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Peace walk assumes modern tone

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090402_05.jpg

Preah Sdach district

Prey Veng province

Started in 1992 to unify a factionalised country under the bond of Buddhism, the historic Dhammayietra march has evolved to teach modern social, environmental issues.

Photo by:
ZOE HOLMAN

Monks on the 19th Dhammayietra Peace Walk in Prey Veng province's Preah Sdach district on Sunday. 

MORE than 100 monks, nuns and villagers from around the country walked across Prey Veng province in a 14-day campaign that finished Monday to promote peace and awareness of the environment, domestic violence and health care.

Participants in the 19th Dhammayietra Peace Walk marched 176 kilometres through 10 districts, receiving hospitality from monasteries and village offerings along the way in return for water blessings and education.  

"We are here to promote a mindset of peace and non-violence", said Dhammayietra organiser and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Oddom Van Syvorn.

"Our aim is to educate people directly about social and environmental problems through teachings to villagers and primary school students."

The Dhammayietra volunteers' organisation was founded in 1992 when the renowned Cambodian Maha Ghosananda, or "Buddha of the Battlefields", walked defiantly through Khmer Rouge-controlled territory during the historic repatriation of refugees from Thai border camps. When Ghoshanda retired from the Dhammayietra in 2000, Oddom Van Syvorn, a laywoman, was selected by the founder to assume leadership of the pilgrimage.

Through the walk, Oddom says she will continue advancing the Buddhist precepts preached by Ghosananda. "We celebrate the knowledge of monks once a year with their daily teachings in schools along the Dhammayietra [route]," she said.  

Organisers see the culturally specific format of Dhammayiatra as key to its effectiveness.

Before the rule of the Khmer Rouge, Volkmar Ensslin, managing director of education NGO KiKam (Kids In Kampuchea), said "the Buddhist community supported monks with food and in return, the monks gave religious teachings."

Dhammayietra propelled monks back into this role, she said, but they also discuss secular issues such as HIV/AIDS, the environment and domestic violence.

"Monks as culturally respected figures are perfect for this education," she added.

Nan Sarith, from Siem Reap province, was among the monks pouring themselves into the strenuous walk. "I've attended to help the Cambodian people develop", he said. "The teachings of the Goshananda can encourage the population to move on from a mentality of victimhood of the past."  

This year's Dhammayietra included participants both young and old.  

"I never walked more than 1 kilometre from home," said 73-year-old Nhem Pheang, who attended a fortnight ago and continued on the route until the final day. "But every day here I've walked about 10 to 15 kilometres, and I am still happy and strong."

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