My name is Vanny and I grew up in Putang village, around 7 kilometers from Sen Monorom town in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia.
I previously worked for an NGO in SenMonorom, but am now working for my Bunong community. I have worked as a translator and interpreter as I speak Bunong, Khmer, and English and have been to university, but now I work in tourism, as I want to help my community. There have been many changes in Mondulkiri over the last few years, and I am trying to work with the changing environment to help preserve our culture and improve the lives of our community members.
In April 2014 the Mondulkiri Ethnic Project signed an agreement with the indigenous Bunong elders from Putang Village and the Community authorities. This agreement aims to increase the elephant numbers and protect the forest for elephant food in a large area of pristine community forest near Sen Monorom. The Community forest borders the Seima Protected forest so there is a lot of wildlife, including birds, deer, wild pigs, monkeys. There are many beautiful waterfalls, swimming holes, valleys…..it is a very special place.
The local indigenous Bunong community depend on the forest to fulfil many of their needs. Traditionally they collected wild vegetables, honey, resin and traditional medicines from the forest. They used elephants to help them clear small areas of jungle to make small subsistence farms where they could grow rice. As the population grows, so the need for more rice also grows. So more and more forest is being cut down. To make more money to support their growing families, some people are cutting down the forest to sell the timber. I am really worried that before long all the forest in Mondulkiri Province will have been cut down. The thought of losing this special jungle area makes me very sad.
Our idea is to protect the forest so it can be used in ways that will still provide the community with a livelihood and an income, without damaging or losing the jungle itself. Providing jungle trekking experiences for tourists is one way of doing this. We will also be saving the habitat for elephants and other endangered wildlife.
Do not support jungle treks which include elephant riding, because this is detrimental to the elephants and encourages destructive tourism. Unfortunately, we have many stories and experiences from the past to share which show how important it is to develop only environmentally sustainable tourism.
Supporting the indigenous Bunong people and preserving their culture
Life is very hard for the indigenous Bunong people of this area, and even harder for the old people. They must keep doing hard manual work even when they are old and sick, to provide food and money for themselves and their families. In Europe and other rich countries, governments provide care and money for old people so that they do not have to work anymore. In Cambodia families try to look after all their relatives. But the indigenous Bunong people are so poor that the whole family struggles to survive. Both children and old people have to work just to have enough food to survive. Old people still have to farm the land, collect wild food and vegetables from deep in the forest and sometimes walk more than 30 kilometers or more, every day, just to have enough to survive. Bunong children cannot go to school if their parents are poor, even if the school is free, their parents need them to work in the farm.
The Mondulkiri Ethnic Project wants to improve the lives of the poor. The plan is to do this and also to preserve the special culture of the Bunong people. This is under threat as Mondulkiri Province becomes more connected with the wider world. The aim of the Project is to improve life for our indigenous Bunong people. We plan to do this by developing sustainable, environmentally friendly housing, farming and job opportunities, which will help preserve our culture and our beautiful jungle region.
The Mondulkiri Ethnic Project wants to encourage tourists to experience life in these indigenous communities through jungle trekking and spending time with the Bunong at our Bunong homestay in the village. Through tourism the Project will create jobs in the community and allow whole Bunong families to improve their living standards. We already have a small clearing of land near a river that has previously been used for farming. We want the Bunong people to use this land to grow food for themselves and for sale to the market to earn extra money. We plan to provide more sustainable, hygienic housing so that life is more comfortable for the Bunong families. Families will be able to stay together and the old people will not have to work so hard, and children will be able to go to school.
The lady in the photo below is a sick Bunong woman from Putang Village. Meeting people like her inspired me to start the Mondulkiri Ethnic Project to assist the elderly.