The Cambodian community welcomed environmental activist Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson to Wat Khemarangsaram temple at Bonnyrigg last Sunday.
Cambodians know him simply as Alex from his work with Mother Nature Cambodia. He's widely respected for his work in exposing environmental degradation and illegal logging in Cambodia.
Alex delighted the 200 people by speaking in fluent Khmer, a language mastered in his years in Cambodia. Before he spoke, monks from the Bonnyrigg and Cabramatta Buddhist temples chanted a blessing.
Alex spoke of campaigns Mother Nature had helped and about widespread corruption in Cambodia. He saw greed and overdevelopment as the root causes of environmental destruction but encouraged people to have hope and to fight for justice in Cambodia.
Mother Nature was founded in 2012 to protect Cambodia’s natural heritage from destruction by vested interests. Among its successes, Alex said, were forcing the government not to build a destructive dam in the Cardamom Mountains and pressuring the governments of Cambodia and Singapore to stop trade of silica sand.
Alex went to Cambodia at 21, the first of many times. In 2008, he was living near Boeung Kak Lake at Phnom Penh when he saw wealthy investors fill in the lake and force people from their homes. At weekends, he went into the mountains and learnt of the extent of illegal logging and destruction of the forests, home to centuries-old rosewood trees. Journalists and activists who investigated the trade have been killed, he said, among them his friend Chhut Vuthy.
In 2015 he was deported by the Cambodian government. Now he divides his time between Thailand and his native Spain. Outside Cambodia he says he doesn't have to fear for his safety and can talk freely.
He's in contact with activists who continue the work he started in Cambodia. They're harassed and some have spent time in prison.
Vannak Pan, who follows Alex on Facebook, said: “I wanted to come and listen to him because he loves our country and wants to protect our forests. I wanted to show my support."
Vanny Kong said: “When I heard he was coming to talk at the temple, I was delighted to have the chance to meet him. Alex is a hero.”
Sophy Coade said although Alex had shown how the natural environment in Cambodia had been destroyed, he brought hope. She was touched by the way he honoured another Cambodian campaigner, his friend, Dr Kem Ley, killed in 2016. Alex said to honour Kem Ley by persisting with the struggle.
Next Alex went to Melbourne to meet Bruce federal MP Julian Hill and Greens leader Richard di Natale.