Peace Emanating from Indochina

Youth in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos reach across the (sometimes contentious) borders to build bridges and collaborate on regional issues. 

Recently, Cambodia and Thailand have appeared in the press because of the dispute over the Preah Vihear Temple, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 and claimed by both countries. But there is also reason for celebration between the people of Cambodia and Thailand: the second annual Cambodia Thailand Exchange Program (CTEP) which has garnered a little of its own media coverage:

Subtitles can be found here.

Cambodian Thai youthWhile Cambodia and Thailand are neighboring countries, there is a lot of misinformation or lack of information that occurs on either side of the border.  One participant said that she knew more about the West (Europe and the United States) than she did about her neighboring country. Others say that their views were significantly shaped by media reports, particularly around the dispute of the Preah Vihear Temple, which characterizes the “other side” as “thieves and liars.”

CTEP brings together an equal number of Thai and Cambodia participants, this year it was 20 youth from each country, for an intensive 10-day camp focused on building bridges between the two groups. Participants are assigned to a “family group” that they meet with regularly and consists of Thai and Cambodian “family members” and a facilitator from the coordination committee.  These groups give them a chance to get to know “the other” on a more intimate level and to process the various activities and workshops from the camp. One activity, for example, is called “Peace, War, Peace.” Participants are asked to draw a picture of what they consider to be peace… a process that can take quite a bit of time. Then they give their pictures to the others who immediately “declare war” and tear, rip or burn the pictures of peace, something which only takes a few seconds. Participants are then asked to reconstitute their pictures of peace, again a time-intensive process. Through this they learn about the time and investment needed to create peace and how easily and quickly it can be destroyed.  The conversations and activities that come out of CTEP forge quite a deep community, as can be seen in the videos participants have made of their own experiences.

Sombath SomphoneBut this is not the only ray of peace radiating from the Indochinese region. Thai and Cambodian youth are also showing solidarity with their Laotian neighbors, particularly in denouncing the forced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a renowned 61-year old community worker from Laos.   He worked in the Mekong region on youth capacity building and many other issues. The Sombath Somphone & Beyond Project tries to use this case not only to promote peace, but to give young people an opportunity to work together. The situation is serious but they try to emphasize the positive. They organized a concert in February 2013 and tea talk in front of Laotian Embassy in Bangkok in March 2013. Youth from Cambodia and Thailand produced a short clip searching for Sombath Somphone in the south of Thailand during the Songkran festival (the new year celebration in the Mekong region). Here’ s their output:

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