Empowered Cambodian students look to the future

Anthropologist Dr Kate Senior is a senior research fellow with the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin. She travels widely to conduct her research, most recently spending a month at the University of Battambang, north-west Cambodia.

Here Kate ran a research project with students from the Faculty of Sociology and Rural Development. From the perspectives of the young people themselves, the project explored the lives and well being of young Cambodians. Kate taught the students various methods to comment on their lives and social conditions, thus empowering them to influence the enormous economic, political and cultural changes currently occurring in Cambodia.

The students learnt and practised in-depth interviewing, observation and effective note taking. Once confident with the theory, they were keen to embark upon a project. Kate asked them to each produce a photo story using a disposable camera. The selected images and accompanying text were to describe the students’ lives, their concerns and their hopes for the future.

The timing of Kate’s trip was particularly opportune, occurring during the run-up to the Cambodian national election. The students’ photographs therefore reflect a period in which young people found that they had a voice that both sides of government needed to take seriously.

The results were extraordinary and reflect the thought and planning that the students put into their work. Some wrote their stories in English, while others wrote notes in Khmer and then recounted their stories to Kate. Students with very good English assisted those who were less confident.

The insights into the lives and challenges faced by young people in Battambang province were compelling. The students were determined to achieve a university education, despite sometimes experiencing significant hardship. Other key themes were issues of modernity versus traditional Khmer culture, access to quality health care, the involvement of young people in gangs, the lack of employment opportunities and the threat of human trafficking.

Kate has compiled the students’ stories and is preparing the resulting book, Focus: Cambodia through our eyes, for publication. Below is Heng Pisey’s story. His contribution radiates the optimism and fun of youth and emphasises the determination by many young people in Cambodia to attain a good education.

I am Heng Pisey and I come from Prey To Toeung II Village, Bovel Commune, Bovel District, Battambang Province. Now I am living in Battambang City and I am a student of the University of Battambang. I am in year three.

I am studying a major in Rural Development and when I finish from my studying, I want to work for an NGO to support me to do something and then I will run a business by myself.

In my free time, I sometimes do research with my friends and my teachers, like research about financial living of life everyday. Sometimes I do assignments with my friends and reading books, searching the Internet, listening to music and taking trips.

In the future I want to run a good business by myself and I want to be living with my partner and my family.

Party at school

These girls are having a small party at school. Cambodian people don’t have birthday parties; this is foreigner culture. She is really happy with her friends for the birthday party. She can’t afford a big cake.

I don’t think this is good in class, it’s too noisy. But it is good for her, she is happy.

Doing assignment with friends

This is a picture of students doing their assignment in class with their friends. They are working together to get ideas. Now they are students, but in the future they want to get some good work, especially with an NGO.





Listening in class

This student is listening to the teacher explaining the lesson to everyone in the class. He is paying attention. He hopes to get good work and to run his own business. I want to know how some students can study and pay attention, how they can make it. What do they decide to do: make noise or listen and learn?