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Cambodia: Riding the Wave of Change

In a country where men tend to have more privileges in family and society, a new wave of change is about to begin.

Sopheap Chak is another urban woman with initiatives and ambitions. The 23-year-old, originally from Kampong Cham province, is a prominent human rights activist. When she talks about changes she believes in it's as if she's a new hopeful inspirational leader.

Sopheap Chak
Sopheap Chak, with the computer notebook on her lap, at Cambodia's first Blogger Summit at Pannasastra University
Photo courtesy of David Sasaki

Sopheap holds two Bachelor degrees; one in International Relations from University of Cambodia; and the other one in Economics from Pannasastra University of Cambodia.

In just a few days Sopheap is leaving Cambodia to continue her study in Japan. The blogger is awarded to pursue Master Degree in International Relations at International University of Japan, where she will focus on International Peace Studies. Japanese Grant Aid Scholarship—JDS has made it possible for a number of Cambodian students to have academic research opportunities at Japanese higher educational institutions.

I communicated with gentle Sopheap via email, asking her some questions about her study, work, and blogging.

You are leaving Cambodia for Japan very soon, how do you feel at the moment?

Honestly, since I was a child, I wish to continue my higher education abroad, through scholarship program; and two countries that I want to visit most is the U.S. and Japan. Regardless this commitment and uncertainty of how to achieve this dream, I set plans by working hard on my study to get high grade point average (GPA) plus English language skills to be able to apply for any scholarships. It is very fortunate and excited as it is my first scholarship application and it seemed that my dream have come true. Also, I set plan B if I would had not passed. Finally, I got it and I will be leaving Cambodia for Japan on June the 30th, 2008. Yet, I feel that I mixed up with both exciting and challenging emotion for leaving my family, friends, and be ready to live in new environment.

Could you describe what have you done so far (both education and work)?

I started my first job as soon as I completed high school in 2002 to self-finance and to gain work experience in civil society. I worked for Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP), a non profit organization working to conduct a series of conferences on social issues, such as democracy, election, poverty reduction, and in pursuit of research and publication. Two years later, I worked for University of Cambodia. I was also an Advocacy Officer at Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), a non-profit public benefit organization devoted to human rights and democracy. In my perspective, I strongly believe that peaceful civil society movement is a powerful instrument to advocate policy changes for social development. With regard to my educational background, I have a bachelor's degree in International Relations at the University of Cambodia, which I earned since 2006. At the same time, I hold another bachelor's degree from Pannasastra University of Cambodia, where I majored in Economics. Beside that, I initiated a voluntary youth network called Youth Network for Change, which has a mission to work closely with people in rural communities; the network hopes to equip disadvantaged Cambodian children and youth with practical knowledge, skills, and goals to empower their life decisions. I believe in a concept of “We all can make a change”.

How did you prepare yourself for this to be awarded?

Set a goal and seek how to achieve is my secret. As mentioned, I dream of continuing my master's degree study in abroad; Either Japan or the U.S. is my hopeful country. Therefore, I had set my own destination by paving the way to reach that goal at the same time. To study hard, to have English language skills improved, and to graduate my bachelor's degree with high GPA, so that I can be a prospect candidate for scholarship applications.

To access to scholarship information or any programs available to get familiar with the them, and to grab such opportunities is very crucial. We have to get opportunity instead of waiting for opportunity coming to us. Last but not least, confidence and commitment are the key to success.

Any thoughts and advices for younger Cambodians to prepare for such a significant advancement?

  • Put your desire into action. Simply put, everyone does have his/her own life destination, yet to what extend they want to achieve it or not is a question. Thus, keep up our desire and plan to achieve it.
  • Access to information and opportunity. We should catch up with latest news and updates so that we can be aware of social trends and we will be always ready for any upcoming opportunities. Like a slogan goes saying that “Before everything else, getting ready is a secret of success”.
  • Be socialized. No person can be isolated. It is not just getting to know each others, but we may need other’s help, in some case, or they can indirectly or directly impact our life.
  • Be confident and positive toward yourself and others.

Let's talk about blogging in Cambodia. When did you start blogging? Why?

