Sothea is Kreung. She has a three-year-old daughter. Her husband is Khmer. She went through CARE’s MLE program as a child. As an adult she has worked for various NGOs including CARE. Her work has included creating radio plays which are broadcast across the indigenous communities in their local language. The plays focus on themes like changing gender dynamics and ending gender-based violence.
I studied in both Kreung and Khmer in Grades 1 to 3, then from 4 to 6 it was only in Khmer, but the important thing was that whenever I didn’t know a Khmer word I could just ask my teacher and that helped me learn. My mum always encouraged me to learn both languages so I could find a job.
When I was in Grade 8 I started volunteering for an Indigenous NGO and I have volunteered with a few others since then. I worked for CARE for nine months in 2015 and now I work at International Cooperation Cambodia, where I’ve been for one and a half years.
One organisation I worked with produced a radio program in Kreung language which educated people about things like hygiene and gender-based violence. We also did audio plays and I did the voiceover for some of them. For example there was one about a father who is convinced by a group of friends to drink every day and when he gets home he hits his wife. The violence had a big effect on his children and they didn’t go to school. Village security took him to the village meeting place and warned him that if he didn’t stop he would be arrested. In the next episode he’s getting better, the family is getting happier and he’s helping his wife with the chores.
In my village people hear the radio show and they say “oh, that’s Sothea’s voice on the radio! You know, what she’s saying is right.” It’s encouraged people to change their behaviour. It’s hard to describe, I’m very proud.
I’ve also helped make videos and audio recordings of our cultural songs and arts. It’s really important to preserve our language, culture and identity.
I volunteered on a forest conservation project and I also help community members write letters in Khmer and file complaints and reports to stop companies taking over the land that we farm using traditional methods.
When I was at CARE I was Project Assistant for a social accountability project, doing the community scorecard. We collected feedback from the community about health services and gave it to the provincial government. This helped improve the referral system for when sick people and pregnant women are referred from their village health centres to hospitals.
I don’t think I could do my job if I didn’t go to a multilingual school. Speaking Kreung is very important for my work, because we bring lessons from the NGOs to the community and then we bring the community’s views back to the NGOs. When we go to the communities, if Kreung was my second language then people wouldn’t be as confident to speak to me about their issues. Kreung and Khmer are very different languages so if we only collected information from people in Khmer a lot of the meaning would be lost. And it’s also useful to speak Khmer because I can communicate with people who can’t speak Kreung, like other staff or people from other organisations. If I didn’t know both my job would be hard. I’m very happy that I do.
Once there was a community forum about land title problems. I was on stage and I was speaking in both languages, and the community leaders were really impressed by this and it made them want their daughters to go to the multilingual schools.
I do this work because I want to learn and gain experience from these organisations that help my community. I want to strengthen the knowledge of my community, for example on the way land titles work so they can keep their land for cultural practices.
I also want to showcase the value of knowledge – when we have knowledge and education we can have jobs and travel. Some children in my village wanted expensive sports uniforms and their parents couldn’t afford them so they took them out of school. My sister’s a teacher, and she told the parents: “educated people get to use their brains, the others just have to work hard all day in the sun.”
Another story like this is a 13-year-old boy I know. He quit school to work in a rubber plantation because it paid him $5 a day. I told him, you can do that now, but in the future a machine might be able to do your job, and if you have no education, where will you be then? He went back to school after we had this conversation.
My parents are very proud of me. All through school there was support from CARE, and also my parents worked very hard to support me, like making baskets and selling them at the market to get money for uniforms. Now I am able to pay my parents back and support them when they need it or if they get sick.
I’m not rich but we have income from my work and our cashew nut farm. My husband is a farmer. He’s Khmer. We might never have gotten together if I didn’t speak Khmer. Mostly I speak Kreung to our daughter but also Khmer. I want her to learn more languages – Jarai, Tampuen and also English. I’ve noticed many tourists come to Cambodia and also a lot of professional work needs English.