Changing Cambodia 2017-2018

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.

Ap Statistics

In math class this year, we focused on statistics to prepare the advanced placement statistics test (AP Stat) on May 17th. Throughout the course, we’ve explored countless topics including reading, describing and constructing graphs, planning and conducting survey and experiment, and conducting data analysis. The course was challenging especially when a lot of the wording in the courses were hard for me to understand. An example is when I was trying to understand the difference between type one and type two error. Type one is defined as the rejection of a of a true null hypothesis, and type two is described as failing to reject a false null hypothesis. It took quite some time to used to the hang of these terms and do still have mixed in my head today but somehow I manage to make it through the AP test with a qualified grade.

LMRT Trip | May 24th–29th

This might be the last trip of this year and this school year. I was so excited for it, I wanted to see the blocks we deployed. Unfortunately, we can’t go and visit our blocks and conduct our survey during this trip. We were there when the island received a lot of rain. Most days, the sediment in the sea was stirred up by the rain which makes it very difficult to see underwater. We didn’t get to dive much. We only dove by the pier and search for seahorse and pipefish. During the four dives of this trip, I found a seahorse and a pipefish.

 

While the sediment kept on stirring, we stayed in the main bungalow and learned about dolphins and how to conduct dolphin surveys with Sarah. A day after our dolphin survey training, we had a practice boat survey. The plan was the leave early in the morning (5:00 am) but the rain wouldn’t allow us to. That day, after the rain settled down, we cleaned the beach and collected sacks and sacks of trash (mostly styrofoam) in less than an hour. After the beach clean, we went on the dolphin survey. During the dolphin survey, as I was scanning the ocean with my binocular I heard a shout. Then, my whole vision shifted to the dolphin. I was really excited. My mind was blanked out. I can’t remember how to call out the information to the notetaker (Somphors). All I could think of was dolphins.

 

After that first pod of dolphin, we start seeing more. Soon, we realized that we were surrounded by dolphins. It got harder for us to keep track of them. There were at least four pods of dolphins, and they kept merging and separating all the time. I think we messed up the pods because there were a lot of things going on with the dolphin. They won’t make it easy for us to keep track of them. After about an hour of many dolphins to keep track of, it went silent. All of a sudden the dolphins seemed to vanish. At this point, Nina started the trash survey, and I found myself really engaged in it. Every time I see trash in the sea, I shout with excitement. I was excited not to see the trash in the sea, but excited because I can be a part of the trash survey. I hope my contribution can have a big impact. I hope the data from the trash survey can speak on behalf of the ocean and ask for attention. After one hour of trash survey, Nina realized that she needs a better datasheet. She ran out of space to fill in the data, particularly the column for styrofoam. I was so inspired. I can’t wait to be more involved with the trash and the dolphin survey.

 

Besides the dolphin and the trash survey, we worked a lot on cluster making and recycling things we found during our beach clean-ups. We also met a lot of cool people. We met captain Pete Bethune ( a very experienced conservationist) and his crew, Erik and Angela. We also met Doug Bender—the space engineer and former head of unmanned satellites and “attitude control” at Howard Hughes, General Motors, and Boeing.

 

It was a really great trip. I love meeting new people on the island and get to know about their job. It was a pleasure to watch films about Pete and work, and listen to the presentation by Doug. I loved every moment of this trip, and will never forget it. The ocean and the island now feel like a home to me.

Khmer Model United Nation (MUN)

On Wednesday, May 23rd, all the senior students were all dressed up real professional. We were about to attend our whole day for the Model United Nation (MUN) that will be done all it Khmer. It was the first ever Khmer MUN for high school students in Cambodia. I was nervous and excited at the same time. It was my first MUN. The topics for the discussion are the hot topics for the country I was supposed to represent; Bangladesh. The topics were, feeding the world growing billions and air quality control and pollution. I knew have to talk a lot and prepare to answer questions as the delegate of Bangladesh. I did as much research I could, and was prepared to be a delegate.  

This was the lobby session. I was discussing with the delegate of Kenya (dressed in blue) to create a resolution.

At first, giving the opening speech was scary to me. I practiced my speech a couple of times the night before and managed to keep it under one minute. When the chair banged the gong to tell me that I was halfway through my speech duration (30 seconds), I panicked. I wasn’t sure if I could finish my speech, but when I looked at my written speech, I realized I had only had two short paragraphs to go. I was glad. I went through my speech as confident and smooth as I can be and made it all the way through. After my opening speech,  I gained some confidence. I started raising my country flag to question other delegate and made speeches against points are against my country’ position or view. At the end of the day, I felt really proud of myself. All the effort I put into researching was worth it, although I didn‘t use some of the information from my research. I was really fun. I like the idea of being a representative of a country and make for it. I also liked seeing my friends dressing up really professional.

