MORE than 40 monks from Kampong Chhnang province who are members of the Association of Buddhists for the Environment (ABE), recently took to the streets in a Peace Walk to increase local villagers' awareness of environmental issues.
As the megaphone bellowed out its message asking villagers to protect the environment by planting trees, the locals who joined the procession received blessings, saplings and ‘good deeds' from the Kampong Leang district monks.
"In the Buddhist religion, anyone who plants a tree will receive a good deed. So we give saplings to the villagers and use Buddhism to educate people about the importance of planting trees," said Sun Sokhen, chief monk at Saray Rotanaram pagoda and member of ABE.
As the procession moved slowly through two villages at the foot of Krengley Mountain, whole families of villagers gathered at the side of the road to receive the monks' blessings along with saplings to plant in their gardens.
"We use the Peace Walk to bring attention to the environment. People are Buddhist here and trust our message," said Hiek Sopheap, executive director of ABE.
Before the monks started "action against the exploitation of the forest", some villagers made charcoal of the trees, and several times a year would start forest fires to trap animals. The trees were also cut down to make space for fields, said Sim Soklim, project officer of ABE.
"Three years ago you could see 10 to 20 oxcarts a day driving trees away, but now we only see a couple oxcarts per week," Sim Soklim added.
At first, the villagers questioned how they could earn money if they were not allowed to exploit the surrounding nature. "We had to make the villagers understand that they could survive without damaging the land," said Sim Soklim.
ABE, in collaboration with the UN Development Program and the Small Grants Program under the Global Environment Fund, has helped villagers to start sustainable fishing and mushroom-farming operations. Some of the poorest families in the area were given seeds to grow vegetables.
Sun Sokhen is happy with the result of the project, and has vowed to continue working for the environment. "We want to protect natural resources for the next generation."