Emma Leslie – Cambodia

Linked with The Action Asia Network.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “I am frustrated with people who say that there is nothing you can do about a particular issue and thus, do very little. I do not want to be like that” … and: “I saw these terrible pictures of Cambodian children and adults starving while I always had food on the table” … and: “Several organizations, government, trade unions and NGOs, have theories of their own. So even when they are in the same room, they have conflicts”.

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Emma Leslie – Cambodia

She works for Action Asia Network.

Emma Leslie (born 1971), an Australian actively engaged in peace building and conflict transformation, came to Cambodia in 1997 and helped develop a peace education curriculum for Cambodian high schools and peace training programs. Emma and her colleagues established Action Asia Network, a regional network of peace builders, focused on supporting people living in violent conflict.

She also works internationally in conflict transformation through the South Africa-based Action International and the UK-based organization Responding to Conflict RTC. Emma Leslie was introduced to Cambodia at the age of eight when she learned about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime. Eighteen years later, Emma came to work in this country, to contribute to its reconstruction and peace building.

“I saw these terrible pictures of Cambodian children and adults starving while I always had food on the table”, recalls Emma, 33, who hails from Bathurst, NSW, Australia. From that moment, Emma knew that violence, hunger and poverty are not acceptable. She didn’t know, however, what it was that she would be doing about it.

Life at the university, where she studied history and politics, didn’t quite answer the questions in Emma’s mind. But work with the Anglican Church in development and youth leadership did, says Emma, who went on to attain her master’s degree in development studies writing her thesis on Cambodia’s economic, social and political development.

Emma was first introduced what she wanted to do in her life in 1993 when she went to work with the Australian Anglican Board of Missions as a field officer. Her work was to facilitate development education tours throughout Asia and the Pacific, and mission and development education in Australian churches. Her work took her to the Philippines where she experienced how people respond to conflict.

“People struggling for the conflict transformation there faced difficulty in getting access to the network outside”, Emma remembers. The expectation of her as someone who could help created a sense of responsibility on her part. “This mobilized me to do something”.

Emma returned to Australia and worked with the National Council of Churches in Australia, on advocacy programs pertaining to East Timor, Indonesia and other parts of South East Asia. Locally, in Sydney this emphasized increasing the solidarity between Christians and Muslims in Australia. She says it is difficult to find people who understand what she and her alliance are trying to do.

“I am frustrated with people who say there is nothing you can do (about particular issues) and thus, do very little. I don’t want to be like that”, she says.

In 1997, Emma came to Cambodia where she met her husband Soth Plai Ngarm. The two now work together in peace education and conflict transformation. Emma was challenged immediately. Three weeks after she began her work in Cambodia, the military coup d’etat took place. However, the country stabilized sometime after.

Emma is a consultant in several organizations, local and international, on conflict response and transformation. She is a training consultant on peace and development for the Cambodian Development Resource Institute, and a peace education consultant for the Working Group for Weapon Reduction.

Apart from her work as a consultant, Emma is a member of the board of directors of several organizations including the Youth Resource Development Program, and the Cambodian Youth for Peace. She advises the Friends Economic Development Association, a community-based organization providing English language and vocational skills to young people in the former conflict zones of Cambodia’s northwestern provinces. Emma also advises Teanthor, a community-based organization working with monks to counsel and advise people living with HIV/Aids.

In 1999, Emma co-founded the Action Asia Network. She currently works as a trainer, coordinator and secretariat of this network. Emma also helped found the South Africa-based Action International Network, where she is a core group member. Action is a network of conflict transformation practitioners who share their learning from practical experience and enhance peace work by developing new initiatives.

Action Asia Network, the Asia Pacific version of Action, is a network of conflict resolution and peace practitioners across the Asia Pacific region that are interested in mobilizing local resources for change and contextualizing peace theories and practice. Frustrated with the ?western? model of conflict transformation, Emma advocates local solutions to local conflicts, where the issues are contextualized, she says.

Emma conducts training in (conflict) intervention and passing ideology, working with non-governmental organizations, government officials, schools and other institutions.

These organizational conflicts, says Emma, need to be transformed. The collaboration between civil society groups and government agencies is a case in point. In the landmine campaign, Emma monitored, researched, and raised awareness about landmines and de-mining programs. The work focused on investigating the government distribution of de-mined land and associated conflict. She also helped develop Cambodia’s first landmine monitor report.

Emma believes this is the right time in Cambodia for civil society and government to be working together. After the collaboration to ban landmines and resolve conflicts of land use after de-mining, the government established a land use-planning unit in the ministry. The government continues to be cooperative in reporting on the landmine situation in Cambodia and pursuing de-mining needs. Furthermore, after tensions in Cambodia in 1997, Emma saw changes for the better with government and NGOs working side by side, doing things together.

Networking and connecting people are Emma’s basic principles in peace building and peace education. Peace builders, says Emma, have been working in isolation all over the world. Her philosophy is to find out who they are, facilitate the exchange of experience between them and learn together.

What she learned, she recorded. Emma is a contributing writer and co-editor of a book on the experiences of practitioners worldwide in conflict transformation.

Emma was recognized by her elementary school in Australia, which awarded her for her services as a global citizen.

Emma’s experience in conflict transformation has expanded all over Asia, Africa, and part of the former Soviet Union. In East Timor and Indonesia, Emma develops peace projects and solidarity strategies supported by Australian churches and communities.

But central to her work is developing peace education in Cambodia which has become her home and whose language Emma has learned to speak capably.

Emma is a co-author of the peace and disarmament curriculum for Cambodian high schools. This is a great achievement considering that it is not easy to reform the history curriculum in any country. Her strategy is to begin with less ’sensitive’ issues like citizenship and morality. To help the process of approval, the curriculum is used together with existing materials.

Currently, Emma is co-writing a curriculum for community level training on mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Emma hopes to operate an action research master degree course on applied conflict transformation. Negotiations with Cambodian universities and local peace organizations have gone well and Emma expects the course to be launched in December 2005. (1000PeaceWomen).

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