Proposed Dam a Mystery, Concern to Kratie Locals

A fishing boat floats on the Mekong river at Sambor in Cambodia's Kratie Provice, a site chosen for a proposed 18-kilometer hydro-dam. (Sophat Soeung/VOA Khmer)

A fishing boat floats on the Mekong river at Sambor in Cambodia’s Kratie Provice, a site chosen for a proposed 18-kilometer hydro-dam. (Sophat Soeung/VOA Khmer)

Original article: Sophat Soeung, VOA Khmer, September 17, 2010

KRATIE, CAMBODIA —Later this month, a major report assessing the pros and cons of 11 proposed mainstream hydro-dams in the lower Mekong region will be publicized by the Mekong River Commission. The report will include information about two hydro-dams across the Mekong River in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.

Although no decision has been made by the Cambodian government on the proposals, local people know little about the plans and are concerned their voices will be left out.

Sours Ve, a 38-year-old farmer and guest house operator in Sambor district, is among them. On a recent morning, she said goodbye to a group of tourists from the US, who had staid with her under a home stay system. The community-based tourism project has boosted her annual income, but she says she’s worried she’ll lose her home if a dam is built across the river here.

In 2007, a Chinese survey team arrived at her house and placed a concrete marker on her property. Were the megadam to go forward, it will fall directly across her property, creating behind it a 86-kilometer-long reservoir.

“I asked them what they were surveying, and they told me that they were going to build a hydrodam, and they put in this post on my land,” she said, standing over the marker behind her wooden stilt house after the tourists had gone.

“We learned that this was a study by a hydrodam construction company, but whether they will build the dam or not, we don’t know,” she said. “And our people started to worry, not knowing when the dam will be built.”

Government officials say it is premature for anyone to worry about a dam here. They say the 18-kilometer dam that has been proposed for Sambor is only one of several options they will discuss in coming meetings.

The proposed dam, currently being studied by China Southern Power Grid, is one of 11 dams being considered by lower Mekong countries Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Experts say these dams can be more problematic than their upper Mekong cousins, because down here, the land is flat, which require giant dams and reservoirs.

Critics say the dams will do more than put people like Sours Ve off their land. They can also be damaging to fisheries and the river’s ecology. In Sambor district, there is little information, but plenty of concern.

“We heard rumors that if it is built, it will be massive, and 56 meters tall,” said Sours Ve, who recently traveled to Phnom Penh to learn more about the project and to Ratanakkiri province to see the effects of a Vietnamese dam on the Sesan river.

Locals on a Mekong inland at Sambor, Kratie province see off foreign tourists. A proposed mega hydrodam at the site would completely inundate the island if constructions go ahead. (Sophat Soeung/VOA Khmer)

Locals on a Mekong inland at Sambor, Kratie province see off foreign tourists. A proposed mega hydrodam at the site would completely inundate the island if constructions go ahead. (Sophat Soeung/VOA Khmer)

Locals on a Mekong inland at Sambor, Kratie province see off foreign tourists. A proposed mega hydrodam at the site would completely inundate the island if constructions go ahead.

She is among the most informed people in her community.

“We know that if the project goes ahead, we’ll have to relocate,” she said. “And we locals became worried because we don’t know when they’ll come, and no one can give us an answer.”

Ith Praing, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said concerns like these are so far unfounded. Sambor’s potential for a dam has been studied since at least 1964, he said, so this is only the latest study.

“And up until now we haven’t made any decision on the proposal, pending [a more comprehensive] study, to decide whether there is really hydropower potential and what the [negative] impacts are,” he said.

Kratie Governor Kham Khoeun told VOA Khmer he was aware of the study, but not the extent of it. He agreed that concerns right now are premature because studies on ongoing.

At the Sambor district fish market, which according to maps would sit just below the proposed megadam, little is known about the study.

A 33-year-old fish monger who gave her name as Adik said she’d never heard of it.
Nearby, 54-year-old  vendor Nhoung Sokkhim said she’d seen the Chinese during the field study in 2007, but knew little more.

“I saw the Chinese come with their machines, but I haven’t seen any construction,” she said. “I only saw them bringing metallic devices further up near the pagoda. There was no explanation of what is going on. No one knows, not even the local authorities.”

Indeed, Sambor District Chief Heng Sotha told VOA Khmer all he knew about the proposal came from local people.

“I am unaware of the details of the plan,” he said. “There are no official documents informing me about this.”

Ith Praing said there was no need to worry that people’s input would not be part of the decision. The government plans to take the proposal’s negative impacts very seriously, he said, adding that local authorities have in the past been invited to Phnom Penh to discuss the dam.

