“THE cold wind comes, boys and girls begin to feel the need for love; they decide to taste it, to toy with it.” These are the first words of Life Debt, a poem detailing the woes of teenagers who fall in love while still at school.
The poem was written by Thol Toma, a 20-year-old majoring in psychology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. He began writing short stories and poems while at high school in Siem Reap.
One story Thol Toma wrote about good governance won third prize in Youth Engaged in Good Governance. When he came to Phnom Penh in 2009, he turned more towards poetry to alleviate the loneliness of living by himself in a new city.
“I couldn’t find any friends when I came here, so I wrote poetry to express how I felt,” he says.
Sitting on a rock, Toma recalls with pride that Life Debt was well received by many people, including his friends and his supervisors at Pour un Sourire D’Enfant (PSE), an NGO where he works as a volunteer. He also received compliments from veteran Khmer author Keo Chanbo.
He wrote the poem, he says, after observing more and more Cambodian young people neglecting their studies for romance, skipping school and embracing the materialism associated with depictions of true love on television.
Life Debt is just one work among many in Tol Toma’s growing oeuvre, including short stories and poems entitled Hands and Friends, Preah Kun, Tear Blood, Wave of Life and Miss You My Dear, all intended to encourage positive thinking and self-improvement among young people, especially in the areas of love and romance.
He hopes his writing will benefit young Cambod-ians. He advises them to stick to their studies, taking extra courses beyond the required curriculum, searching the internet for general knowledge and building a network of positive influences, rather than getting wrapped up in love affairs and going for walks.
“They use their precious time for useless things; they may enjoy it now, but it will ruin their whole life,” Tol Toma says.
In his interview with LIFT, Toma also suggested that students should form the habit of writing in their free time, to aid the development of critical thinking. It was this habit, he says, that won him a scholarship to study psychiatry in Switzerland for one year, and another seven years in Germany.
“When I write, I think a lot, and I’m able to include these thoughts in letters to scholarship committees,” Tol Toma says.
“I suggest that teens use their time wisely. If they have free time, they should be doing something to improve themselves or society.”