Creativity is a Solace, Especially in Challenging Times

2020 will be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affects the livelihoods of many, mine included. It restricted me from going to school like normal, meeting my friends, expressing and listening to stories and thoughts, and having that comfort of closure and connections. However, this quarantine also has its perks. I love how it can give us time to pursue our passions, experiment with crafts we love, and the chance to explore new things. In challenging times like this, art can be a great inspiration. It allows us to tap into our creativity while helping us to heal by expressing unsaid voices inside ourselves. By sharing these voices with others, we can also inspire and help others heal. Art is powerful, and it depends on us what we do with that power. 

To me, I choose poetry and writing as my medium of expression. Here are two poems of mine that I wrote in Khmer. I  submitted these to a poetry competition in the theme of resilience in the pandemic. The first one was selected as one of the 3 that will be exhibited to the public, and I am so honored to have this power to share what I love to inspire and comfort others. 

This first one is titled  ​ឧបសគ្គនិងសុទិដ្ឋិនិយម (Obstacles and Optimism).  Through this poem, I want to give some sparks of hope and positivity to the readers by encouraging them to be optimistic by emphasizing how optimism can be our weapons in turmoil to combat the challenges it brings to our hearts.  Another important message of this poem is how spreading love and hope to other people have the power to strengthen the resilience of a community and help everyone to stay strong together. 

ធម្មជាតិជីវិតតែងមិនទៀង                          មានព្យុះមានភ្លៀងជាធម្មតា

ជម្ងឺឈឺថ្កាត់គ្រប់សង្ខារ ​​​​​​                                    ទោះទៅទីណាជៀសមិនបាន។ 

ដូចដើមទស្សវត្ស២០ថ្មីនេះ                              គ្រប់ៗប្រទេសទាំងប៉ុន្មាន

រងគ្រោះធំំមួយគេចមិនបាន ​​​​​​                         ប្រុសស្រីគ្រប់ប្រាណរងវេទនា។ 

ជំងឺរាតត្បាតកូរូណា​​​                                           វាយលុកប្រហារយើងគ្រប់គ្នា

មិនអាចជួបមុខប្តូរសន្ទនា ​​​​                            ត្រូវឃ្លាតឆ្ងាយគ្នាដើម្បីសុខ។ 

ប៉ុន្តែអស់មិត្តទាំងឡាយអើយ ​​                         ចូរកុំសោះឡើយបៀមតែទុក្ខ

ចូរក្រោកឈរឡើងហើយសម្រុក ​                     ស៊ូរខ្លាំងវាយលុកនឹងវាវិញ។ 

យើងជួយចម្លងក្តីសង្ឃឹម​​                                 ចែកស្នាមញញឹមកុំទោម្និញ

ចែកក្តីស្រលាញ់ទើបចំណេញ                            យើងគួរបញ្ចេញការគាំទ្រ។ 

ទោះបីគ្រប់យ៉ាងលំបាកពិត                             តែយើងត្រូវគិតរឿងល្អៗ

គិតថាអនាគតនឹងបវរ                                     អ្នកត្រូវបន្តកម្លាំងចិត្ត។

(English Translation)

The nature of life is uncertainty,       

There will be the typical storms and rains,

Diseases and illnesses in every life,     

Wherever we go, we can’t escape them. 

Like the start of this 20s decade,       

Every country in the world,

Suffer from a huge  tragic which we can’t escape from,

Every girl and boy needs to endure this misery. 

The contagious coronavirus, 

Viciously attacks all of us, 

Restricting connection and conversations, 

Needed to be apart to be safe. 

However, all of my friends, 

We do not need to swallow only the pain, 

Let’s stand up and go forth, 

Be strong and resilient to fight back. 

We can pass on hope, 

Share the smiles without hints of sorrow,

We can profit only when we share love, 

We should show support. 

Although everything is truly painful, 

We should think about the positivities, 

Believe that the future will be bright,

We need to continue this hope.  

The second poem talks about how differences in us don’t matter. No matter who you are, you can’t escape from this pandemic. Therefore, we all should help to put a stop to this contagious disease by taking actions and helping each other to continue to be strong no matter what. 

ទោះមានឬក្រ                  ទោះខ្មៅឬស                   សុទ្ធតែដូចគ្នា

ពេលមានជម្ងឺ                   តែងរងវេទនា              ​​វីរុសផ្តន្ទា


បើដូច្នេះហើយ                   ចូរកុំបណ្តោយ​​​​​​                រីរាឲ្យសោះ

ត្រូវប្រុងប្រយ័ត្ន​                 អនាម័យឥតខ្ចោះ       កុំមានចន្លោះ


ទាំងយើងទាំងគេ ​​​            ជៀសមិនបានទេ    ត្រូវប្រឹងសម្អាត

កុំធ្វេសប្រហែស               នោះធ្វើឲ្យខាត      ចូរកុំប្រមាថ


យើងគ្រួសារមួយ            គួរតែលើកស្ទួយ​          ជួយគ្នាមូលមិត្ត

ជួយថែជួយទាំ ​​​               ជួយលើកទឹកចិត្ត       នោះក្តីសុខពិត
​​​                                          នឹងមានដល់យើង។

(English Translation): 

Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, we are all the same. 

When encountered by diseases, we would suffer from this misery. 

