Despite the United Nations intervention in 1992, massive amounts of international aid, and years of development work, food security remains a critical issue in Cambodia. This proposal aims to address the urgent issue of food security, while also responding to larger issues of empowerment, dependence, and sustainability. When the crucial issue of food security is addressed, its empowering effects are felt in the other paramount areas of health, education, and stability.
Specifically, this proposal seeks to address the issue of food security for students at the Srayang Dormitory in Northern Cambodia. Leaving their homes and families in Koh Ker, these students – the first group from their village to be promoted from primary school since 1979 – have traveled to the town of Srayang to live in a dormitory in order to attend secondary school. To continue with their education, these students must remain healthy and they must have food.
As students returned from Lang in Cambodia, the university’s international civic engagement program carried out over five weeks this past summer, we feel that our role must extend beyond the program and respond to matters encountered during our time in Cambodia. Our aim is not to parachute in and out, not to walk away, but to utilize the long-term relationships we have built to respond to the basic and essential matter of food security. We feel that our recent work with the students at the Srayang Dormitory and our relationship with the Ponheary Ly Foundation call for a program such as this.
Our solution is an organic gardening and composting program to be implemented at the Srayang Dormitory addressing the immediate issue of food security while establishing the garden as a safe space for knowledge sharing, community building, individual empowerment, and ground-up social change.
The program is simple: implementing sustainable design principles, a garden and compost system will provide students at the dorm with a secure source of healthy food. The function of the garden and the compost not only gives students at the dorm a wide array of practical benefits (cheaper food, eliminates need for expensive chemical fertilizers, etc.), but also an increasing degree of independence and self-determination. With the ability to grow their own food, students take new control over their futures. Suddenly, they are no longer too hungry to focus in school or too chronically ill to attend. Suddenly, they become powerful.
At the same time, by relying on local knowledge and placing the stewardship of the garden in the hands of the students rather than prescribing western ‘solutions’ for local issues, this program places individual empowerment as the central goal. By establishing a space where students are safe from Cambodia’s rampant child sex-trafficking, young leaders can explore their own agency in a very basic way. Our program is innovative in that it critically engages with the concepts of power and powerlessness. We can confidently tell you from experience: given a few inches of space and the smallest taste of empowerment, these students will change their world.