Speaking before a crowd of more than 100 in Phnom Penh on Saturday, 9-year-old Alexus Tith Phit told of a trip to the pagoda with his family, during which he saw a man walking along the river while holding a plastic bag in his hand.
“I didn’t think the man would drop the plastic bag, but he did,” he said. “He dropped it right into the river.”
Pollution was only one of the problems facing the world that Alexus highlighted in his talk, part of a TEDx event (independently organized TED talks) at the International School of Phnom Penh (ISPP).
After delivering a brief summary of some of the darkest hours of modern civilization—from the Holocaust in Europe to Pol Pot’s brutal rule of Cambodia and the destruction being done today by the Islamic State militant group—Alexus said there must be better way forward.
“Some people don’t care about each other. Some people only care about money and get too rich,” he said. “We must change this world to a better place, no matter how long it takes.”
Saturday’s series of talks, featuring 15 speakers from international and NGO-run schools in Phnom Penh, was the second such event at ISPP. While skirting the sort of politically sensitive issues—violence against activists and land evictees, namely—that saw the “grand finale” of the TEDx event canceled at Pannasastra University in 2012, this weekend’s event touched on plenty of serious topics.
Students spoke of suicide among teenagers, illegal fishing and alternative solutions to food insecurity, and more personal matters such as being part Korean and part British but a global citizen.
“You see my mother is Korean-American, went to the French school system…and moved back to the U.S. by the time she was 16, making her a third culture kid,” Ixana Hyun-Sack, a 12th grade student at ISPP, said during her talk.
“My father is English, but his grandparents were immigrants from Russia and Poland, so he doesn’t necessarily look like a typical English guy. And my sister is from Cambodia,” she added.
“I think we should change the question for the kids who choose to belong to many. Instead of asking them where they are from, ask them where they have been. I promise you, their responses would be a lot more exciting and much more worthwhile.”
Jiraphat Hemakiatikul, an 11th grader at ISPP who helped organize the event, said videos of the talks should be posted on TED’s website by next week.