Students Recognize Their Power to Spearhead Global Change

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.”

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