Pok Hong is an indigenous Kuy activist who has been instrumental in the campaign to save the Prey Lang Forest. EarthAction recently sponsored her visit to the United States as a delegate to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. She is currently continuing her tour of the U.S. and meeting with officials in Washington D.C. If you would like invite Hong to speak at your meeting, event, or for a media publication, please email contact[at]earthaction.org. Read the interview below to get to know Hong and why she's fighting to save the Prey Lang.
Thank you to the Prey Lang Network for sharing this interview with us.
Image Left: Pok Hong, Indigenous Kuy Activist
Why is PL important to you?
Prey Lang forest is life itself. It is central to the lives of indigenous people. If we lose the forest, we lose the lives of all of us who are part of the forest. Prey Lang is full of bio-diversity. When we lose the forest, we lose life itself. We can never get back what is destroyed when the forest is lost.
Why is PL important to the Cambodia?
The loss of Prey Lang would contribute to climate change, floods, droughts and food shortages. Many Cambodians depend on Prey Lang to survive. We look for food in the forest, where no chemicals or pesticides have been used. The forest provides us with medicine which we could otherwise not afford and resins and other non-timber forest products which we sell for profit. Without the forest, many of us have no livelihoods. Like many forests Prey Lang is a rainmaker. All around the country we have noticed that when we lose forests, we lose critical rain particularly in the dry season. Then when rainy season comes, deforested areas tend to flood and have been badly affected by storms. Prey Lang is important in local climate regulation and for our water and food security.
Why is Prey Lang important to the world?
Prey Lang offers immense treasures to the people of the world.. . miraculous plants, wildlife, and the knowledge of indigenous forest communities. The forest enriches us and protects us. It’s a place we can all learn from. This is why we call Prey Lang “our forest.” By sustaining Prey Lang we can support a different kind of development. One that is more respectful and inclusive of nature, indigenous people, and the poor. Instead of using up the forest, we use the forest to build our future. Prey Lang is a place of spiritual importance and ancient heritage. The forest is full of sacred, hidden temples that cannot be seen with the eyes. I want people to come and learn about this.
The government has prevented us from protesting and advocating our land rights. We need people to understand that we have the right to speak and we need them to help challenge the governments’ attempt to control us. We need your support to save our homes and our way of life. We need you to speak out about the violence and intimidation used against us. We are not afraid of this but we know that if the world does not acknowledge what is happening to us, we will be increasingly oppressed and the forest and the forest communities will be lost forever.
I want foreign governments who value democracy to also speak up for our rights. They should not just give money for development projects that end up harming people. We need donors to negotiate with the Cambodian Government to ensure that development is inclusive and that it does not violate people’s rights, take their land, or destroy the forests and rivers.
The time to fight to save Prey Lang is now. This is OUR forest, OURS all of OURS. This is not just about the Prey Lang Network. We are happy to see that other organizations and people are getting involved. Groups like the fishers downstream. Even people in Phnom Penh, who live far from the forest but who are starting to recognize its value. It’s time for the world to get involved too.
Prey Lang is important for sustaining the regional economy not just of Cambodia but also downstream in Vietnam. The forest provides fundamental support for food and water security, not just locally but downstream as well. Prey Lang is a symbol for all we are losing. Not just this one forest, all of our forests. We are also worried about the dams that are being built, especially the Lower Sesan 2 in Stung Treng. We are not scientists, but farmers, fishers and forest communities know that if we lose Prey Lang and other forests, and if the Lower Sesan 2 is built, then we may face disaster. Not just us around Prey Lang, but on the Tonle Sap, in Cambodia’s rice basin, and even in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. We should not just think about Prey Lang. We can see that Cambodia and even the region is now dominated by a model of development that is destructing everything on which our food and water security depend.
I am not advocating for my own benefit, although of course I want to save my life. I am advocating for all of the people living around Prey Lang, for all of the life of the forest, for all of Cambodia , and even for all of the people of the world. This is why I ask for your encouragement, support, and participation. We in the Prey Lang Community Network and all of our fellow activists around the country are like a big community that spans the forest and the country. We will fight until our rights are recognized and we can live in peace.
Lots of people think that after decades of war Cambodia is now at peace. We are not at peace. We will not be at peace until we are included in this country as valued citizens, until our rights our protected, until we see sustainable development that includes all of use and also protects the environment.
Please help us by signing the Prey Lang petition which can be found on the web page, you could also write a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen to urge him to prevent the destruction of the forest. There are other ways you can participate in our campaign and show your support. Please see our website.
Remember Prey Lang is your forest too.
Please tell us about the use of active non violence?
To commit violence would be wrong. Violence never solves problems. We must be patient but also active in confronting injustice.
What is your future vision for Prey Lang?
I would like to see Prey Lang and its people protected. I would like Prey Lang to be appreciated by the world for it beauty and significance. I want people to know that Prey Lang is as astounding as Angkor Wat. It should also be national symbol of our national identity. Prey Lang is a place we should revere and learn from. Protecting Prey Lang is like protecting the best of who we are as Cambodians. We believe that Prey Lang should be managed by the forest communities who have lived here for generations. We may not have much education but we are proving that we understand the forest better than the government and private companies. W e know we can protect and sustain it, if the government will support and work with us. In fact, we can see from how forests have been managed and lost in other parts of Cambodia, that co-management by the Prey Lang Community Network is Prey Lang’s only hope.
Why did the Prey Lang Network adopt an Avatar theme?
When we saw the movie, we recognized ourselves. We adopted the theme so that other people would recognize us, too. We want to send message to the world that we are the Prey Lang protectors. Before we did this, not so many people listened to us. You know these problems – they are happening in the real world and not just in movies. The government was surprised to see us dressed like “avatars.” Lots of Cambodian young city people love the Avatar movie. They didn’t realize that their country is the same as the movie. Now more young people are thinking about the environment.
Are you an “avatar?”
I think we can all be “avatars.” Not just indigenous people. Not just Cambodians. We are all peoples of the earth. We can all protect the Earth. We can all protect Prey Lang.