Diakonia - People change the world
Nget Khoun from Cambodia is 72 years old. But despite her age, she does not hesitate when it comes to standing at the forefront, protesting against how the land of poor people is taken away from them. Photo: Stephen Welch

Nget Khoun – fighting for the poor

Nget Khoun is a passionate change maker who is working courageously alongside others so that people living in poverty can gain power over their own lives.

11/5/2013 Publisher: Magdalena Ackeberg

Educated – no longer afraid

Seventy-two year old Nget Khoun is right at the front by the riot barrier in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, shaking her fist at the police. A few hours earlier she said,

"I used to be afraid of going to meetings and protesting, but not anymore. Not since I educated myself and learned about my rights," she says.

Imprisoned for her involvement

She is a wiry woman. Mainly skin and bone, and yet so strong. For several hours she stands in the ferocious sun, protesting against the fact that two women have been imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. Nget Khoun knows what it means to be imprisoned in Cambodia. She draws with her hand the tiny space she had to sleep in for the 33 days she was under arrest, describes how she could not turn over without colliding with a fellow inmate, and says that the soup was as watery as during the heinous Pol Pot regime in the early 1970s.

"When Pol Pot came to power, I was living in Phnom Penh and was forced to leave the city. But everyone was affected, whether rich or poor. Now, only poor people are forced to leave their homes, and their land is taken from them and given to the rich and powerful. They take my land and put me, the landowner, in prison. That’s not fair. It breaks my heart."

Learned her rights

Along with several other women, Nget Khoun has received support from Diakonia’s partner organization, Equitable Cambodia. She has taken part in training programmes, become aware of her rights, organized herself and has become politically active.

"We are fighting for our right to a home. I've learned about land rights and now understand how the law works."

Doesn't want to move

Where Nget Khoun lives, many families have been forced to move to an area outside town where it is incredibly difficult to make a living. She doesn’t want to move; she knows that many who have moved in fear of retaliation are finding it hard to make ends meet. And although she currently does not have any papers for the land on which her house is built, she hopes that her protests and those of the other women will bear fruit in the future. Up to now, over 630 families have received the papers for their land after several years of advocacy and demonstrations, and Nget Khoun is fighting to ensure that all the families remaining in the area also receive them.

"After the Khmer Rouge era, I had nothing, and I worked hard to buy a house that I then sold so that I could buy this one," she says, sitting in the shade outside her bright-blue wooden house, which resembles a simple shed with a tin roof.

"They've quite simply stolen the house and land that I bought with my own savings. I won't accept it," she says.

Refuses to give up

Under the Pol Pot regime, she lost two sons and two brothers and was starving. She knows what it means to be under severe strain. And due to her protests, her daughter is no longer permitted to sell food outside the police station, and she herself is not allowed to rent out rooms in her house. She no longer has an income. But still she won’t give up.

"Sometimes I feel like taking my own life, but then the government will have won. If I die, I at least want to die while demonstrating. I have nothing to lose – I won’t stop protesting until I get my land back, until we all get our land back."