Comments →

Phnom Penh: It’s been a whirlwind two days racing around the city delivering the letters to as many people as we can.

We visited with reporters at the Cambodia Daily, an English language newspaper, and Cambodge Soir, a French language newspaper. The later has a better reputation forKari delivering letters to Beehive Radio, an independent radio station. protecting its sources. The independent radio station, Beehive, suggested that a truckload of villagers come into Phnom Penh and stay at the Buddhist temple behind the station, so they will feel safe and can speak their hearts freely. The villagers must make that decision together and we need to garner some support before they do.

We delivered letters to the Voice of Democracy radio station, a project of the Cambodian

Kari delivering letters to Him Khortieth, reporter for Voice of Democracy Radio, a program of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

Center for Human Rights. The reporter, Him Khortieth, promised to coordinate his coverage of the story with Licadho, a human rights watchdog. Kari delivering villagers letters to Naly Pilorge, Director of Licadho (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights).My visit with Licadho Director, Naly Pilorge, was very important. She copied all the letters and is sending them to their lawyer stationed in Kampong Speu. This will give the villagers the back-up support they need to speak out with a human rights group watching.

The forest destruction has three levels. The illegal logging of big trees deep in the forest is for timber to be delivered to Vietnam. The smaller trees are cut down for wood sticks to be sold for cooking fuel in Phnom Penh by newcomers to the village from other provinces. These are the oxcart and wood truck drivers paying off the local authorities to pass with their loads. The forest fires are the third and final stage of deforestation to encroach ownership of the land and sell it to foreign companies for industrial agriculture purposes. Andre says that the forest soil is sandy, it needs the forest ecosystem to regenerate, and without the trees the soil will be infertile and useless for agriculture.

I thought about going to the Ministry of Environment with our letters but I remember when we passed the headquarters of the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary, administered by the Ministry of Environment, the official came to our vehicle for a bribe payment, mistaking our driver’s van for a wood truck. I don’t trust anyone involved with Cambodia’s ruling party, the CPP, an acronym for the Cambodian People’s Party; we’ve taken to calling it the Corrupt Peoples Party.

Kari delivering letters to Sopheng Cheang, a reporter for the Associated Press.The reporter at the Associated Press, SoPheng Cheang, told us the story was too small for their news organization; Andre responded, “have you heard of global warming?” The forest destruction in Cambodia affects the entire planet. Most importantly it affects Cambodia’s food source, the rivers and the soil. He listened for a while but I don’t know if we got through to him.

We met with a Member of Parliament from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Mr. Nuot Rumdol. He is very familiar with Aural and willing to advocate for our villagers within theKari delivering villagers letters to Nuth Rumduol, a member of Parliament from the Sam Rainsy Party. Parliamentary system. The best we can hope for is that the children’s drawings will stir some pity from the Ministers. Naly from Licadho cautioned us to keep our expectations low. My highest hope is that the children will see that they can write a letter and their voice will be heard.

Late in the day, I received a call from Washington D.C. The callers name was Khmera, a reporter with the Voice of America. Now, we’re getting somewhere!

Tomorrow morning we leave for the U.S. We’ll spend the next few months raising funds for the Abundant Forest training center at our school. A computer hub will give the students more direct access to information and their government, but it will also draw more students to our school. Then we will need a new building.

Be the Change
Spread the Word.

Book coverGo to www.BonesThatFloat.com to order pre-publication hardcover copies at a discount price of $20 (+tax & shipping).
25% of the proceeds benefit the Friends of the Grady Grossman School, Cambodia.

A link to an eBook is available with each order.
Autographed hardcover copies will be sent in March.
Regular price is $24.95 (+tax & shipping).

The root of the problem is ignorance.

February 02, 2007 By: Kari Category: 2007 January Trip, General No Comments →

Phnom Penh: The pressure of the forest destruction on the Chrauk Tiek community changed the focus of my visit.

I had come with the idea to talk about a new building, a new computer hub, more English instruction and a music class. The overwhelming need of the community to save their forest and stop the corrupt activities taking place everywhere both day and night required our full attention. It seems they have nowhere else to turn. The root of the problem is ignorance.

We will use our school to educate the community about the surrounding forest ecosystemMaster musician Em Nuot using music and drama. I found an 83-year-old unemployed master musician, Em Nuot, living in a hut nearby who plays the two stringed Tror Sau and Tror Ou, the bamboo flute, and the xylophone-like Takay. He wants to be our teacher. A blind man living with forest monks sings beautiful songs he wrote about he forest in traditional Khmer style. The two of them will make a great team.

I instructed the teachers that they must be the leaders to educate the adults about how they are being exploited. They must teach the students that paying bribes to break the law is wrong, that the example of the police and military and corrupt commune leaders is wrong. They must teach them how to decipher who is true and honest. They must teach them to think. I can give them the resources, but they have to learn to use their brains in a new way. The Cambodian style of rote learning only teaches them to copy, thus the cycle repeats itself. If we are to break the cycle of poverty and destruction, we must learn how to think creatively. I brought them a new computer, puzzles, Soduko, and Rubics cube to stretch their brains. The music will speak to the heart. The change will come slow and perhaps the forest will be gone by then. But we must fight.

Andre and I have returned to Phnom Penh with 117 letters from adult villagers, 128 letters with artwork from the students, and 48 from Souy villagers. Now I have to get them to as many media outlets as I can find. Access to the world of information networking is the best assistance I can offer them. I encourage everyone reading these posts who lives in the developed world to reach out and hold hands with the desperately poor and ignorant of the world. The work is hard. The reward is great.

Be the change
Spread the word.