With the aim of encouraging their peers to appreciate and preserve the Kingdom’s beauty, a team of young Cambodians are producing a TV show tackling environmental issues. Words by Marissa Carruthers; photography by Charles Fox.
The lift opens at the fifth floor of Golden House Hotel, near the riverside. Instead of being greeted by the usual corridor leading to an array of rooms, a neat office sits in front of the elevator’s doors, filled with tidy desks, maps, white boards and bookshelves rammed full of informative reads.
In one corner a group of young Cambodians crowd around a desk. One inspects a map, locating where the team is to be sent on their next mission. Camera crews and sound men surround them, as they rehearse ahead of shooting the next episode of their programme, Make It Beautiful.
This is the purpose-built studio for a 13-episode TV show, which is currently being screened weekly on PNN. With the aim of educating 15- to 25-year-olds in a fun and informative way on environmental issues in Cambodia, each episode of the Ministry of Environment commissioned programme sees popular Khmer celebrity and radio DJ, DJ Nana, select three topics. She then sends members of the Make It Beautiful team on missions to any corner of Cambodia.
The show follows the team’s adventures as they discover more about the environmental issue they have been tasked with, as well as throwing the spotlight on innovative efforts made to preserve the environment and wildlife.
“Our aim is to invite the audience, especially young viewers, to improve, respect, and appreciate the world in which we all live,” says producer Olivier Van Bockstael, of Khmer Mekong Films. “We always try to cover these topics in an entertaining and positive way. We don’t blame people; we always try to give good ideas, to offer solutions, and to show our audience that they have the power to improve the situation. We like to focus on people who do great things for their country.”
Topics covered to date include plans to re-introduce tigers in Cambodia, the importance of bees for biodiversity, organic farming, deforestation, solar energy and upcycling. And the tasks and missions they have been sent on have even opened up the eyes of the presenters, also known as the Green Team, John Alexduffy, Borem Ou, Sopheak Yorn, and Suos Oussa.
Ou, 26, recalls travelling to Preah Vihear to learn more about the rare Giant Ibis, delving deep into Kirirom’s forests in search of different types of trees, such as the threatened krongnong, and getting up close and personal to tigers at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, where she discovered how the rare beasts are highly sought after by illegal traders and poachers.
Alexduffy, 25, says, “I want to tell people and share with them information about the environment. Many people don’t realise that they are killing Earth, especially the younger generation. We want our generation to do their best to help protect the environment.”
As well as raising issues of concern, the team visit individuals and companies who are helping to tackle them. One of Alexduffy’s favourite episodes to date saw him ride a solar-powered scooter, while Ou describes how she came across eco-friendly charcoal made from coconut husks and furniture made from the natural fibre jute instead of wood.
Yorn, 23, says, “We have all learned a lot doing the show, and we hope many other people will learn like us so we can make Cambodia beautiful.”
On top of presenting, the team has also taken time out of their busy schedules to visit schools and talk to students about the issues they tackle on screen in a bid to further spread their go-green message.
“It is shocking how we, as human beings, have been taking the environment for granted for such a long time,” says DJ Nana.
“Make It Beautiful has given me the opportunity to wake myself up and play my role to protect this earth, simply because it contains facts which we never had any idea of. By making it beautiful, we are able to convey these messages to our young audiences.”