Australian aid worker humbled by visit to Cambodian jungle advocates

World Vision staff member Isabel Calvert has been working in Cambodia and we thought you might like to hear about her trip since you sponsor a child there.

I’m in the north of Cambodia in a town called Battambang. I’ve been out in very remote villages over the past few days. Was traipsing through a forest in Preah Vihear two days ago, a forest that was the home of Khmer Rouge fighters til 1998!

I was walking alone as others had gone ahead and the 4x4 truck couldn't get into the forest as the track just got too treacherous. So I walked for 3km alone – it was beautiful - through the forest to meet with an indigenous community that is being squeezed out by logging companies.

They are a wonderful people – really united community. They have nothing except a determination to keep their forest. Most of it has already been logged, but they want to replant it all. The huge 100-plus-year-old trees have gone. They are the registered legal owners but the logging companies don’t care. These people keep a 24-hour vigil over the land – patrolling the forest day and night to try to keep the loggers at bay – or at least to be a witness when they come and take their trees.

Men, women and youth work to keep the loggers at bay while children learn the secrets of the forest and why it’s so important to their community.

World Vision Cambodia through funding from Australia has helped them understand the new land laws, and get their land registered. We’ve helped them with demarcating boundaries, and taught them how to advocate peacefully for their rights. That led to the first 1000 hectares being registered. I’m feeling very honoured to work for this organisation.

I feel really good being here – I can help in some ways but my World Vision Cambodia colleagues do an amazing job. Most are just kids in their 20s helping communities empower themselves – to be self-determining – passing on skills that they have learnt to these communities. They are all passionate and driven. I’m so proud to work with them. So humbled by them I find myself swallowing hard to choke back my pride in them. They have done amazing things here with Agricultural Cooperatives - upskilling basic farmers to become farmer business men and women; empowering them to be self-determining – to know how to organise, and advocate, how to be transparent and accountable.

The youth group in Banan District in Battambang are amazing. They organise the younger kids into children’s clubs, and teach them good hygiene practices. The little kids roar with laughter and roll on the floor giggling when they see pictures of someone on a loo - and then fall silent listening to the youth explaining why it’s important to use a latrine instead of defecating in the fields. I’m here to talk to the youth, but a 12-year-old boy (who looks the size of an eight-year-old in Australia) comes forward, confidently pops himself at the table, and introduces himself in English. Few of the youth speak English as well as him.

He explains that he wants to be a lawyer one day and is really interested to know that I am a lawyer also. We all talk about how important it is to hold on to those dreams, and do everything to make them come true.

The youth know it’s up to them to encourage and motivate the younger ones, just as World Vision Cambodia staff – some of them only slightly older than the members of this youth group - have motivated and encouraged them. All they want from World Vision now is help to improve their English. One beautiful girl hands me a picture she has drawn (and signed!) of an Aspara dancer. Another hands me a scarf she bought this morning. Again I swallow hard and am humbled.