Everyone in his community used to call him a wild-boy. At 14, Thon Sarat used to be a very poor boy with a dark brown complexion and long hair. He was excluded and discriminated against in his village. He was afraid to go to school although he really wanted to study. Sarat was picked on by his school mates each time he went to school. He felt very hurt when people said he was a wild boy because of his long hair and supposedly ugly looks. He asked his father to stop school and instead he began to help his family bring forestry products to sell in Thailand.
Sarat is living together in a very poor family with three siblings and farmer-parents in a former war zone in Malia district, Bantey Mean Chey province in Cambodia. Most of the time, he spends in the jungle with his father searching for young bamboo and other forestry products to sell in Thailand.
47 year-old, Pok Rith, father of Sarat told me that his son looked very skinny and dark in the past because he helped the family to earn the living. Sarat faced a lot of risk when he searched for forestry products in the jungle because many mines are remaining in the community forest in his village. Pok Rith said he felt very sorry for his son but he could not do anything to improve the situation because Sarat is the eldest in the family. He has to help his parents support another two young brothers and a sister.
Pok Rith told me that one day, Sarat went together with him to the forest. Both father and son were separated in the forest looking for young bamboo. After an hour, the father heard a loud explosion in the forest. Sarat also heard it too. They both thought the other was injured by the bomb. Sarat’s father said that he ran quickly to the exploded area and Sarat did the same. Fortunately, neither of them had this accident. When they reached the explosion area, they saw a villager’s cow had lost one of its legs because it stepped on a mine that had been hiding since the war. From that day on, Sarat’s father promised himself not to allow Sarat to go to the jungle again.
Because Sarat’s family was having food problems from day to day, he decided to go back to the forest searching for food again to support the family. Sarat’s parents are farmers that do not have their own lands to cultivate. They always borrow other villagers’ lands to do farming, and in return they pay some rice from harvesting back to the owners of the lands.
One day, Sarat met Pol Sarun, a cultural team leader in Malia dristrict. Sarun was interested in helping Sarat and he wanted Sarat to join the cultural team. At first, Sarat was very afraid of Pol Sarun and he did not want to leave his parents and the youngest brothers and sister. He rejected Sarun’request many times until Sarun brought musical equipments and played in front of Sarat. Sarat was interested in music and he loves singing songs. Finally he agreed to join a cultural team. Pol Sarun was very happy to have Sarat joining his team and he told Sarat’s father that he wanted Sarat to be his foster son.
Pol Sarun created a cultural team with the support from the Dipecho project of ActionAid Cambodia. The members of the cultural team are poor young children and teenagers in his community. With guidance and support from the Dipecho project (funded by ECHO), the cultural team has played a very important role in helping communities understand about disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. The teams have different kinds of performances such as street theaters, puppet shows and live music.
Sarat has changed a lot since he joined the cultural team. He had his hair cut short and he looks cleaner than in the past. Sarat cannot perform in the street theater performance but he can sing disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation songs and play drums in every performance. He has a very beautiful voice. Everyone in his village is impressed by his voice.
I am very happy to see villagers changing their behaviors after listening to my songs. said Sarat.
Sarat saw his parents boiling water for his brothers and sister to drink after they listened to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation songs.
This is a big change in my family
Sarat is very grateful to Pol Sarun, who has made a lot of change to his life. Pol Sarun helps to pave Sarat’s way. Now Sarat is going to school without any fear of discrimination. Everyone at his school comes to talk and play with him in a friendly way. He is now able to read and write Khmer language very well.
The Dipecho project of ActionAid Cambodia has promoted this cultural team to various stakeholders such as the government and other NGOs. The team is now very famous among international and local NGOs in Cambodia. Pol Sarun said the cultural team has a strong commitment. He will continue leading the cultural team to spread disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation messages in the future although the Dipecho project of ActionAid Cambodia has just finished its current phase of work.