As proposed, according to a draft report of the Mekong River Commission, the Sambor hydrodam would flood 620 square kilometers, including 3,369 hectares of agricultural land and be operational by 2020.

For Sours Ve, the trade-off won’t be worth it.

“These days, we no longer want electricity if it means having to relocate,” she said.
“It’s possible for us to move, but what about the bones of our ancestors? They’ll be flooded, and nothing will remain.”

How to Become a Successful Language Learner—A Personal Experience

Author’s note: This article was published in a 2007 edition of the IFL Prospect, the RUPP English Department’s Newsletter (volume 1, issue 3/April-June 2007). I wrote this for an audience of year one and two students. It details my personal experience with learning English. As I have received some very positive feedback on that article, I thought it might be useful for other language learners the general public to get another perspective on learning English. The original blog post is here and has been reproduced on khmerscholar.org.

“How can I best learn English quickly and effectively?” has been the subtlest question from students I have faced in my teaching career. From my observation, however, many Cambodian students do not in fact know how to ‘learn’ a second language effectively. They seem to try to ‘study’ the language more. Learning, to me, is a more subconscious and light-hearted approach to language acquisition, mostly done away from more intense serious ‘study’ we do in class. Indeed, learning a second language—unlike taking a subject like Economics or Biology where serious study is required—can be enjoyable and more relaxing while at the same time effective. What, then, is central to successful language learning? This article will try to unravel some of the secrets behind effective language learners by looking at my own learning experience of English and the success stories of some of my students.

There is no one best way of learning a new language. That is, there are many factors that contribute to success in second language acquisition. However, my long history of language learning—five languages altogether—has taught me that it is more effective to learn a language naturally than intensively or analytically. In the case of learning English, Cambodian students, who face so much interference from their native language—Khmer, have to try to best create an English-speaking environment around them. From my observation, successful language learners are those who (1) know what learning style works best with them and (2) expose themselves to the language as much as possible.

Throughout my history of language learning, like many successful language learners, I have been an audio-visual learner—that is, someone who learns best by hearing things and seeing or reading things. Since this is my preferred way of learning, I have adapted suitable learning strategies and basically learned English by ‘listening to’ and ‘seeing’ English. During my early days of studying English, I believed this style worked best with me. And it did!

Being an audio-visual kind of learner helped improve my English proficiency in all the four language skills. I enjoyed exposing myself to a variety of audio-visual language materials ranging from BBC radio broadcasts, to HBO movies, to the latest English smash hits. This helped me become a good listener and speaker of English. In addition, I was a keen reader, enjoying the pleasures found in novels and story books, and often found myself buried in extensive reading. In other words, I read unspecified texts and articles of various topics of my interest (unassigned topics). Outside class, I frequented the Self-Access Center and the Internet and could make use of the abundant information the two sources provided. To my surprise, extensive reading also contributed to my interest and improvement in writing. I felt that the more I read, the more natural and well-structured my writing became.

In addition to improvements in the four language skills, my approach to acquiring the language meant that I had to be more of a communicative learner than an analytical one. This helped me learn grammar and vocabulary more effectively. From my experience, direct study and analyses of grammatical points and the memorization of vocabulary was somewhat boring and difficult, and proved to be only a minor driving force to success. Instead, it was my active use of the language both in class and outside class that really substantiated my knowledge bank of grammar and vocabulary.

In class, I remember being active in group and whole class discussions, debates, presentations, and other activities. Outside class, I tried to grasp any available opportunity to use the language. These included small talks with friends and native speakers, participations in workshops and conferences, self-study and research, listening to songs, watching movies and documentaries, writing e-mails and journal entries, and any conceivable activity that required me to use the language—English, of course.

Now looking at my own students’ learning process, I can see success stories in the making. In all of my classes, I have observed that top students do share common characteristics. Through interview, I found out that all of them are very active in class, do extensive self-study outside class, have set goals for their language learning, and are not easily discouraged by mistakes they make in their pursuit of improved English proficiency. “I don’t mind if people laugh when I speak English,” said one of them, confidently.

Although successful language learners possess certain identifiable qualities, they may use different strategies to achieving success. In any case, they all know what works best with them. To be a better learning learner, then, it is your task to identify what learning style works best with you to make your learning process more enjoyable. If my history of language learning sounds familiar to you and similar to what you practice, I am reasonably confident that it can earn you an A for most of your works—it really did for my TOEFL! If what you’ve read sounds out of your sphere of learning, and learning English has so far been difficult for you, I suggest you give my way a try!More importantly, if you have other [better] ways of learning a new language quickly and effectively, please do share your experience with all of us. After all, ‘learn’ smart, don’t ‘study’ hard!