A woman sells food in Kompong Phluk ecotourism site in Siem Reap. Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam
A tale of three leaders
Sustainable community-based fisheries resources management
After a 30-minute bus ride from Siem Reap town, I found myself on a motor boat together with other young storytellers from five Mekong countries supported by Oxfam’s projects for a storytelling training exercise taking us to Kompong Phluk.
The roaring engine failed to distract me from the crystal clear water of the Tonle Sap and its submerged bushes and trees accommodating many kinds of birds and the fish habitats below.
The boat brought us through two flooded villages, passing elevated wooden houses, stocked with fishing gear and nets before parking at Kompong Phluk Ecotourism dock.
We were greeted by smiling community members and were introduced to the background of the Kompong Phluk Community Based Organization.
the Kompong Phluk community is made up of 918 households and 3,713 people (1,877 women, 120 people with disability), and the community established the Kompong Phluk Fishery Community in 2001 when they failed to protect the forest and fisheries resources of the Community Forest Protection.
It was later recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 2008, and the area has now been transformed to Kompong Phluk Community-Based Ecotourism in 2009, offering boating services to visitors who appreciate the beauty of the flooded forest and Tonle Sap.
The success of the community in protecting the flooded forest and fishery resources while sustaining their livelihoods is commendable, and I was intrigued by notable factors to success – tireless support from FAO, Asian Development Bank, and Fishery Action Coalition Team (FACT) – a partner of Oxfam, and concerned government agencies, and strong and committed community leaders who have inspired, motivated and driven the process.
59-year-old Om Chhem, deputy chief of the fishery community, cannot imagine the river without fish for his children and future generations. He actively participates in community initiatives to protect the flooded forest and fisheries.
He previously fought against the privatization of Kompong Phluk ecotourism site, As a result he made a successful case for community campaign for responsible community-based water resource management.
Sustainability of resources requires long-term planning and determination, something that Om Chhem is committed to, being a part of the committee who continues to build their leadership and institutional capacity to protect and sustain the natural resources.
Chhuon Lan, 42, Deputy Chief of Kompong Phluk Community Based Organisation turned her attention to Community Based Organisation (CBO) after realizing fishery stocks in the community were diminishing and women were not appreciated and abused.
Chhuon Lan and other women in her community shared their experiences about women’s participation in water resource management. Photo by Sophoan Phean/Oxfam
She understood the need to have women participate in decision making and managing resources.
Lan could not stop thinking about these consequences and sought ways to help. In 2009, FACT conducted an awareness raising campaign on women rights, empowerment and climate change in which Lan participated.
With this new knowledge, Lan spread the word to other men and women in the community.
It was not surprising that women appreciated the role Lan played, yet some men condemned. They thought of women having knowledge about their rights were a threat to their absolute power.
Despite all the challenges along the way, Lan continues her journey to empowering women, and changing men’s attitude toward women roles in protecting the fisheries resources and household livelihoods. She has become a role model for the women in the community, represented women at the commune decision making process, and inspired women to participate in the protection of fishery resources.
Despite disapproval from her parents, fearing of her personal safety and trying to balance her time so she could help her households earn a living, Hok Ky’s strong willingness and determination in fishery resources protection, helped her break the barrier and became a youth working group member.
Being part of the Youth Working Group, established by FACT, Hok Ky actively participated in cleaning up the environment, awareness raising on fishery law, climate change, gender, replanting of flooded forest, protecting the fish conservation zone and participating in conflict resolution regrading illegal logging and fishing.
Hok Ky now serves as a Mekong Youth Ambassador, bringing the voices of young community members to national and international decision makers about natural resources management and governance, which makes her parents proud.
I left Kompong Phluk inspired and committed to bring these lessons to practice with the communities People Protecting their Ecosystem in the Lower Mekong (PEM) is supporting in the Mekong and 3S rivers.
Women boat tour operators wait for servicing tourists to sightseeing around Kompong Phluk ecotourism site. Photo: Savann Oeurm/ Oxfam
Hok Ky leads youths in her community to raise awareness about fishery issues and discuss with them about the consequences of using illegal fishing gears. Photo: Savann Oeurm/ Oxfam