Witnessing the rampant deforestation going on around them, a group of schoolchildren from Kompong Speu province’s Oral district have decided to let the animals do the talking.
Nearly 100 schoolchildren from Chraruk Tiek, Po Meas and Trapeang Chor communes have written letters and drawn cartoons pleading for an end to illegal logging and land-grabbing in the district. Schoolchildren, monks and community leaders have also thumb-printed a petition to similar effect.
“Thank you very much for stopping the tree-cutting,” says a cartoon rhinoceros in a drawing signed by a child named Hong. “I am happy that I can see the animals now,” says the illustrated rabbit by the rhino’s side.
In another cartoon, a 13-year-old girl depicts loggers sawing trees in half and a poacher with a rifle taking shots at wildlife across a river.
Kari Grady Grossman, an American who founded a school in Chrauk Tiek in 2001, submitted the schoolchildren’s drawings and petitions to local media, local rights group Licadho and a representative of the SRP last month, according to her blog.
Oral has for years been subject to unchecked deforestation and logging, according to environmental groups. The district is home to Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, which was given protected status under a 1993 Royal Decree on Protected Areas.
“These community protected areas are under siege from many fronts,” said Mark Treacy, country director of Flora and Fauna International, citing the illegal charcoal producers, loggers and poachers who have made incursions into the forests.
Treacy described the valleys in the area as “chronic hotspots for illegal sawmills,” which he said FFI has regularly spotted during its monitoring trips.
He also described the children’s drawings as a natural reflection of their surroundings, but expressed skepticism about whether they would have any impact on government authorities and the situation in Oral.
Chem Sari, governor of Oral, acknowledged that villagers in the area are resorting to illegal logging, but attributed this to poverty and ignorance.
“It is difficult to control the situation because people are poor and poorly educated. We cracked down on a number of occasions and had the villagers educated,” he said.