Phorn Sopheak is wearing what look like pajamas. It’s a standard sort of outfit for many women in rural Cambodia. Sopheak’s are pink and have little bears and puppies on them. The bears are saying, “Honey, honey,” “Relax,” and “I want to be happy…”
Her outfit has seen heavy duty in the rice fields, and has been restitched with black thread along the shoulder seams. Sopheak’s left foot has had a few stitches as well—a gruesome scar runs laterally from the middle of the top down to her instep, the result of an attack on her while she was sleeping in a hammock in the middle of the Prey Lang forest.
At 1.2 million acres, Prey Lang is one of Asia’s largest protected forests, and it’s being relentlessly and illegally logged. Last March Sopheak was in one of the more remote areas of Prey Lang with a group of activists trying to identify illegal loggers when she was attacked. Her assailant escaped. “I don’t know who did this to me,” she says. But she has her assumptions about why.
Protected areas like Prey Lang and communal lands set aside for indigenous people, where they worship their ancestors and forage for food, are not safe from resource robbery. Now, armed with knowledge of their rights under Cambodia’s land and forestry laws, young people like Sopheak are standing up to the illegal loggers intent on exporting valuable rosewood lumber, or stealing communal lands. The weapon of choice for these digitally savvy activists? Their smartphones.