I began to blog in May 2007. A friend of mine, Chantra Be, gave me a quick introduction to blogging when he promoted how to create and maintain blog during my youth network camping program. I was enthusiastically interested in the tool and found it useful as I like dialogue and debate on social topics, mainly to focus on politics and good governance. Of course, I have attempted to learn more from others, and through self-searching to have create my own blog; it is now online under title “Three Dimension of Life”.

What do you like most about blogging?

From a perspective of a Cambodian, Cambodia's democracy is still young with restricted freedom of expression and media control; I do feel that blog is one of the most exciting and innovative technological tools to exercise the right to expression as well as other fundamental rights. We can share news, express our opinions, communicate with other fellow bloggers for any campaign purposes through blog. It's a great tool in use even in a situation that other means of communications are restricted.

What do you blog about mostly?

My blog is “Three Dimensions of LIfe”, focuses on politics, economy, and social arena, topics crucial in every people everyday life. Mostly I post my opinion analysis on politics, economics, and social-cultural issues in order to express my idea as well as to get other comments on those issues.

What is your most memorable blogging experience?

The first comment from my friend on my blog post makes me to understand that people are communicating with me. Also, other people have written something related to or about me on their blogs, and I feel I got introduced to people to the outside world. In Cambodia Blogger Summit in September 2007, I was invited to be moderator to discuss “Gender and Blogging”. It sounded a little funny for me to be invited at that time since I have just created my personal blog, and that I possess little technical knowledge of blogging, and that I was asked to join with other skillful bloggers.

What do you think about blogging/bloggers in Cambodia?

There is an increasing number of people, both men and women, blogging and creating more networks for bloggers to get to know each others through blog or online community. It is a remarkably positive trend for gender equity since men are considered to dominate in many aspects of life, especially in Information Technology works. Also, the more they interact and keep informed about world events, the higher self-esteem and development they obtain.

Through technology and blogging I think Cambodia has integrated with the world, or the world can now be seen, at least virtually, as a global village. Let me raise a Burma case as an example. I think there would be impossible for a global mobilization for freeing Burma from rights abuse earlier without new technologies such as blog, the Internet, or cellphone. Then, we could see people from different nations had a mutual commitment wearing red color shirt and standing silently in front of Burmese Embassy in their respective countries. Another interesting case is a recent Pakistan political situation that I have learned the news of Mrs. Buddho’s killing from radio, TV, and commentaries on blogs. Thanks to the new technology inventors.

What are your favorite blogs?

http://www.vuthasurf.com/
http://ki-media.blogspot.com/
http://beth.typepad.com/

As a blogger, what's your dream?

I do hope that there will be no restriction on blog or online communication as it plays influential roles in advocating for change in attitudes and sharing information as well as to build more networks. Bloggers will use blog in useful ways, not for only her/himself, but her/his communities as a whole. Let's use blog for change and development!

8 comments

  • Frank

    I was sort of hoping to read that you made it on your own via family and/or Cambodian business and governmental institutions. Instead, you appear to have received almost all of your financial support via western-funded institutions. I wonder if your viewpoints truly reflect yours and your country’s, or do they reflect those of the Open Society Institute and the Friedrich Ebert-Stiftung Foundation?

  • cky

    Kudo to you Sopheap Chak. You make Camdodia and her people proud! Cambodia needs more young rising stars like you to help lift poverty and social injustice. Keep up the good work. You really make your parents proud.

    Camb/American
    USA

  • I haven’t seen her blog updated for some time now. Why?

  • Sokha

    Je suis fier d’apprendre qu’une autre Cambodgienne réussit aussi bien dans ses études. Dans l’espoir que vos connaissances seront servent pour le bien de notre peuple et celui de notre pays, je vous félicite et souhaite de bon succès dans vos projets.

  • Leo Keo

    You are great Sopheap. New fresh generation to confront corruption and social injustice to make Cambodia a better future.

  • Elhehir

    I appreciate knowing that a Cambodian has met success, and I hope that more will continue to walk in this path.

  • Greeting everyone, i m now in Japan. Thanks for comment, i do appreciate your motivation. I an sure that I and other potential Cambodians will utilize our knowledge n experience to work together to make a change in our society…

    Borin: hehe, i did not have time to update my blog yet…i have many thing in mind to post on blog soon

  • ckim

    Well done Sopheap. You and other Cambodian women will help changing and develop Cambodia on return. You should encourage other Cambodian women to have a dream and have the commitment to pursue them.

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