Khmer New Year Inspired Creative Writing

As the Khmer New Year (KNY) had passed and the end of this school year and AP tests are approaching day by day, school got loosen up and more concentrated on the (AP) tests. However, we are still doing all the exciting things, like exploration and essentials. In essentials, we are learning about light and color, working on doing a Model Unite Natation (MUN) in Khmer, preparing the AP test(s), for me it’s the AP statistics test, and writing KNY inspired creative short story. Of all the exciting things we do at Liger, writing the KNY inspired story is one of my favorites because it got me thinking creatively and worry less about the upcoming test. The inspiration for my story came from a time when I was going to a pagoda (a religious temple)  to watch Lkoun Basac, a type of Khmer play which involves a lot of singing. While I was waiting for the play to start I wandered around and watch the dunk tank game. The dunk tank game is organized to raise funds for the pagoda. Usually, there would be a girl sitting on the peddle and boys and men would be the one buying the balls and throw them toward the target to drop the girl into the water. That night no girl volunteered to sit on the levitating seat. Everything turned into a twist, a boy volunteered and sit on the seat and at that moment the game got more exciting than usual. Both girls and boys played the game and tried to make him fall into the water. He was pretty funny, he even danced. I thought he was amazing breaking the gender stereotype of the game. I really wanted to talk to him but I didn’t get a chance too. In my story, he is represented as Ketzoe and I am represented as Zoenger. Because I really wished I had talked with him I came up with a story about me searching for him. As brainstorm more and more ideas, my story became something I had never expect, but I like it. Below is the Summary of my story (Ketzoenger).

 

Every new year, Zoenger would wear the last dress that her younger brother (Ketzoe) had made her before he disappeared and go to Quelleen to pray for him. Five years ago, Zoenger’s family was told by the cops that they found no trace of Ketzoe. The cops suggested that he had died, but Zoenger was not convinced. She believes that Ketzoe is still alive and will reunite his family one day. This year, while Zoenger was at Quelleen, another girl her age bumped into her and ruined her dress with a drink. It was Xenvie, the daughter of a cop the most famous clothes designer. Zoenger was furious. She cried loudly demanding for Xenvie to apologise. From the cry, people who were visiting Quelleen put their eyes on Zoenger and Xenvie. Feeling embarrassed, Xenvie gave Zoenger the ring she had stolen from her father and said that she was sorry then drove away. Pissed by Xenvie’s attitude, Zoenger threw the ring on the ground and discovered its secret. Zoenger was sure she saw a beam of light shining out of the ring. She picked it up and found a button embedded on it. She went home, clicked the button on the ring and see what would happen. Right after she pressed the button, a hologram of her brother was projected from the ring. After all, she was glad she encountered Xenvie. Her brother had grown over the course of five years, but she can still recognize him. She can see him working on designing a dress. He’s an expert in sewing and clothes designing. As Zoenger watch her brother more closely, something snapped inside her head. She came to the conclusion that her brother might be used by Xenvie’s dad, because Ketzoe would not draw the Fetris logo in his design and beside Fetris had just been opened four years ago. Zoenger knows that she can’t tell this to the cop because Xenvie’s mom is head of all the cops in Udaine. Zoenger knows that she has to investigate this case and save her brother by herself. Zoenger kept watching her brother until the hologram slowly dies off. By then she had a plan and list of places that her brother may be in based on the hologram she had seen. Over the next month, Zoenger spent her time spying on Xenvie’s dad and bike places to find her brother, crossing her list of places as time went by. By the next month Zoenger was able to come with another plan and bring her brother back home. The unbreakable bond between now 15-year-old Ketzoe and 17-year-old Zoenger light up the house once again and that is why they are called Ketzoenger.

 

 

LMRT Trip | March 8th – 13th

This trip was by far the longest and most productive trip. We did so many exciting activities. One of the activity we did was making cement blocks for the artificial reef structure. The process of making the cement block goes like this, first, we have to put together the mold for the cement block. The mold is made out of pieces of metal that look just like the piece of a puzzle. Then, we gathered the sand and pebbles from the beach and put it the mixing machine. Next, we add some water into and the machine then, add the cement and add some more sand, and pebbles and mix it until the cement paste is ready. One it is ready, we poured it into the mold, we use the cement to fill half of the mold and put a PVC on each with chains circling the pipes. Next, we fill up the cement to the brim of the mold and smoothen the cement out and leave it out to dry. The concrete became somewhat hard, we used some nails to mark on them Below are some photo of the process of making the concrete blocks.

Another activity we did was making clusters. A cluster is a triangular-shaped structure made from bamboo with frayed ropes hanging on to it. In order to make clusters, we learned to tie different knots, splice ropes and trying the bamboo together. The clusters that are made are a replacement of the plastic marker buoys. The cluster will be used to mark the location of the artificial reefs that Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC) will implement, while also provide a habit for the juvenile fish since the frayed ropes will attract algae to grow on them.

