February 3rd, exactly six months ago, marked week two of an unpredictable and intensely reflective journey, which has exposed our individual perspectives adorned with privileged notions born from our lit surroundings. On this day in New York, we collectively compiled 21 questions on the chalkboard based on our emerging understanding and initial impressions of the history, politics and current affairs of our now beloved Kampuchea. Yet to be unveiled were assumptions of individualism, universal concepts of human rights and education, integrity of social justice work, and sound legal structures.
Some notable questions live behind a year of class notes framed by vigorously underlined epiphanies, to-do lists that snake-like rivers around scattered text, and doodled faces peaking from the margins to speculate the chaos within my single aging journal.
– How has relatively low population density contributed to making people rather than natural resources the most valued resource?
– How do we think about Cambodia’s future with 50% of the population below that age of 23?
– How does Cambodia today understand its own identity?
– How has Cambodia’s existence as a rural society impacted its history and politics?
– What is the role of foreign aid and international development from the perspectives of the government, educators, foreign aid workers, and civil society?
– What is the relationship between colonialism and Cambodia?
– What role does media and journalism play in telling a story about Cambodia?
– What influence does education have on social infrastructure?
– How does the physical presence of former Khmer Rouge leaders impact how development is perceived and approached by local and non-local actors?
The inquisitiveness we shared from the beginning has surely held strong as we navigate together through a new set of questions drawn directly from our engagement with community partners, field projects, and local organizations. Questions, both asking and forming, have not only remained a significant facet of our communal learning process, but also served as a theme for understanding development, education, and information sharing in Cambodia. Embedded assumptions have also been extracted from our recent questions, sometimes enhancing their intent, other times deeming them entirely irrelevant to uncharted terrain.
Some newly scribbled inquires decorate the bibliographic page of a recently dissected monitoring report regarding media censorship. Of the legible ones, a few consistently occupy my thoughts:
Which voices acquire and transmit information with more lenience than others, and why? From the other side, who has access to, takes interest in, and feels as if they have a stake in national media? How can intrinsic common ground between youth be utilized in thinking about Cambodia’s future? What advantages, insights, and unique knowledge and perspectives do youth here and elsewhere have that can be pooled to create change? What does communication look, sound, and feel like in Cambodia, particularly within the settings of development, education, agriculture, and social life?
Answers have not been sought, but pondered with each other in our daily transit. Informal conversation over delicious breakfasts at Seven Candles, quick head turns during our dusty bike ride to the city dorm, shared post-seminar revelations that surface as we return to our rooms spinning, and weekly group chats while sipping exquisite fruits juices, have all opened diverse spaces to share common observations and inquiries. I’m excited to delve deeper into our varying perspectives and stirring questions and listen for the commonalities that they inherently share, as well as newly acquired findings and assumptions. Even if we do not unearth answers in this remaining week, I’m confident that the seminar atmosphere and friendships we’ve built in this short time of working alongside one another will sustain cross-disciplinary dialogue and collaboration for many years to come.