Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Saturday 21 September 2013

Buddhist values as basis for change

In 2012 The Cambodian community forest project won the Equator Prize. In the UNDP publication (United Nations Development Programme. 2012. Monks Community Forest, Cambodia. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY). the case is documented. Based on this account and with quotes form their video, we retell it here as a real story. 

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: other conservationists 
Key point: when you base your communication on religious values, you can motivate and engage communities in positive action to change their habits
Conflict: ignorance about illegal wildlife trade and logging being against Buddhist values
Hero: Venerable Bin Salut
Adversary: poor villagers that are not interested in nature conservation 

The deep and wild jungles of North West Cambodia used to be full of many different wild animals, huge trees and wonderful plants. The few small villages close to the forest were engaged in rice farming and collected from the forest what they needed. 

Civil war, population growth, refugees and poverty changed village life and caused more and more pressure on the forest and its wildlife. When Bin Salut, a simple monk in orange cloths, arrived in the area to take care of the small temple, he made it also his mission to rescue wild animals and protect the forest. He started for example to buy snakes from farmers who wanted to sell them as food on the market. He then released them back into the wild. He tried to raise awareness about nature in his preachings: “Our forest will continue to be lost if we monks don’t try to preserve it or try to help spread Buddha’s teaching among our prople to appreciate the forest value. Preserving the forest is very important as it absorbs toxics like carbon and produces clean air that we breath to live healthy lives.”

Villagers were sceptical in the beginning. They did not care about nature. They even thought the new monk was going to set up his own business and wanted to become the owner of the forest. But the humble monk kept preaching and practiced what he preached: “Buddhism plays a very important role in preserving the nature. When Lord Buddha was still alive, he used trees and caves as his lodging to obtain enlightenment. In this way he taught us to love nature and animals.” Then one by one his messages hit home and he won the trust of the people. Under his leadership villagers started to patrol the forest against loggers and to protect the forest products, such as mushrooms, nuts, etc.

Now six villages help to conserve the forests and its wildlife, they realize they rely on forest products to support their families. Harvesting mushrooms adds income to their rice production. And they now earn more in a year than the average Cambodian. At the same time they take care of the source of their income.

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