Ever since urban centres were formed in Cambodia, usually around centres of trade and industrythere has been an understanding gap between people living in the rural areas and people who became accustomed to life in the city.
Ethnic groups tended to stay in the rural areas, and because they have been separated from places like Phnom Penh, they are seen, and often see themselves as foreigners in their own country when they come to the capital city.
In order to facilitate a greater sense of understanding and community between rural and urban populations, Khmer Community Development, officially established in 2005, invited 750 youth from 7 minority groups in Cambodia to join each other for a weekend of dialogue, activities and developing relationships.
Ngach Pheaktra, a tenth grader from Mondulkiri province, took part in the camping activity and said that, because this was his first trip to Phnom Penh, he sometimes felt like an outsider.
“I feel strange walking along the buildings and houses here. They are all made of brick, while our houses back in our villages are made of wood,” he said, adding that his home doesn’t have too many mosquitoes and he rarely goes on difficult journeys, but his homeland does have mountains, trees and wild animals.
Ngach Pheaktra says Phnom Penh seems much more dangerous, with all of the vehicles moving around the city. “I do not feel secure at all when I am in Phnom Penh. I heard of robbery and rape,” he said. “Compared to Phnom Penh, my village is much better off and safer,” he added.
For Kham Sopheap, a 17-year-old and twelfth grader from Rattanakiri province who is part of one of the ethic minorities in the area, told Lift that she can hardly breathe in Phnom Penh, unlike here village where there are plenty of trees and therefore lots of fresh ait. As a child, she faced a discrimination from students who asked her why she even came to school when she could not speak any Khmer. By the time she was eight, however, she was able to speak Khmer well enough to converse with her classmates.
“There are some things I like about Phnom Penh and other things I don’t like,” she said. “I like it for its amusement parks and the Royal Palace, but I certainly do not like when Phnom Penh is too crowded.”
Lat Bunart, an eleventh grader from Ratanakiri, said that she feels like Phnom Penh is a place only for wealthy people, whereas her village doesn’t require people to be rich. “People in my village are so friendly and welcome the poor and the rich, but people here seem so busy with their businesses and work,” she said. “In our village we spend the day farming and have much more free time to enjoy life.”