Monks launching a project in the Cardamoms. Photo: CI - Wayne McCallum
After years of suppression under the Khmer Rouge and the unrest that followed, Cambodian people are rebuilding a sense of community. And as in the old days, in both villages and towns the re-emerging centres of community life tend to be the pagodas. Today the monks and nuns are helping people claim the right to education, and guiding them to understand, protect and improve their environment.
Association of Buddhists for the Environment (ABE)
Since 2005 the ABE has been creating a network of monks from all of Cambodia's 23 provinces working to strengthen the Sangha, or community of Buddhist monks and nuns, in order to protect the environment. The ABE was founded in Phnom Penh on 9th March 2005 with the presence of His Eminence of Sangaraja Bou Kry. It was supported by ARC as the consultants of World Bank Asia Faiths/Forest Initiative, and for the outreach workshops and training it worked closely with the conservation NGO, Mlup Baitong.
It is part of the Asian Buddhist Network, initially set up with the help of ARC and the World Bank, and run by monks for monks. It provides capacity building, training and advice for monks throughout the country. Under its director, Venerable Hiek Sopheap it also produces films and educational material, runs tree nurseries and also is engaged in a programme to ordain trees, as monks are ordained, in order to protect them and the forest around them.
In 2007 ABE linked with Conservation International-Cambodia to set up
activities focused on environmental education and awareness, as well as training for monks and local people, tree ordination, wildlife protection, Buddhism beliefs and stories about the natural environment. The target groups were all monks, community, students, local authorities and teachers.
"I think the program was very good," said CI Cambodia's country director Bunra Seng. "The participation from the local people was very enthusiastic and the messages on the program were sent out to the local community through the monks." Unfortunately, he added, the USAID funding for the project ran out at the end of June 2008.
Link here for more information about the ABE's projects and activities.
Link here for an August 2007 story about the ABE's work with Conservation International in the protected Cardamom Mountains.
Link here for a story about the ABE winning Audience Choice Award in 2007 in the Cambodian Environmental Film Festival.
Link here for PACT's biodiversity assessment of 13 community
forests in Oddar Meanchey Province, Cambodia, including the Monks Community Forest.
A video from ABE
Note you will need shockwave-flash to see this
PART ONE: with an introduction to the Buddhist sense of being interconnected, and the role of the belief in Universal Origin in understanding better the human role in relation to the rest of life.
See below for links to the other three parts of this documentary
Mlup Baitong means ‘Green Shade’. It is a Cambodian NGO, which started by helping pagodas in Kampong Thom and Kampong Speu provinces to organise environmental projects and develop teaching materials and workshops. In 2002, for example monks raised 27,000 tree saplings to plant in the forests surrounding 14 pagodas. And monks attended 50 workshops and gave over 450 lectures on the environment in towns and villages. With their encouragement, pagodas are becoming centres for monitoring, such as with water surveys, and experimentation, such as with fuel-efficient cooking stoves.
Since 1999 Mlup Baitong has linked villagers, monks, nuns, teachers and students with officials from the Department of Education, the Ministry of Environment, local park officers and the military. They have many success stories: an environmental radio and advocacy programme, the first of its kind in Cambodia, broadcasts twice a week, with coverage to 70% of the country; their women and environment programme has formed 22 small-income groups for village women producing goods for home consumption and for sale at village level; their military environmental training programme trains personnel operating in and outside national park areas on topics such as forestry and wildlife laws. Part of the role of the Asian Buddhist network is to help share such positive experiences – and help maintain momentum.
As one man from Ratanakiri Province told Mlup Baitong: ‘The forest and the land around it is our life. We are nothing without our land, our forest, our streams.’
In 2000, the Mlup Baitong work was offered as a Sacred Gift, under the WWF programme.
Link here for details about the Cambodian Monk and Environment programme, including training and tree nurseries.
Link here for the first page of the ABE's brochure on caring for the environment through Buddhism.
Link here for the second page of the ABE's brochure on caring for the environment through Buddhism.
PART TWO: including a description of the Oddar Mincheay monks restoring their ancient forest and a visit to KorngRey Mountain, accessible only by boat, and a place that the Buddhist community, or sangha, is now taking more responsibility for.
PART THREE: with an interview with one of the key monks at KorngRey explaining the obstacles, including forest fires and people treating the forest in a utilitarian manner, and the conditions necessary for protecting the land.
PART FOUR: Includes details of the network and how it has expanded from 6 to 30 pagodas, and the importance of surveying the forest. Plus a visit to Angkor Wat, a place of inspiration for Cambodian people, and a reflection of how Buddha was born in the forest, taught in the forest and received enlightenment in the forest.