DAY 1: Koh Kong
Koh Kong is a bumpy five to seven hour bus ride from Phnom Penh. Once you clear the traffic and enter the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains, you start seeing elephant crossing roadsigns, and the rising of distant blue peaks makes you feel as though you are floating. The city lays along a salty river that joins with the sea. The clean streets between freshly painted fences are signs that there is wealth here. The money comes from the exploitation of the provinces rich natural resources.
DAY 2: Seta Ice Cream and Mother Nature
Behind tables of tourists placidly smoking cigarettes is a layered whiteboard outlining the strategies of Mother Nature Cambodia, Koh Kong’s direct-action group. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, or Alex, lays out the situation. Cambodia is facing such severe environmental destruction due to corruption on all sides. Grassroots campaigns are taking important steps forward where bloated institutional conservation efforts have seriously failed.
DAY 3: Areng Valley
To say the road into the Areng is difficult would be an overwhelming understatement. It’s not even the rainy season… there are parts where you navigate spindly medians formed by 2-3 foot gulches, or where a single loose plank bridges a chasm, and where the surface is waved like an angry sea threatening to toss you overboard. Some of the smoother sections are so narrow that you have to bang on your horn repeatedly so that you don’t smash into someone coming around the corner. There are machines grinding forward everyday, tearing up the land to widen the road. This will immeasurably ease the lives and travels of the valley people, but will lead predatory developers right to their homes.
DAY 4: The River
This Areng River is powerful, although not in the way that would make a hydropower dam economically feasible. Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers said data showed that dam would only operate at 46 percent capacity during the dry season. Most local people suspect the project is a front to build infrastructure to get at luxury timber and survey for mineral resources.
DAY 5: Kundy and Borng Pov
Every part of daily life in the Areng valley is an act of resistance in the face of the looming project. Areng community leader Mr. Pov says they are determined to stand their ground—“Everyone is going to die someday. As least we struggle, and hopefully this will make a difference and bring nature back to the people.”
DAY 6: Interview with Mala
Mother Nature activist Mala works to coordinate women’s groups to strengthen voices in the Areng as well as the Prek Ksach community- “We are sharing our success stories with other communities. We don’t want to communities to do the same the same, we want them to try something new. At first, the communities are afraid of the authorities, but if the communities are strong then the authority threats are weak.”
DAY 7: Interview with Samnang
Sim Somnang helped to co-found Mother Nature around the end of 2013. He recalls returning to the Areng Valley after being arrested for the six-month-long road blockade Mother Nature mobilized to prevent Sinohydro workers from entering the valley- “The police were like “Wow, how can you come here again?” and we say “Hello!” and kept going back to Areng. They replaced our road blockade with soldiers. But it’s ok with us, because we could still go in and out. They never stopped us. maybe they were scared, because they arrested us, and the next we came right back. So maybe we are very strong.”
DAY 8: Wildlife Alliance Harasses Areng Villagers
DAY 9: Areng Women’s Group
DAY 10: Waterfall
DAY 11: To Prek Ksach
Mother Nature has started to work with other communities facing land issues around Koh Kong. The Prek Ksach community has been under attack by Ly Yong Phat Group Ltd. for over 10 years now as the developers have violently expanded land grabs, displacing community after community. Despite the looming police goons and the very real threat of having their homes destroyed, activists here are feisty, and not afraid to stand up for their rights.
DAY 12: Police Disruption
Corrupt local authorities aren’t happy when Mother Nature activists begin working with their communities send police to follow and threaten them. An off duty police officer drove directly to a home where communities were meeting and began photographing people’s faces and filming without consent, and refused to show a badge or identification card. Later, the commune chief of police arrived and entered the home to warn activists to cooperate with the authorities.
DAY 13: Non-Violent Protest Training
DAY 14: Environmentalism has a long way to go
A landscape of assaulted sensibilities: urban and rural, displaced and detached, Cambodian people literally throw trash out the windows of their homes, or if they’re outside, into their windows.