Dam Chanthy (left) with Seive Thaougn, the chief of the ethnic Jerai village Padol. Padol is in the process of applying for a Communal Land Title. The area the village is claiming includes parts of the Se San river. Photo by Patrick Brown/Oxfam America.
Dam Chanthy says things have changed a lot in her native Ratanakiri province. Rubber trees, standing in silent, unnaturally symmetrical rows across valleys and over the hills, cover what used to be ancient forests of exotic hardwoods. “The forest was very dense,” Chanthy, as everyone here calls her, says. “There was only the forest, the trees. The only exception was a few rice paddies, but if you wanted to clear the land and plant rice, you would clear the underbrush, and leave the big trees.”
Dam Chanthy (right) with staff at the Highlander Association headquarters in Banlung, Ratanakiri. Photo by Patrick Brown/Oxfam America.
In the 1960s and ‘70s Ratanakiri was a remote, wild province. In her forest home, Chanthy says “we would see wild boar, deer, and sometimes tigers would come at night and try to eat our chickens. We would never dare walk in the forest alone, and we would only go to gather firewood near our home.”
Kichwa women in Chirikyacu, Peru, work together to cultivate traditional crops. Photo: Percy Ramirez/Oxfam America
The more I learn about Oxfam’s work in South America—and I’ve learned a lot in recent months—the more impressed I am by the power of women.
Indigenous people in countries like Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador have experienced centuries of discrimination and exclusion. Even today, many remain trapped in poverty. That’s why Oxfam works with indigenous groups to protect their fundamental rights and increase their political and decision-making power.
While many groups face ethnic discrimination, indigenous women have to overcome gender bias, too. A recent Oxfam report found that although women in Peru made significant contributions to the indigenous peoples’ movement, they are still less likely to hold elected office, get an education, or earn a living wage. They also face new challenges in their traditional roles as food producers. “Women are feeling the effects [of climate change] more, because they are more tied to the earth,” said Nancy Iza Moreno of Oxfam partner group the Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (CAOI). “They are the ones who work in the gardens and in the fields.”
Trains in Tokyo paused. Sirens sounded. And children across the country quietly lit their paper lanterns.
These are just some of the ways Japan marked the anniversary of the 9.0 earthquake that set off a massive tsunami and nuclear disaster a year ago this Sunday.
Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Photo: Reuters/YOMIURI, courtesy Trust.org - AlertNet.
When reading about the anniversary this weekend, I stumbled upon a poignant photo gallery from The Guardian. One picture—a 7-year-old girl walking through the rubble where her house used to stand—really stuck with me.
I wondered what my own daughter would think in that moment. What would she ask me? What would I say?
Small-scale miners look for gold near Romtom. Photo by Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America
If you go to a meeting in the community of Romtom, don’t be surprised if you hear some contradictory information about the effects of industrial mining on the indigenous Kuoy people here.
A foreign-owned company is moving in to mine iron ore on nearly a thousand square kilometers of land, and taking up community-held land used for growing rice, as well as small-scale gold mining. The Kuoy people here are also concerned about the loss of forest land. The “spirit forest” is an integral part of their culture as well as an area where they gather nuts, fruit, and other products they can sell.
“So far we’ve had some issues between the company and community,” says So Sea, the commune chief and an ethnic Khmer. “But these have been resolved. Presently there are no problems.”
One minute later Ouk Kong, one of the elders of the Kuoy village here paints a different picture. “One area where we used to pan for gold has been lost to the company, and in another area we can’t plant rice anymore. It’s making life very difficult here.” Read the rest of this entry »
When Ines Santizo was a young girl her mother woke her up on the middle of the night and told her to get out of the house: Her stepfather was coming home in a drunk and violent state. Before Ines could escape, her stepfather kicked her in the face and broke her nose. “My mother thought I was going to die, there was so much blood,” Ines said. “I swore right then that I would never allow a man to treat me like that again.” Read the rest of this entry »
We’re just launching a new video called “Spirit of the forest” that features Chanthy Dam, a woman I met in northern Cambodia last September who is doing courageous work helping indigenous communities protect their land rights. Chanthy and many others in Ratanakiri province survived some of the most tumultuous decades in the 20th century in her country, so I asked her a lot of questions about her experience growing up there. In this post I want to share some of her personal story that did not make it in to the video or the magazine article coming out this week, they serve to round out the story of her life and her struggles:
Growing up in Ratanakiri
Chanthy grew up in a community called Andoung Meas, which means “Golden Well” in the local language.
“There are no words that can describe my childhood…I was so poor. My parents were farmers, they hardly earned enough to eat. My family was too poor and illiterate.
“The most delicious food we had was cassava leaves, my mother put them in a pot of boiling water with a lot of salt. It was our most delicious meal. The most delicious desert was ripe bananas, we put them in a hollow bamboo and cooked it. On special occasions my father would get a civet cat, we would grill it in bamboo like that.
“I saw people reading, and I asked if I could look at what they were reading…I wanted to read those letters. I looked at them and did not understand anything. I was maybe 12 or 13 at the time. I decided to teach myself to read, and I started to read to myself. But I could not write. I dropped it because we were so hungry, and I just had no time.
“In the late 70s Vietnamese soldiers were in the province, and they were growing cassava and sweet potatoes…we were struggling and did not have food and I did not understand why they had so much food… So I went in to their fields to steal some and they caught me and told me I should have just asked and they would have given me some. I realized it was bad to steal. And I told myself that when I grow up I would have a big farm and grow a lot of things and not be hungry.
Sap Lan grows rice in her village Lalai, in Ratanakiri, Cambodia. Photo by Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America
In Cambodia’s northern-most province of Ratanakiri, Sap Lan shows visitors her rice field. The indigenous Kavet woman says that normally by this time of September the plants are up to her waist. Late rainfall this year means her rice plants barely reach her ankle. She is counting on harvesting wild fruits and vegetables from the surrounding forest for food and to earn money to buy rice.
Indigenous people in this province like Sap Lan depend heavily on nature, especially rain and forest resources. Their community forest is thick with huge, magnificent trees, some as wide as five people joining hands in a circle. They soar into the sky. It is dark in the late afternoon in the woods, and when you break out into the rich light of the rice field, the bright green shocks your eyes.
There are 11 people in 29-year-old Lap’s extended family; all living in one small house near their 2.5-acre rice field. Last year they made up for a dry growing season and a shortfall in rice production by gathering the fruit from samrong trees. In some places people can pay $10 for a kilo of samrong fruit. The family earned enough to buy a motorcycle and fix up their house.
The struggle for survival here may become even more challenging: The family is hearing that a mining company is exploring for minerals in the area and that the company has a 20,500-acre concession from the government, granted without consultation or permission from the local people in the village of Lalai, on the edge of a large stream flowing into the Se San river, a tributary of the mighty Mekong.
Hanging bridge over the Rio Chixoy. Photo by James Rodtiguez/Oxfam America
From the hills above the Rio Chixoy, Guatemala, it’s hard to even tell there is a bridge across the river, but it is really there. Getting closer to it confirms its existence: It consists of 12 half-inch steel wires stretched across nearly one thousand feet between the high river banks, with wood slats wired unevenly into place. The entire thing wobbles back and forth, and bounces up and down, so as to make it hard to fit your feet firmly on the wood treads.
You don’t want to look down when walking on a hanging bridge such as this, but you have to in order to ensure your feet don’t just fall between the slats and into the clear space between the wires.
Oxfam America is a member of Oxfam, an international confederation of 17 organizations networked together in 94 countries, as part of a global movement for change, to build a future free from the injustice of poverty.
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