- Guest post by Oudom Ham, Research Coordinator, EarthRights International (ERI), Cambodia
With the support of AuthorAID, I had an opportunity to participate in and present at the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) held on 16-19 March 2017 in Toronto. It gathered together scholars with expertise in Asian Studies. The conference’s ‘Rising Voices’ panel gave three early-career researchers the chance to present work that focused on ‘transnational borderland identities in Southeast Asia’.
As one of the three researchers that presented in the Rising Voices panel, I presented my work on discourse analysis of hydropower dam development and anti-dam movements in Cambodia and Laos. I looked at these issues from the angle of the non-governmental sector. During the roundtable discussion that followed, I was able to respond to questions and listen to constructive comments, as well as explain my area of expertise –environmental degradation and justice – in more depth.
Attending this international conference has helped me to sharpen my reasoning skills and encouraged me to think more deeply about my organization’s strategy for protecting human rights and the environment. The other researchers challenged me to embark on a more holistic analysis of the different roles and narratives of actors involved in hydropower dam development. I left the discussion feeling motivated to understand more deeply what different actors think about the costs and benefits of building dams. I was also keen to further my understanding of what justice really means for dam developers, anti-dam activists and people who are impacted by dams.
I also had some helpful discussions with Ian Baird, an Assistant Professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the Rising Voices panel discussion and is an expert in hydropower dam research in the Mekong region. We had an interesting conversation about his research paper on the role that a civil society organization in Cambodia played in promoting the rights of communities affected by the development of large dams.
Additionally, I was also able to speak with Mr Natharoun Ngo, the Director of the Center for Khmer Studies about incorporating human and environmental rights work into academic networks. It was inspiring to speak with him about ways that activists and academics could work together to bring about positive and peaceful changes in this country. We agreed that it would be important to develop recommendations on producing electricity in a way that does not jeopardize the ecological system that the majority of the rural population depends on for their livelihoods.
Following the AAS conference, I have incorporated the new knowledge I gained into my regular work stream. I have also shared insights from the conference with university students, youth organizations and members of rural communities in the Mekong region, who are working on or affected by hydropower dam development. I have done this through workshops, conferences and speeches.
I am very grateful to AuthorAID for the opportunity to attend this conference.