As always, beach cleanup is never excluded from any trip. During this trip, we did a lot of breach-clean and use the trash we had collected to make something beautiful. Now that LMRT has our own bunker, we decorated the steps with bottle caps along with many other creative projects we did with the trash we had collected.

During the trip before the trip before the previous trip we practiced doing transect surveys, and for this trip, we did our first three official transect surveys before we deployed our artificial reef. During the surveys, we saw some new species that need identification. We finally logged our first data! Then, on the day before we leave the island, had our reef deployed, the reef that LMRT will be surveying. The reef we deployed by MCC’s staff, while we watch them go through the whole process. Along with the reef we had a cluster floating on top of it.

This trip was an amazing experience for me. I can’t wait to go back to the island and check out how the cluster is going.

 

LMRT Trip | February 1st – 4th

This was the first trip of 2018. We planned to do many activities on Koh Seh island, but we couldn’t due to the water hyacinth wash-up. We spend most of the trip cleaning up the water hyacinth that was rotten on the shore and relaxes. We attempt to do some dives but the visibility wasn’t great; when I was underwater I could barely see my own hands. During the dives, we practice our buoyancy skills and learned to make bubble rings underwater. We were planning to practice our navigation skills as well but the visibility won’t allow us to, so instead, we practiced it on land. With a blanket over our heads, we had to use a compass and walk in a basic shape for an example, squares. Although the trip didn’t go as planned, I was glad I had done the ocean a favor by cleaning it up. Below are some photos of the beach clean.

Literacy | Gender Unit

One of the units in literacy this year is Gender. In class, we learned about gender through a lot of reading and class discussion. Once, we had a decent understanding of gender, we were assigned to write a news article about it. The article would be about anything that is related to gender, so I decided to write something that I can share my personal experience as well as to emphasize the gender issue in Cambodia. Below is my news article, and I hope you would enjoy it.

Labeled

“You must be my first gay client,” the barber said to me, when I told him I wanted a hair, a “boy’s haircut.”

Already, I was labeled, before my appearance had even changed.

I thought Cambodians had learned to accept the idea of  “breaking gender norm.”  They praise the people who have done it, like Sorn Seavmey, the Cambodian female athlete who does Taekwondo and wins gold medals. They even praise women who join the military force, which is considered a man’s job to protect his own country.

But, they hadn’t.

Why can’t people accept, “Dressing is how a person express themselves?”_This was the thought that came to my mind, as heat was burning inside of me, thinking of the comment the barber made. 

I decided that I want to inform people that stereotypes do not define everyone. I stayed there, and got my haircut, ignoring the way people were making fun of me.

“Oh, now you look handsome,” the barber said half chuckling when he finished cutting my hair.

I didn’t know what the chuckle meant, but I knew one thing for sure, it made me feel bad. Because of gender expectations, I am supposed to have long hair and I don’t. Does that mean I should be embarrassed? Does that mean people can make fun of me as much as they wish to?

How many people in Cambodia, will have to go through this kind of experience?

Why is it so hard for Cambodians to accept people who dress differently from what  their gender is “supposed” to be, and those who fall into the LGBTQ+ category?

By far, there is no real answer to this question. However, there are a few possible reasons according to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and some other new media including Phnom Penh Post.

(1) The lack of understanding of sexuality and gender. The idea of sexual orientation and gender is a new concept to Cambodia. This country barely has any words to describe gender or sexuality, expect for five words which are still fairly ambiguous. (1 and 2) Srei and pros, meaning “a human being of the female sex,” and “a human being of the male sex,” the words that Cambodian generally use to describe gender. (3 and 4) The word “gni,” and “chhmol,” also indicate gender, meaning “female” and “male”. However, this pair of words is sometimes also used to describe the biological human’s gender in some circumstances, but is mostly used for plants and animals. (5) Khteuy is also word used to describe gender, according to the Buddhist Institute Dictionary, this word refers to a person who has both female and male reproductive organ. However, Cambodians has developed a connotation to this word, they use this describe a biological woman or man who put on personality and behavior of the opposite sex. But mostly this word is used to describe a man who dresses like a woman.

(2) The idea of “oddity”. As explained above, the concept of gender and sexuality is unfamiliar to Cambodians, therefore, anyone who does not fall into the traditional categories of gender and sexuality are considered the “odds”. The odds aren’t always accepted, and welcomed. According to CCHR, more than one third of transgender women are denied for a job because of their gender, forcing them to having jobs that the public and society considered dirty; more than 50% transgender women said that they become a prostitute. This data only represents transgender people, data on other sexual orientations and genders remain unknown.

(3) “In a basket of fish, if one is rotten, the rest will rot.”

