There’s a buzz in the school yards of the nation’s major cities, summed up in one word: “Indonesia.”
Students have been watching television and reading newspapers and are awestruck that Indonesian students led the rebellion that forced former president Suharto from power.
“[Indonesian students] dared to do that because they thought their government did not have enough capacity to lead the country, and they needed to find a more capable government,” explained Chan Sophan, 18, of Phnom Penh. He had just won a pictorial contest sponsored by Unesco and the Ministry of Education for his meticulous drawing of a prosperous Cambodia.
After the presentation, he said even though change in Indonesia came out of rebellion, it was democratic, “because the people were able to express their ideas and make the changes they wanted.”
Bun Chhieng, a student at a private school in Siem Reap town, had similar views. “People want their rights,” he stressed. “Just like in Indonesia. That came from students demonstrating.”
None of the students advocated rebellion, but most were aware that students had spearheaded change in a neighboring nation. It came as news to 16-year-old Man Sophea, representing her school in Anlong Vill, in rural Battambang province. Her concerns were more immediate. “A lot of people there are being injured by mines,” she said. “To develop the country, they must first end the war and demine the land.”
In Siem Reap, Sophea, 13, considered the aftermath of peace. “We don’t need all these soldiers; we should set up worker-owned factories for them, factories where there is no corruption and the workers get all the money they earn instead of having to give it to the manager. The factories should have schools for the workers’ children and it should help the simple soldiers.”
Sophea’s classmates acknowledged that too much of Cambodia’s wealth is in the hands of too few. “Everyone in Cambodia must humble themselves,” Sambat said.
And if they don’t? “It is for all Cambodians to stand up against such people and take responsibility for stopping them—all Cambodians.”