Marika’s trip to Cambodia

Marika is part of Cord’s Programmes Team and in March this year visited our projects in Cambodia. We work with Indigenous People in Cambodia who depend on forests for their home, work and way of life. Cambodia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, and over 2.1 million hectares of land have been given to private business. The needs of Indigenous Communities are ignored as the government’s real focus is on increasing foreign investment. As a result, there have been widespread land disputes. Communities are forced from their land without compensation. 

We asked Marika to share a little about her trip. As I’m sure you’ll agree, she helps us to understand the incredible challenges faced by the Indigenous People we’re working with. 

First impressions 

I spent the first weekend in the capital, Phnom Pen. There are high-rise buildings and skyscrapers. There’s lots of hustle and bustle, social hotspots and a fair amount of wealth. Travel 90 minutes out of the city however, and all the buildings are made of wood. There are less and less windows in the buildings. Further on, in the river valleys, all the wooden houses are on stilts, to protect them from the regular floods. 

When I first saw a wooden house with no windows, I thought it must belong to a relatively poor person. But I soon realized that it’s just normal and that this is how the majority of people live.  

Whose land? 

On our way to one of the communities we work with, we had to present ourselves at a checkpoint with a barrier across the road. This is because a private company owns the land which was given to them by the government to exploit. I’m not sure how many hectares they own but we travelled for another hour before arriving at the village which is located in the middle of the company’s land. The community has lived on this land for hundreds of years and seen it go from being part of the largest Southeast Asian forests (Prey Lang) to what it is now.  

We were only allowed into the area because we were with our partner organization who had negotiated for 6 days to gain permission for the visit. Foreigners are not welcome. Whenever the car stopped we asked if we could get out and take some photos. Our partners explained that we couldn’t as drones monitored the area and it would have negative consequences on them and the community.  

Whenever anyone from the community wants to travel by road, they must get permission from the company. This is soul-destroying. Imagine having to phone a company every time you want to visit a nearby neighbour or shop. 

There are no regulations for the company to follow. The land has been granted by the national government. Local officials have no authority and can’t intervene or even enter the area. The community told us that they used to use a nearby stream for drinking, fishing and bathing. Since the company was granted the land, they can’t drink or bathe because the water is poisoned and smells rotten. No one is able to hold the company to account. 

The government will often grant land to companies to grow rubber trees for rubber plantations or similar purposes. The company will then start to engage in more lucrative, environmentally damaging activities. The land is usually granted for 99 years. So, for a century, companies can act without any interference. 

In contrast, Indigenous People who have lived on the land for centuries have to go through a 7-stage process that takes years, to prove that it’s their ancestral land. If they are successful, they are given land rights for just 15 years before having to repeat this process. 

The Indigenous People that Marika visited face injustices every day. But there is hope. Things are changing and it’s thanks to your prayers and donations. Our EMPOWER project is equipping Women Environmental Defenders to protect the forests and their communities. We’re training them to become leaders, to patrol their land safely and to ensure that their voices are heard. 

Women are respected leaders 

In the communities I visited, I was struck by the changes that are taking place. The roles and views of women were taken very seriously.  

I met San Vansen who you may have read about in our appeal last September. With your support, she’s developed into a formidable leader. She is hugely respected by her community and the private companies. The village chief told me that she’s the best person to liaise with companies as she can keep cool and communicate calmly. They don’t see her as a threat.

Picture books 

You’ve helped to provide hundreds of picture books to Indigenous Communities. Many women were proudly holding them while we were chatting. The majority of them cannot read or write but they talked through them very confidently. The books help people understand key issues when dealing with conflict. For example, some pages show optical illusions – one person sees a tree, another sees a face, illustrating that everyone’s perspective is different and should be respected. Communities are able to resolve conflict thanks to this really simple resource. 

Protected by the police 

Two of the communities I met had developed safeguarding policies with Cord’s support. It meant that if a woman was confronted whilst on patrol in the forest, for example by illegal loggers, the police would side with and protect the woman and not the man. Something very unusual in this part of the world. The women were incredibly proud of these policies and took pleasure in showing me the document, enthusiastically pointing to the Police Chief’s signature and the assurance they now had. 

One woman explained that her husband had previously stopped her from going on forest patrols because they were too dangerous and she should stick to her role in the house. But since the introduction of the safeguarding policy, he had changed his mind and was now very encouraging.  

Hammocks and ducks 

Your donations have been used by women in the communities to buy essential equipment or to invest in livestock. One group told me about the hammocks they had bought so they have a safe place to sleep when they stay overnight on forest patrols. 

Another woman burst into tears as she told me about the ducks she had bought. They were doing well, having ducklings and enabling her to make a living. She was so overwhelmed with gratitude that she just wept. I wish you could have met her because it’s your generosity that has changed her life. 

You’re helping children reach their potential 

In the last community I visited, a massive tree stood at the heart of their village. A huge pile of mushrooms, harvested from the forest, were drying in the sun. A group of trampolines were arranged in the shade of the tree. Children were bouncing on them, laughing and shouting without a care in the world.  

In this modest, dusty, but beautiful setting, amidst land-disputes, deforestation and tension, the children were happy. They were jumping up and down. As I watched them, I thought about their joy and freedom. Their parents want them to grow up with this joy and freedom. They want them to be able to live full, happy and fulfilled lives. That’s our vision too, and I know it’s why you support the work of Cord. You can help them bounce as high as possible. With your support they get a fighting chance to reach their potential. 

Please help create more stories of hope and healing by making a donation TODAY

Cord’s vision is a world where all people can live life to the full, in peace.
Peace means hope and healing for victims in safe and stable societies.
Peace means freedom, and people reaching their potential.
Help restore peace so that people can prosper.

Forest living in Cambodia

The Cambodian mother peacefully protecting her forest home

One courageous woman is protecting the forest where she lives in Cambodia. She’s ensuring that future generations can live in peace in this beautiful habitat. 
Thailand countryside

Invitation to tender

Cord is inviting quotes from external auditors to perform an annual financial audit covering the funds Cord received from U.S. Federal awards, namely DRL awards.
Toyota Land Cruiser in front of a building in Burundi

Hope and healing in Burundi’s most remote communities 

Over the summer months you raised an amazing £12,200 towards a brand-new vehicle for our Burundi team.
Keo Phongmany sitting at a table
Lives changed
Cord’s work with grassroots organisations in Laos is transforming lives like Keo’s. Now, he’s using the new skills he’s gained to help other people reach their potential.