Almost everyone has seen James Cameron’s movie, “Avatar,” but how many people realize that all over the world there are indigenous people fighting similar battles… just like the Na-vy people in the film?
Prey Lang’s “avatar” communities are fighting to save the forest, not just for their own sake but for the sake of Cambodia and the world.
Cambodian farmers and fishers, around the country, have noted that widespread deforestation has been followed by environmental changes including unpredictable weather, periods of drought and flood, declines in ground water and soil fertility, changes in insects, and loss of biodiversity, including foods and medicinal plants.
“Too many forests have gone already,” Vong Phan, a 56-year old grandmother from Stung Treng. “We cannot lose another one, especially one as important as Prey Lang.”
In the early 2000s, Prey Lang communities began advocating for Prey Lang’s conservation. Together with other forest communities, they were instrumental in pressuring the government to end large-scale commercial logging. In 2004, with at least a temporary reprieve for Prey Lang, several communities agreed forest rules and attempted cooperation for protecting the forest.
In 2007, the Prey Lang Network began to emerge. Spanning most of the traditional forest villages around the forest, the Network has members from all four Prey Lang provinces.
“It is not reasonable to think only about the areas of the forest close to us,” Sim Sean, 36, of Kampong Thom said. “We must think about the forest as a whole. Would you say to someone in danger, I will save your life but only your heart. We agree to cut off your arms and legs because they are not important. No, we would save try to save the whole person.”
With that in mind, many Prey Lang communities have agreed their own forest use rules and cooperate on forest patrols to discourage illegal activities. They raise their own funds to do so.
“If we don’t take care of the forest, who will?” Pok Hong, a Preah Vihear mother of 5 children, asked. “We’ve borrowed the forest from our children. We must protect it for them.”
Since 2009, the Prey Lang Network has petitioned the government numerous times to save the forest. They have volunteered their network as co-managers of the forest.
Their actions have included both local and national-level events. Inspired by the film “Avatar,” they attracted national and international attention to Prey Lang in colorful demonstrations in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Network members have also:
“This forest is important for everyone,” Phai Vun Leang, 48, asserted. “Without forest, there is no life. In the Kuy language, Prey Lang means “our forest.” This forest is for everyone. Prey Lang is our forest but it is your forest, too. You can help save it.”