The Cambodian Thai Exchange Program (CTEP) gives youth from both countries a space where they can live and share experiences together. Unlike many other conferences where political issues are heavily discussed, CTEP allows people of the two countries to develop understanding and reshape their perceptions first hand by actually living together. “Before I came here I felt afraid. We have negative feelings towards each other, but if we don’t allow ourselves to come close to the other group, we will never know each other,” said Sambo Prak, a Cambodian participant in 1st Cambodia-Thai Exchange Program. Cambodia and Thailand suffer from long-standing mistrust of each other, most recently channeled into a border dispute centered on the Preah Vihear Temple.
Cambodian-Thai Exchange Program (CTEP) is a seven-day youth camp that took place on November 7 to 13, 2011 with a total fifty-five participants from both countries. The youth camp is organized by Initiatives of Change Association (ICA) in cooperation with Thai Volunteer Services (TVS) with the purpose of restoring and strengthening the relationship between Cambodia and Thailand. This youth camp allows participants from both countries have a chance to create better understanding and mutual trust as well as alleviate discrimination and prejudice on a personal level.
Throughout the program, a variety of activities are introduced such as a family group, workshops, peace and conflict-related discussions, cultural night and so on. These are designed to break the invisible wall and encourage participants to be opened and learn more about each other. These activities eventually bring the two together as one, despite all the differences.
Not only did they learn from their friends, but also did they came to understand themselves better through the reflection of others’ stories. Quiet Time, one of the daily-based activities, enables participants to sit quiet and listen to their inner voice. “During the day, how many times you listen to your inner voice?” asks Sovathana Neang (Nana), a Cambodian committee member. A topic is given during each quiet time such as a family issue, a relationship problem, a childhood experience and so on, to assist participants in opening up their minds. After a moment of quietness, with a lot of comfort ready to give and hearts ready to hear, many participants start to share their stories, and it is then that a sense of trust gradually develops.
YI Rasi from Cambodia wrote of his experience:
CTEP was my very first exchange program.
It was my very first time to have Thai friends.
It was my very first time to stay away from my mom for a week.
It was my very first time I could perform on stage as a main actor, Nadech.
It was my very first time that I was brave enough to share my personal story.
It was my very first time that I felt there was someone who understands.
It was my very first time I felt there’s no one making any judgments on me.
It was the very first inspiring program that I could gain back my confidence, love and courage, which I have lost during the past years.
It was my very first time I felt “caring, love, and pride” from my heart.
It was my very first time I was kissed by a girl friend.
It was my very first time I received a lot of warm hugs.
Another participant wrote:
Conflicts, national interests and border disputes; they force us to distrust,
Oh come on, quit the arguing it is driving me “nuts”!
Why do you keep letting others tell you how to feel?
When you know that history, media and discourses aren’t even real!
Don’t easily believe them and follow their flow,
Be bold, swim against the currents and tell society what you know.
Weave your ultimate dream into a world of something new,
A place for everyone to stand and have a chance, not just to benefit a few.
There will be a CTEP in November 2012. Applications open for Thai and Cambodian participants in June 2012. For more information, email: CTEP [dot] program [at] gmail [dot] com.