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Childhood dream brings Kay Leak to Bokor park

Childhood dream brings Kay Leak to Bokor park

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child.jpg

Last year, Kay Leak's childhood dream became a reality. Standing on top of Bokor

mountain he found the Khmer saying was true: he could really touch the clouds.

Kay Leak, left, and Kat Savan shake hands as they prepare to plant acacias in Bokor National Park.

Now, he is working with the local NGO Save Cambodia's Wildlife (SCW) to fight the

illegal logging and hunting that is threatening Bokor National Park. By making life

better for the people living there; he hopes to make them realize that what is good

for the wildlife is also good for them.

In a public ceremony on July 23, SCW opened a reforestation program in the village

of Prek Tnot, a community within the park, an hour's drive west of Kampot. In the

shadow of the mountain, representatives from SCW, the Ministry of Environment, provincial

authorities, the park management and the donors joined local villagers to plant the

first trees. The 60,000-tree plantation will consist of a mixture of native trees,

and acacias, which are seen as soil-enriching.

The new trees are much needed as the area has been exposed to years of illegal logging.

This has made the community vulnerable to the storms that torment the area. Houses

are regularly wrecked and crops destroyed. In the dry season, the winds mix fresh

and salt water, making rice farming impossible.

But the new trees will be more than just wind shields. Although formally under the

Ministry of Environment's control, the new plantations will be in a part of the park

that has been set aside as a Community Protected Area. This means that the 861 families

that are part of Prek Tnot community can benefit from the forest, cutting trees for

common use and harvesting mushrooms from the acacia.

The 2,000 hectare Community Protected Area of Prek Tnot is one of three similar zones

that SCW, the Ministry of Environment and the park management have set up in Bokor.

In the future, the plan is to create similar zones around every community in the

park.

Tek Kreung Vutha, under secretary from the Ministry of Environment, emphasized the

need for local help in conservation efforts.

"We can't work alone on this," he said "We need the villagers, we

must make them the friends of the park. In return we will encourage them to take

benefit of the forest."

When speaking to the villagers at the ceremony, Vutha acknowledged their negative

experiences of reforestation in the past. While their help had been welcome when

planting; it was usually someone else who benefited in the end.

"The ceremony today is about making the villagers understand that this time,

it is really their forest," Kay Leak said.

The reforestation is part of a bigger project that SCW has been running in the community

since last June, backed by their main funders, the US NGO Community Forestry International

and the German Development Service, DED. By increasing food security and providing

alternative incomes, SCW hopes to reduce community pressure on the park. The work

has included the introduction of new organic rice-growing methods and a system of

food sharing for rice, vegetables and meat. SCW has also encouraged the community

to develop eco-tourism.

Kat Savan is chief of the local community. He said he is pleased with the plantations

and the Community Protected Area and that he expects the village to be able to make

a good income collecting acacia mushrooms in the future. He also revealed that the

village planned to build a track to a waterfall within the community protected area.

By putting out a sign on the national highway and a donation box by the falls, he

hoped they would be able to make some extra money from tourists.

In a parallel effort, SCW has educated teachers, monks, children and ordinary villagers

on how to protect the environment. They have set up posters around the community

and distributed story books with environment-friendly messages. According to SCW

Director Lim Solinn, the organization has particularly tried to reach the younger

generation.

"Children are easier to convince to think in new ways. And they are the future

leaders."

After hard work by the project team, she is pleased to see this new awareness among

adults as well.

"Before, people used to say that they would protect the forest for our organization

if we helped them in return. Today, this woman came up to me and said that she was

so happy to protect it for their benefit and the generation to come," Solinn

said.

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