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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Villagers tell their stories at ADB

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 •  Advertiser special: ADB in Hawai'i — global issues, local impact

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

This is the face of Asian Development Bank protesters that ADB critics want you to see: Mon Mon, a 40-year-old Cambodian farmer forced off his land by logging projects.

Cambodian farmer Mon Mon says he was forced off his land by logging projects. Critics of the Asian Development Bank want his story told.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

He is part of a hill tribe in northeastern Cambodia. He has no deed to the land but wants to preserve the forests that provide his livelihood.

He is fighting against the new frontier — that of industrial plantations, hydroelectric projects and logging businesses.

His struggles are compounded because he hobbles along his farm on crutches. Cambodia remains a country heavily strewn with landmines, and his right leg was blown off by one of them.

As part of the Non-Timber Forestry Project, which helped pay his way to Hawai'i, the farmer came from far away to be a voice for his region's people.

The ADB wants the world to see another face: Rodelyn Dejino, 22, a college student who grew up in Manila's slums in the Philippines and came to Honolulu to speak at Mayor Jeremy Harris' Asia-Pacific Environmental Summit.

While Dejino does not have a direct link to ADB projects, she is the kind of person the ADB says it is trying to help.

"We don't know the names of trees because they were cut down," Dejino said at the summit. "We don't see birds or hear them singing because there isn't a single one flying in the sky. We don't even know what a clean river looked like, because what we have is a river with black water and is full of garbage. And flowers? I know a few, but the ones I know best are roses, because I used to sell them in the red-light district when I was 11 years old."

Dejino planned to leave Honolulu on Monday after touring the island, but the ADB has extended her stay so she can be a voice of the people who need help.

If you ask Wattsharin Oppajong, the truth about the ADB lies somewhere in the middle.

A small-scale rice and soy bean farmer in Chiang Mai, Thailand, he is part of the International Rivers Network, which aims to stop destructive development.

He said his water taxes help his government pay off an ADB-financed loan.

But he doesn't trust that the money lenders are looking out for his best interests. That's why he's here. He, too, wants to be the voice at ADB. But he doesn't speak English or talk about flowers.

Outside the earshot of bankers, he said through an interpreter yesterday that he doesn't want the ADB to tell him what crops to grow or what's best for the people.

"As a small farmer, I have no negotiation power," he said. "The small farmers are the majority of farmers in Thailand. They are the ones who lose."

Phoy Bun Nyor has a problem, too, and an armful of flooding pictures to prove it.

The 32-year-old Cambodian woman is here because her community sent her. The 59 villages and 20,000 people in her area along the Se San River used to see flooding once every seven years, she said. But a dam has increased the flooding to several times a year.

Since the flooding, families have no rice to eat and must go farther up the mountain for shelter, she said.

She said she has lost two boats and a fishing net, and her roof is gone.

She's here to fight an ADB project that would create a cascade of dams she says would displace thousands of people, submerge rain forests and destroy fisheries.

"I'm here not just for my family," she said. "But my community."

She just wonders who will listen.