Imagine a place where the one thing you very badly need is nowhere to be found. You are, unfortunately, at a loss. You have a fleeting memory of this thing. A dream, or a feeling, of a deep psychic absence. Ambiguous pain with nowhere to land. You can see where it might have come from, but not where it’s gone to. Though you have no tangible evidence of its existence, you feel it. It’s out there. Trauma unsealed. Dreams differed. An awkward empty chair in the center of a crowded room. A deafening silence in a hollow starved people. 14 million breaths held. A national spotlight empty. Ideals untended.
There seems to be a myth about this country that Cambodia is somehow missing an entire generation of young, inspired, and committed, leaders. These are the ones, they say, that don’t exist. They are the ones that would be needed to lead the country. They are the activists, doers, thinkers, and change makers that would offer some sort of a future to the millions without opportunity. They would bring hope and light to a land of darkness. They would make education and healthcare real. They would fight corruption and abuse. They would empower Cambodians to rise and determine their own destiny. They would catalyze the change so badly needed. They would have the answers, in a way foreigners never do.
To all the pessimists, critics, cynics, and burnouts who make whining assertions about the lack of young leadership, to all those who contribute to the notion of these “ones that don’t exist” – wake the fuck up. They are here. They are the 20-year-old only-female-reporter-in-the-entire-city with whom we met the other day. They are the young-monk-turned-Khmer-tutor-turned-revolutionary who quotes Nelson Mandela to us and is ready to change his country from the bottom up. They are the girls so committed to their education that they live away from their families and on $10 a month just to complete high school. They are the young women that educate each other about domestic violence and participate in panels to discuss what it means to be a strong Khmer woman. They are the high-school students sponsored by PLF who are literally making the first youth media in Cambodian history.
They very much exist, they speak the truth, they are crying out for recognition, and they will change this country one way or another.
Better start listening.