The demonstration was so large, even Sambo the elephant got into it.
Wat Phnom’s 40-year-old pachyderm lumbered from Wat Botum to Wat Phnom and back, bearing two green signs with white Khmer lettering, reading “We want to live in the forest,” and “Please protect our shelter.”
This year’s crowd at the third annual World Environment Day fair was, like last year’s, into the hundreds, said Kit Whitney, Save Cambodia’s wildlife director. But this year offered an innovation from last year’s fair— a children’s fair complete with face painting, information booths, free soda and games.
“Last year, everyone had a great time at the parade, but it was kind of anti-climactic,” Whitney said.
Twenty-four NGOs participated this year, Whitney said.
The parade, which stretched about half a block, was led by 19 monks and school children carrying three large Cambodian flags and beating Khmer drums, all chanting environmental slogans. Sambo plodded in the middle, between two truckloads of children dressed in traditional Khmer outfits and homemade peacock, lion and other forest animal costumes.
Som Chaney, 21, a high school student from Dangkao district outside Phnom Penh, said he came to the event because he is committed to environmentalism.
“We have to join and welcome our environment. If there’s no trees, there’s no life,” Som Chaney said, before leading his fellow students in a raised-fist cheer of “Don’t destroy our trees!”
Despite the enthusiasm—and the noise—the event’s central message seemed a little lost on some of the students.
Sek Sopheak, a student at the NGO Friends, wore a bright red sampot with her hair pinned up. She said she got up at 6 am, but environment was not her first concern.
“I came here to dance,” she said.
A teenager named Sopheap, his face painted like a dark green leaf with the words “I love you” sprawled across it, asked passing NGO workers if they wanted to take his picture.
When asked why he had come, he repeated several times, “I don’t know.”
Ros Rattana, 13, a seventh- grader at Chaktomuk High School, dragged his foot back and forth in the thick dust when asked why he came to the parade. He said, smiling and blushing, that he enjoyed the exercise.
“I want Cambodia to have a beautiful environment, [but] I’m happy walking to Wat Phnom, the riverside, and the market,” he said.
Others, however, were a little more clear about the concept.
Sen Sophal, 17, an 11th-grader at Santho Muk High School, said she learned about the destruction of the Earth’s ozone layer in her classwork, and it worries her. She stood behind a large poster that read, “Love the environment, help plant trees.”
“The ozone’s layer has started shrinking because many trees are cut off and many factories depose a lot of smoke. That’s why it is very hot, and sometimes it is very cold,” she said.
Nuon Pech Ponlok, 18, an 11th-grader at Tuol Tompong High School, came with a dozen of his classmates. They said they care about logging and are worried about the loss of natural habitats. They carried a banner that read, “Agriculture depends on the forest.”
“With forests, we can live in a pure environment and animals can have shelter. We are here to campaign against logging. Farmers need to use wood for plows, fish traps, and boats, so, don’t export the log,” he said.
Amanda Bradley, coordinator of Mlup Baitong and one of the event’s organizers, termed the event a “great” success.
“We’re really happy so many people came,” Bradley said.
Even though many of the children were only dimly aware of the day’s purpose, Bradley said the environmentalist message would probably stick with them, if only because of the intensity of their labors.
“They had a lot of preparation,” she said, a few meters from where several teens were picking up scattered paper cups from the dust. “They put a lot of time into their costumes, anyway,” Bradley said, smiling.
© 2001 – 2013, All rights reserved.