The day I became a certified SCUBA diver was celebrated with underwater fireworks. It was an unforgettable memory. That night, as soon as I entered the water from the pier, sparkles of light lit up all around me. They were brighter than any night-stars I had ever seen. I dove deep into the water and waft my limbs to spark up the dark sea. Every time I swim in bioluminescence felt like the first time. I felt the excitement in my gut and the rush of emotions. I wanted to shout to the world. I want to tell the world that our beautiful ocean and underwater gardens are slowly being destroyed by us. I want the world to know about the work that Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC) had done. I want them to see all the sleepless nights that MCC spent patrolling the Kep archipelago (Koh Seh Island)—Cambodia. They put the ocean in front of their lives; chasing after the illegal fishermen. But, above all else, I want the world to know that the effort we put into protecting our ocean is not enough. About 71% of the Earth is covered by the ocean blanket—yet only a small portion of that is being protected. The work from organizations like MCC is not enough, to establish a protected ocean, it requires the attention and participation from all of us; and I was ready to be a part of it.
On a Friday, May fifth, 2017, I submitted a form for a three-year-long marine research project that would be partnering with MCC. Three days later, I found out that I and seven other students were selected to be a part of the Liger Marine Research Team (MLRT). As a team, LMRT tried applying for Rolex Explorer Grant, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a success. Later, LMRT got a grant from Laguntza Foundation, and since the first trip to Koh Seh island on September 28th, 2017, the team tried going back every month.
Oftentimes while I was on Koh Seh, I felt scorned to see how few Cambodians are working to protect their own ocean, but, at the same time, I feel encouraged. When I closed my eyes, I could see a group of fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen-year-olds who will model for their country. I could see a group of young Cambodian teenagers who show their potential to the world and provoke Cambodians and the world to care for their ocean.
Although LMRT hasn’t made a huge impact to Cambodia, it is at the verge of it and I have so much pride for it. By just existing, LMRT has already grabbed people’s attention to the ocean. LMRT has now deployed a concrete block structure—also known as Conservation and anti-trawling structures (CANTS). A modified version reef check international survey was and will be conducted to study the rehabilitation of the endangered fish species in Cambodia; a research report will a product from this project. With the report, LMRT will be able to speak on behalf of the ocean, to the Cambodian government and local citizens to raise the awareness. Nevertheless, LMRT also has a great impact on me. Ever since I joined LMRT, I became a more punctual person. I learn to make better plans and execute them because LMRT put me into situations where I have to keep up with school and make time for the research project at the same time. I never regret joining LMRT; after all these years that I was raised to overlook my impact on my environment, I was able to make up for it.
I was able to join LMRT because I am at a very awesome academy—the Liger Leadership Academy. This place has a very unique curriculum, where students have a lot of freedom to explore themselves and their interest as learners and change agents. Talking about learning curriculums, I am very proud to say that I am a part of writing learning activities for a new school, Bambujaya. I am also delighted to know about this school’s plan of having a new curriculum rather than teaching students through the traditional ways of sitting in the classroom and memorizing facts. I hope the work I put into writing the learning activities will pay off. I want students to learn with more freedom and think outside the box. I am hoping the Kids will like the activities created and to see them go out and make an impact in the world while I am trying to do it myself.
Recalling more impacts I made this year, I realized that this seems like a long year for me and I had done a lot. I got more involved in social programs this year. I volunteered for Khmer Sight Foundation, in which I was a part of helping the villagers bring back their sight. It was a great experience for me; I like the pleasure of helping people. I also volunteered to interview villagers who live around Camkids. the data from the interview were used by a team of Liger students to assess how Camkids has impacted the lives the villagers there. The analysis will then be put on the Camkids website for the potential donors for this foundation. Another social program I did was giving a speech about gender and sexuality at Youth Talk which is organized monthly at Meta House. I talked about my personal experience and urge people to be more conscious about this sensitive subject.
These are small steps for me in changing Cambodia this year, and I hope these steps will inspire more steps. This has become a mantra to me now—to promote for the spirit for making positive changes in people and to make the voice of the youth of Cambodia be heard. I acknowledge that small changes and movements that people make do have an impact to the whole community, but I believe that there should be more people joining the movements to make a greater impact. I am advocating for this and I am going to it with small steps at a time.