The Constructive Cambodian
TEDxPhnom Penh is taking place this
week and Tharum Bun and Colin Meyn are excited to hear some of the country’s best minds talk about their visions for the future
Tharum Bun is a freelance writer, blogger, and a digital media expert. He has been writing for Lift since the first issue.
So the Khmer Rouge took us from a place called Pursat to Koh Tîev, which is across the border from Vietnam,” recounted Sophal Ear, the first speaker of Cambodian ancestry to take the stage for a TED talk, in July of last year. “There, they had a detention camp where alleged Vietnamese would be tested language tested and my mothers Vietnamese was so bad that, to make our story more credible, she had given all the boys and girls new Vietnamese names. But, she had given the boys girls names, and the girls boys names, and it wasn’t until she met a Vietnamese lady who told her this, and than tutored her for two days, intensively, that she was able to go into her exam and, you know, this is a moment of truth; if she fails we are all headed to the gallows, if she passes we can leave to Vietnam, and she actually of course, I’m here she passes.”
Although Sophal Ear’s speech is not among the most popular TED talks, ranked just 575 out of 770 total TED talks on TED.com, thousands of people have still viewed his video on the site, and thousands more elsewhere on the internet. While it my be a stretch to say that a spot on TED’s stage guarantees that you will reach the masses, there is little doubt that Sophal Ear, and his 769 fellow speakers, are able to capture, and often enlighten, a wider audience than if they hadn’t graced the stage of TED talks.
With this in mind, it is unlikely that any of the speakers this weekend will overcome Daniel Pink’s speech on “the surprising science of motivation,” which has been watched hundreds of thousands of times, it is a rare opportunity for Cambodians to step on to an international stage on their own terms; not as heroes or victims, but as intelligent and engaged citizens of the world.
While only a few of the thirteen speakers slated for this weekend’s TEDx event at Northbridge Academy in Phnom Penh were witness to Pol Pot’s brutal rise to power, they collectively represent some of the brightest observers of modern day Cambodia, a place that has no shortage of stories worthy of international attention, yet, is off the radar of Western news outlets, save for times of massive human casualties or major decisions in the Khmer Rouge; stories which do little to change the view of Cambodia as a seemingly hopeless casualty of the cold war era. Given the global reach of TED.com, speakers should feel the responsibility to tell Cambodian stories in a way that evokes hope and admiration from an international audience, rather than pessimism or pity.
Against this backdrop of the country’s dark past and present, an audience limited to just over 100 people “will have a chance to hear 11 different perspectives on what it takes to build a positive future for yourself, your community, and our world,” wrote one of the organizers, Daniela Ruby Papi, in an email about the event.
“There will be opinions from young Khmer people, successful local change-makers, and international social entrepreneurs who will all share their ideas about what it will take to build the future they imagine.”
While this TEDx event, originated from TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design), a conference that brings together noted people from the around the world to share fascinating ideas, it has some notable differences form most of the conferences held around the world, under Ted’s wide umbrella, which originated in Long Beach.
One is that the organizers are all from other countries, working with civil society organizations or other socially minded projects. Of the 13 speakers, a few were nominated by online forms on the events site, tedxphnompenh.com, but others were selected by the organizers, which comes as no surprise once you have looked at the list.
Although it would be ideal for Cambodians to select all of the speakers who will speak to them about improving their country, TEDxPhnom Penh is already among the more innovative of TED talks, as it is often the case that organizers have sole control over who gets to take the platform. Given their stated mission of facilitating the initial exchanges of ideas that will lead to cooperation toward a better Cambodia, it is almost necessary for them to hand over the reigns to Cambodians, particularly youth.
There are three speakers, who might accurately be called youth, that will stand behind the lectern at TEDx this weekend. Lift’s other senior writer, Kounila Keo will speak about the power of blogging, Sithen Sum, a true entrepreneur, will speak about the importance of educating yourself, and Channe Suy will speak on how change in Cambodia must begin with sharing (for a full run down of speaker, speech titles, and brief bios, check out page 7).
Although three speeches may seem insignificant, it is quite a step in Cambodia to see that people are willing to consider the ideas of the youth, and, perhaps more importantly, youth are willing to challenge themselves, and each other, on an intellectual level.
Despite there being some noted people slated to speak, and some fascinating subjects are sure to arise, Daniela admitted that it was difficult for them to generate interest among a group unfamiliar with TED, or any related website.
The speeches will range from 4-18 minutes, with one of the longer spots given to Prim Phloeun, who heads Cambodian Living Arts. While it is often unclear what a TED talk will really be about until the speaking begins, it would be a safe bet that Prim Phloeun, who sees the arts as becoming, increasingly, Cambodia’s signature overseas. He also said he envisions a cultural renaissance in Cambodia in the year 2020. It will be interesting to find out how that will come about. Perhaps we will know once the TED videos are posted.
Also true to theme of this first year of TEDxPhnom Penh to thrive to spread the ideas of building the Kingdom’s future, two other young women will be at the epicentre of this enlightening event. A technologist by training, Suy Channe thinks that the day-long event with presentations, performances, and talks this week “will help to bring out ideas from people in Cambodia that we didn’t really have before,” she said.
After months of planning , it is finally time for TEDx to happen. The question is no longer “can this happen?”, the question is, “will it live up to the intelligent and engaging precedent that has been set elsewhere.”
If you are a regular reader of this magazine, you should have no doubt that youth, along with the more senior speakers, can express ideas in a brilliant, meaningful way. We hope they do, and we can’t wait to learn from what we hear.