King Jayavarman VII had two wives, both sisters—one spiritual and one wise. And with their help he brought his people prosperity and peace. This is one of the stories that drives Outh Renne, a 26-year-old activist whose idea of forming a regional conference of youths for peace was realized this week.
Thirty-four activists from 10 countries joined nearly four dozen Cambodian youths Monday for a four-day meeting with the goal of building communication networks between their countries and finding formulas for peaceful change.
“Now in the nation there is not enough mindfulness,” Outh Renne said, standing beside statues of Jayavarman VII and his adviser-wives. “Now they think about money, about the job.”
Each country represented has its own obstacles that stand in the way of peace, whether it is physical fighting, as in Indonesia, or fights against what one Vietnamese youth called “social evils,” such as drugs.
In Cambodia, Outh Renne said, there is not peace, because most people don’t have peace of mind.
“All conflict comes from our mind,” he said. “If people had peace of mind, there would be no conflict. Is there conflict in Cambodia? I think conflict happens.”
After seeing such conflict, such as the protests after the 1998 general elections—where police beat people, shot into crowds and arrested students who were never seen again—Outh Renne set out to establish more peaceful means of conflict resolution.
“I’ve had this idea for a long time,” he said. Just getting young people together from the region to talk about the problems they face in their countries has been part of that plan for years, he said.
At this week’s conference, which is being held under the watchful stupas and statues at the Center for Culture and Vipassana in Takhmau, a large part of plans were realized.
Participants from Bangladesh, Burma, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, the US, Vietnam and Cambodia began with discussions about how to improve peace in the region.
By the first morning, despite the differences in each of their countries, many of the strategies were the same.
Ha Thi Lan Anh, 16, from Vietnam’s Young Journalists Group, said the most important aspect of the conference was the gathering itself.
“This is the first step: inspiration from one another,” she said. Vietnam’s difficulties from its past wars are no longer the main threat to peaceful living, she said. So young people in Vietnam do not worry about war or its weapons. Instead, they contend with drugs, violence against women, racial discrimination and other social problems.
“I’m here for social peace,” she said.
For Nai Yeup, 30, from Burma, the conference provided a chance to meet and share ideas with the region’s next generation.
“I’m most interested in meeting youth around Asia,” he said. “To make people think about the future of society on a youth level….So maybe one day all of these youths can reach one place and have an understanding of each other.”
Other conference participants shared similar optimism about the future—some with good reason. In Burma, the authoritarian government that has ruled since 1990 has opened dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Demonstrations in Indonesia brought down the government of Suharto. And “People Power” in the Philippines brought down former president Joseph Estrada, who was impeached on corruption charges.
Eventually, the entire region, indeed the planet, can become a peaceful place, said Tanya Cusi, from the Philippines. “I’m very optimistic about that.”