In March 2013, I was involved in a documentary project”Indigenous People’s Land and Rights”. I interviewed people who were impacted by development. Through the process, I learned so much. I could understand the situation of the people, how they felt about development, how what land and forest meant to them. I was very touched by the stories I heard while doing the interviews. Development is good when it has a proper plan and long term,but it make me worry about my country’s future,when I see this situation with my own eyes. I felt so hard when I talk to them,because I could feel their pain. I felt how they were so worried of their future and society,and some of them, had almost no hope.
I traveled to three different provinces of Cambodia to do interview the people who was impacted by the development now a day. One province located in the eastern part of Cambodia, Stung Treng, faced issues related with the development of hydroelectric dams. Ratanakiri, in the north east faces issues related with the planning of a mining company, and Preah Vihear struggles with economic land concession.
I have stayed new days in Ratanakiri to do an interview with one type of indigenous people group called”Jaray”.They have showed their worried about the future development of the mining company. They live in a poor community that depend on farming,hunting,and go to find vine in order to make a living. They have told that the company has stopped them from not allowed to enter to their land,because the company used the land in order to do the research. Indigenous people are among the most impacted. They have their own language, and different traditions.Many are Hindu and their spiritual beliefs depend on nature. For example in Ratanakiri people have their spirit forest; a burial where they keep their great grandparents. The forests are very old. Indigenous communities are unique groups of people in Cambodia. The people in Stung Treng respect their river very much. It is their lifeblood. I went to join the river festival because the people want to make this ceremony to dedicate to their spiritual to know that they are worrying of losing their house and community if the dam will be built. There are a Punong community who live in Stung Treng. However, the festival was interesting. I could be able to see how the indigenous people celebrate their ceremony. They want to tell to the world that the river is very important to them.The Mekong provides farming, fishing and daily use. Their lives depend on the river. If the government allows the dam, there will be thousands of families impacted who need to move from their homeland. Their lives will remain happy and peaceful if there is no dam.
The Cambodian government has said that when the country is developed, people will live in better conditions, but for now it is not true. The company came and took the people’s land and give them compensation of 50$, one bag of rice, and one package of seasoning, according to the chief of the community. In the interviews, some said they do not mind about the development, but please give them more information and reasonable compensation.”
They also said they want to see their country to be developed like other countries in the world, but not the type of development that is happening in Cambodia today. It look like the development backward. Most of the older generation of Cambodia,they do not wish any much beside having a peaceful place to live and enough foods to eat,as they have been suffering enough during the Pol Pot regime. And I have found out that this type of development is making people poorer and poorer.
Many families have lost their farming land. It is not only in these three provinces,but many places of Cambodia. For the indigenous people depend on forests and rivers for transitional farming, fishing and hunting. If their resources are lost to them, there is no life left for them. It is like stopping a person from eating, then watching them die slowly. Would you be happy if someday a stranger came to your home and said, ”We need to move you to a different place, we need your home?” Of course no one would be happy to move from a place that they have been living for a very long time where they have friends, relatives, and generations of memories. While I was spending time with them I felt my heart got hurt.
Something whispered into my ears,”My heart is broken”. It make me sad very time when I hear the machine cutting down the tree,the forest was on fire. Imagine if the tree could talk, I bet they would beg you to not kill them. They also have life and family,and when people kill them,soon they will have no more in this country.
It was unbelievable to see the forest empty and full of smoke. The forest that used to give shadow and pure air has turned out to be like a desert. When I saw that situation, it made me worry about my future generation. How would they be able to have wood to build homes?
In Preah Vihear,the economic land concession in Preah Vihear, has left many families without land and without any compensation. They have no right to enter into their own land. They depend on their rice production. The people have lost hope. They can not go to work at their farm like they used to be. They are not allow to entry into their land. That is not fair!
I did an interview with a woman who was impacted by the economic land concession. ”The company came to take my land in January 2013. I had total of 20 hectares and have lost 15 hectares” said Yeu Thavan. She is worried for her children’s future. She does not know how they will live without land and farming.
Home and land is very important for them. It is importance for most of the people on earth. However, they people made no mistake,they only want to work on their farm and be able to support their live.
It is their life. Birds always need a nest and space where they can fly around, but if their nest has been destroyed, where should they go? Indigenous groups are very small compared to the total population. If their land has been taken, their spiritual forest has been destroyed and they are moved away to some other place, soon there will be no more indigenous groups in Cambodia. Their culture and tradition will be destroyed slowly and their younger generation will not be able to know what is their spiritual forest, other traditional festivals.
I am so glad I had a chance to discover the impact of development on my country, to see for myself how my people are suffering. I do support some development, but I wish the development had suitable compensation and was fair to the communities impacted. Otherwise development is like breaking people’s heart. And I am one of them who will get hurt.