Words. Language. Broken down into definition and constructed into meaning. The potential to synthesize the world or devastate it. Persuasion. Capacity. Propaganda. The words an individual believes they have the aptitude to employ, what they have a right to say. Tradition’s repugnant clash with ‘success,’ littering Cambodia with the remnants of its discord. Here are your options. We have to be realistic. This is what your life will look like.
New Hope is a Cambodian NGO located in the Mondul Bai district within Siem Reap province. They frame themselves as a ‘grass roots’ organization striving to provide ‘free education for all,’ particularly the children of a ‘broken community of army families, sex workers, and displaced parents.’ Logistically, the organization provides schooling for approximately 600 children in various disciplines, including computer skills, English, math, sex education, and sewing. Despite a newly inaugurated project to open a public school in partnership with the national curriculum, New Hope’s educational methodology contains no instruction in Khmer, only English. Their defense of this strategy is fair, albeit disheartening. The paramount concern for these students post-graduation is to gain steady employment and earn a livable wage, in Siem Reap that is predominantly associated with tourism. In the pervasive interlocking of education and money, New Hope was left with a choice and English proved victorious. Cloaked in logic and rationality, New Hope’s decision illuminates a conditioned and extensively inveterate dynamic. As the languages of success and tourism merge into synonymy, the lens through which the youth of Cambodia are prompted to view their own potential becomes increasingly opaque. The terminologies surrounding their futures blend into uniformity, and consequently manageability.
In her work The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics, author Tania Murray Li writes that structures often move to change emotions towards an ‘issue’ rather than targeting the source itself. In the same vein, by changing the landscape of language, various apparatuses are constructing the value of these people into acquiescent niches. By utilizing the ideals of self-determination and the promise of individual success, the State is given the opportunity to set the terms of achievement, to restrict the capacity of its population.
It’s not difficult to ascertain why this dynamic occurs. During the three weeks I’ve spent in Cambodia, I’ve observed abundant illustrations of grace, perseverance, intelligence, kindness and ambition, and for a government that appears to desire passive conformity, all of these serve as a threat. The truth of the individuals we encounter is mauled by a surging tongue of dominance. The frequent utterances of reality, slums, poor, disadvantaged, modernity, and tourism have crowded my ears since arriving in Cambodia. This onslaught is contrasted by the fact that I’ve heard the word ‘dream’ three times. The youth of Cambodia are not a cause, they are not to be lost or found. They are present, they are living, and they are capable. In a world willing to paint them as the residue of war, it is these people that have the opportunity to change the face of this nation.