Meet Mr Sopheap, a teacher in a rural school outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. We met Sopheap through the Plastic Free July initiatives in Cambodia and we think he’s so fantastic we want to share his story with you.
Sopheap lives around 25 km from Siem Reap. When he was young he would ride his bicycle into town every day so that he could go to school. This in itself shows the determination he had to learn. Now he’s a teacher and spends his day between two schools inspiring and teaching the children of his village. The first time we met, a mutual friend took me out to his house, we sat outside under a wooden shelter and talked about our passion for the environment, our friend patiently waited as we talked for hours. I was and still am inspired by what Sopheap has achieved. He is very humble about it and humble in his lifestyle that it warms my heart to know how much he gives to his community.
Where Sopheap lives, the road is mostly clay. We’re now entering rainy season and this road is a nightmare in the wet weather. For the weeks leading up to rainy season, he has rallied the community to spend a little bit of time each Saturday morning to put some sand on top of the clay and top it up to help them through the wet weather. Then he gives them lunch in gratitude.
He is working on a composting project and again, involves the community to share this knowledge and the fruit that it bears.
And he is working on waste management, though there are few easy solutions at this time. Siem Reap only gained a waste management company in the last 12 or so months, step out of the town and there’s nothing. Yet, plastic wrapped snacks and drinks have easily made their way into the villages, leaving villagers with a bit of a mess and a big problem with how to dispose the waste. Despite this, Sopheap encourages the people in his village to separate items and keep the rubbish together and any opportunity he’ll send some back to town where it can be disposed of a little better than it can be in the village. For a very long time Cambodians would burn their waste, which was fine when it was lotus and banana leaves… now that plastic has made it’s appearance the disposal methods haven’t changed but no one warned the Cambodian people of the perils of burning plastic… until now.
Last week he invited me to visit his school and speak with the children. We started the session with a clean up around the schoolyard and neighbouring areas. Then all children were industrious in washing their hands, great to see when personal hygiene is still lacking in many areas of Cambodia. There was so much enthusiasm in this process! We then sorted through the rubbish to see what the worst culprits were and we asked the kids what they thought too. We had a great discussion about plastic vs nature, how to use less plastic bags and water bottles and why it’s bad to burn plastic. The kids were interested and asked questions and will continue to learn from Sopheap in their regular classes.
With Sopheap determined to teach his village about the issues of plastic, I’m honoured to be able to support and encourage and help in any small way I can. He already knows what needs to be done, but it’s always more fun with a friend.