Due to the above reason, Cambodians had developed stigma about the “odds,” saying they’re crazy, outrageous, and are the one involving in illegal and despicable activities like drug dealing and thievery. Some denied that, difference in sexuality and gender can’t exist. They think that the odds are staging it for fame and attention from the public. Moreover, an “odd” seems carry the reputation for all the other odds. If an “odd” does something atrocious, the society thinks that all the odds are atrocious as well, forgetting that stigma does not imply to everyone in LGBTQ+ community and dismissed the reasons behind what they do. Consequently, “odds” are generally being ostracized and abuse both physically and emotionally. Some even say that the odds should be ashamed for who they are, as well as their family, and that they deserve to be punished.

Many people leave out the matter that the odds are dying inside when their stigma tends to stay immortal.

Cambodians are known to worship and respect their past king, king Norodom Sihanouk, but maybe not with this statement, which he made more than a decade ago,  “Gays and lesbians would not exist if God did not create them. As a Buddhist I must have compassion for human beings who are not like me but who torture nobody, kill nobody.”

 

Works Cited

Media1org. “បច្ចុប្បន្នភាពនៃក្រុមអ្នកស្រលាញ់ភេទដូចគ្នា-We Are the Same.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Dec. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=Ha6ZDpZOJ1Y.

Sengkong, Erin Handley and Bun. “Abuses Prevalent for Cambodia’s Transgender Women: Study.” Phnom Penh Post, Post Media Co Ltd 888 Building H, 8th Floor Phnom Penh Center Corner Sothearos & Sihanouk Blvd Sangkat Tonle Bassac120101 Phnom Penh Cambodia, 22 Sept. 2016, www.phnompenhpost.com/national/abuses-prevalent-cambodias-transgender-women-study.

“The Shocking Reality of Life for Transgender Women in Cambodia.” Topics, www.sbs.com.au/topics/sexuality/agenda/article/2016/11/02/shocking-reality-life-transgender-women-cambodia.

“Coming out in the Kingdom: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in Cambodia”

Khmer Literacy, Poem and Songwriting

In Khmer class this year, one of our focus is poem and songwriting. In Khmer, poems have their own special rhyme structures, therefore we had to conduct a little research on Khmer poem structure and choose one that we would like to use. I wrote two poems, one using the commonly used structure, the seven syllable structure where every line of the poem has a consistent of seven-syllable. The second poem I wrote was with the ladder structure, where every line in a stanza increase by one syllable. Below is one of my poems written in Khmer and English translation underneath it. 

សំរាមកំសត់

បទពាក្យប្រាំពីរ

អាសូរសំរាមតាមដងផ្លូវ                                  គ្មានទីលំនៅ រឺ បងប្អន      

រសាត់រសល់ប្រៀបដូចក្បូន                                  ក្លិនស្អុយស្ទើរសូនជាដរាប។    

 

សំរាមបានត្រឹមជាសំណល់                                  ដែលគេបន្សល់នៅតាមផ្សារ

             ទីធ្លាទូទៅគ្រប់បណ្តា                                 ឥតពិចារណាទុកជាមុន។       

 

សំរាមត្រូវមានកន្លែងត្រឹមត្រូវ                                  ដែលអាចរស់នៅតាមការគួរ     

កន្លែងនោះជាអ្វីសូមកុំសួរ                                  ចូរអ្នកសាកសួរខ្លួនអ្នក។     

 

Tragic Trash

Seven-syllable structure

I feel the sympathy for the trash on the streets,

they have no home or relatives                                   

rather, they drift around like a raft                              

 carrying a stench for their remaining days.              

         

Trash can be nothing, but waste                                  

    they the ones people leave in the market,                 

    and in public spaces of all sort                                          

          without taking any consideration before doing so.      

 

Trash should have the right place,                               

where they can live in as they should                          

“What is the place?” please do not ask                       

I love would you to ask this to yourself.                      

Online Neuroscience Course

A few years ago I got interested in neuroscience after finish reading a book called “A Day in the Life of the Brain” by Ana María Rodríguez. From then, I read more and more about the brain and human body. The build-up of my interest led me to do an independent discovery where I take an online neuroscience course made by Harvard University. The course was challenging, but I really enjoy learning it; they include many analogies which helps make every simpler for me to understand. At some point through the course, I learned something really amazing, something that I never thought I would learn in the course, like the GHK equation that is used to calculate the membrane potential of the neuron (brain cell). Another thing that I really enjoy learning about the course is thinking of the neuron in term of electronics; it helps me recall my knowledge of electronic and use it to help learn about how the brain works. So far, I haven’t finished this course yet, but after I finish it, I plan to continue studying about humans, specifically psychology. For my future, I want to work on developing brain exercise to help with learning disabilities to learn.