This year’s UN-organised International Volunteer Day drew hundreds of creative young Khmers keen to have a brush with environmental issues
So many khmer people think our country isn’t polluted. but actually it is.
NUMEROUS young Cambodians hunched over variously shaped blank canvases, brushing bold primary colours onto the assorted textiles laid out at the Cambodia-Japan Corporation Center (CJCC) at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Mostly their creations depicted natural landscapes of flowers, trees, mountains capped with bright yellow suns and fringed by royal blue seas.
Chhan Dina, a 26-year-old art teacher from the International School of Phnom Penh (ISPP), was appreciative of how the activity offered a creative way of engaging with vital – and topical – issues.
The prevalence of environmental designs was no coincidence. Last Saturday’s workshop was one of multifarious initiatives organised for “Volunteering for our planet” – part of a campaign by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme to promote this week’s UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
The International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development (IVD) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1985. Since then, governments and social organisations have coordinated philanthropic activities – including rallies, parades and community projects – every December 5.
This year, the campaign’s Web site (www.volunteeringforourplanet.org) prompted enrolees to log the hours they spent volunteering between World Environment Day on June 5 and the IVD. “Volunteers started the global environmental movement, and we are an essential part of the solution to climate change,” said Flavia Pansieri, UNV executive coordinator.
“Taken on their own, a few hours of effort by an individual volunteer might not look like very much. But our campaign is demonstrating that the combined actions of thousands of volunteers around the world add up to a tremendous contribution to the global effort to address climate change.”
This year volunteers were participating in energy conservation in China; pollution management in Germany; water sanitation in Brazil; and biodiversity in the US. Meanwhile, 11-year-old Sok Pick Visoth, a student at Cambodia Advantage School, was absorbed with colouring in the flower he had just outlined on a white T-shirt.
“I just want other people to learn from my painting,” said the burgeoning art lover who claims to practice every day at home.
Another keen amateur, Ly Ratana, 20, of International Foreign Language, had just finished painting a tree on a huge banner. She said most of her fellow citizens don’t care much about their environment.
“So many Khmer people think our country isn’t polluted,” she noted. “But actually it is, because people are always throwing their rubbish on the roads.” She wrinkled her nose at the imagined stench of rotting trash, and suggested that all such waste should be efficiently recycled.
Primitive urban sanitation – and virtually nonexistent sanitation facilities in rural areas – is just one of the many eco-challenges blighting Cambodia. In addition, Phnom Penh suffers from air pollution; deforestation is rampant outside the capital; and some of the country’s coastal corals reportedly have been dynamited to smithereens by fishermen.
These are familiar issues to Pen Channy, 27, a UNDP staffer. But for IVD, she focused on admiring the way the younger members of the 600-strong volunteer squad were so keen to understand environmental topics.
“Actually I cannot possibly explain the issues to everybody today – but most of their images already fit our chosen topic,” Pen Channy said.
It seems that most of these budding humanitarians already get the picture.