The report of an European Union Delegation to Cambodia, says that ‘environmental and natural resources in Cambodia are threatened by short-sighted over-exploitation on an increasing and threatening scale. This reduces the Country’s overall natural capital, yet whilst great benefits flow to the few; equally great burdens fall on the many.’
Actually, there are thousands of pages on issues like this about Cambodia, mostly produced in English and French with some Khmer translations that few read or analyses. Most of those reports are true, of course, but they remain in archives and, in many occasions, are overlooked or despised by Cambodian leaders as arrogant meddling of Westerns.
More than suggesting to Cambodians what to do with their own country, it would be better to give the tools to them to reach similar conclusions through their own cultural elements and mentality.
Empowering sectors of the society like Cambodian women would be one idea, since educated women can definitely change practices that go against humanity by educating their own children. Women are the first educators in a society, so we must help them to get access to the best conditions like health, housing and education. There are other sectors such as children and young people, elderly with their natural wisdom, teachers and those vulnerable people that could change a social problem if they have the opportunity and space to do so.
But these groups need a real support and it can be done through education. Humanitarian aid should take distance from a blind welfarism that only conduct to create a whole generation of beggars and a long chain of new bureaucrats, all getting salaries of rich in the name of the poor.
Buddhism and Ecology
Among all those cultural and social elements that could be empower to help our Cambodian society to overcome current difficulties like the endangered ecology and the human rights problems, we have Buddhism.
This is not a religious reflection. Let’s take Cambodian Buddhism as a cultural element that should not be ignored or overlooked. As we know, Cambodian Buddhism, belonging to the same Buddhist school of Theravada as it is in South East Asia and Sri Lanka, was also a victim of the wars in Cambodia after 1970. A country where Buddhism accounts 98 percent of its inhabitants, was thrown into violence and destruction: the break of harmony.
This element of harmony is basic to understand Cambodian mentality. It comes from the daily preservation of face to the intricate social positions to respect guided by several norms of age, family position, social roles, sacred roles, royal roles and many others.
Then, for Cambodian Buddhism ecology is inside this harmony’s philosophy and it must be studied carefully to claim this spiritual aspect of Cambodians in order to preserve the jungles, woods, animals, ecosystems, indigenous communities, rivers, lakes, rice fields and an ecological balance in the fast development of the Cambodian cities.
Cambodians, influenced by the deep combination of ancestors coming from India, China and Malaysia, believe in spirits and, something that some foreign reports seem not to notice, it can act over political, financial and social decisions everywhere in the country.
Buddhist pagodas are the heart, the center, the soul of the Cambodian villages, but also they are present in a great number in big cities like Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and other growing urban centers.
The pagodas were the schools before the creation of the French Protectorate of Kampuchea until the middle of the 19th century. Buddhist monks still being teachers, while pagoda boys grow in the monasteries, some of them orphans, abandoned or too poor to be raised by their families.
The pagodas are the real center of villages, where farmers feel safe, meet one each other or ask advice from the elders (Achá). If a Cambodian go to study in the city and he has not a place to stay, he will look for a pagoda and he will request to the monks to give him provisional shelter. No monk denies it. The pagoda is, therefore, like the national house of the Cambodians.
The pagodas are gardens. It is not strange to find monkeys, but also many other wild animals living or protected in any pagoda, where animal statutes are everywhere, while there is not a pagoda without trees.
International and national organizations, as well as official projects, should support more the development of pagodas following their importance in the national life. To support it as a center of education, an ecological shelter, a communitarian place where social campaigns could be realized in agreement with the Cambodian Buddhist authorities. The bonzis and the dounshi (nuns), should get more support, education and training, because their privilege position in the Cambodian society.