The virus punishes all of us. 

If this is so, we shouldn’t be careless. 

Always be cautious and hygienic. 

Leave no space for the virus to spread. 

Us and Others, we all can’t escape from this. 

So we should all try to take action. 

Don’t be careless, that would be a loss. 

Never ever doubt the priceless value of life. 

We are all in this one family, 

We should empower and help one another, 

We should take care of one another, 

We should cheer each other up, 

Only then, we can be truly happy together. 



The Problematic Production of Chocolate

The unfortunate covid-19 pandemic had forced students, including me, to shift to online learning. In the past months, I have been exploring new topics, researching interesting information and enhancing my knowledge of the world in different themes. One of the themes I have explored is “Production”, which I wrote about the process of making products and researched about various issues in this topic. Chocolate production happened to spark my interest because of its unheard stories and data that are really staggering. 

What Chocolate Companies are doing to fight slavery
Credits to Susannah Henty from Fair trade Blog

Chocolate is a product we enjoy made by the sacrifice of non-fair trade victims which they pour their blood, sweat, and tears to make. Among all of the products that we buy at the end of the supply chain, chocolate is one of the most exploitative of all.  Unlike the delicious final product, the stories behind chocolate production isn’t that sweet and beautiful. While we enjoy eating this amazing snack, the farmers who grow them mostly earn less than 2 dollars a day, which is below the poverty line set by the world bank. Most of us are indirectly supporting slavery, child labor, and forced labor by unknowingly and unconsciously buying products from companies who practice non-fair trade deals to exploit uneducated and unempowered farmers in poor communities.  While there are people who surely have concerns about this tribulation, ignorance from many is inevitable. However, I believe the research and stories behind your delicious chocolate might help you see the injustice behind food production and encourage you to buy more consciously. 


Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry

Bitter Sweets | Fortune
Credits to Brian O’keefe, Bitter Sweets from Fortune. PHOTOGRAPHS BY BENJAMIN LOWY

Due to low payment farmers get from unfair-trade companies, child labor, and slavery is a solution for them as it provides low-cost labor. While some children work in this industry because they need to find income for their families which are in poverty, others are tricked by traffickers or sold to them by families in need. Those children are between the ages of 12 and 16. Given the lack of education and the need to find income, these children often continue working in the cocoa farms throughout adulthood, and this cycle of unfair payment and slavery continues. The heavy labor, dangerous tools, unfair treatment and the overall hazardous environment the cocoa industry expose these children to often violate the international labor laws. Similar to child labor, slavery in the chocolate industry is brutal, involving physical violence,  mental abuse, and other immoral treatments. 

Other Obstacles Cocoa Farmers Face

The chocolate and cocoa industry is huge but farmers face a lot of problems in producing them. One of the many challenges farmers face is climate change and pollution, which causes changing weather patterns, soil composition, an increase in water limitation, and more.  According to a research paper written by the  Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at Michigan State University, Climate change is projected to overall decrease the yields of cereal crop in Africa through shortening growing season length, amplifying water stress and increasing incidence of diseases, pests and weeds outbreaks (Niang et al. 2014). Furthermore,  they need to face diseases and blights which lead to plummeting sales for the cooperation they work for. In Daniel Stolte’s article, “Cocoa, Currency and a Chocolate Crisis, from the Arizona University, ” About 70 percent of the world’s production of cocoa — chocolate’s main ingredient — comes from just six small countries of West Africa, where a blight disease that kills cacao trees is spreading rapidly, causing decline and death in some trees in less than one year after infection occurs. 

Credits to: Arizona University

”On top of that, nearly all of the corporations they sell to are non-fair trade companies that take advantage of their labor and do not pay them fairly for their hardly grown products. 

The reason why most cocoa farmers are treated this way is because of the poverty they are in which drives them to do anything to find an income — whether non-fair trade or not. Due to the lack of support of fair-trade and empowerment, most of the companies they sell to are non-fair, making it extremely hard to make a decent living. To illustrate, let’s look at a shocking statistic that will open your eyes to the world of chocolate production. According to a Fairtrade Foundation video titled “The Story of Chocolate: Unwrapping the Bar”,  “Of the 2 million tons of cocoa produced in Cote D’Ivoire in 2016, only 8% of them are produced on fair trade. ”

Financial need is one of the most basic human needs; and if stifled, would cause an array of problems in the livelihoods of many. The non-fair trade low payment further leads to extremely concerning problems including lack of education for the children, lack of decent health care, clean water, and sanitation, and other essential infrastructures. This ultimately drives the whole community into stunting the whole development of the area. 

Organization Actions to Help 

Fairtrade logo            

To help alleviate their poverty, the fair trade foundation is working hard to help the farmers in South Africa. They help train the farmers so their products can increase and teach them the basic principles of fair trades including the minimum wage of fair trades which acts as a safety net when the market prices go down. Their vision is to see a world in which all producers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfill their potential, and decide on their future. Not only working with the farmer, but they also work with the government to make the laws fairer. Furthermore, they work hard to spread the awareness of non-fair trade deals to the public so the consumers can make wiser choices when shopping to support the farmers. 

Supporting fair trade doesn’t only help to pay the farmers fairly, but it also helps to enhance environmental sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving the quality of the soil and water by introducing sustainable agriculture. 

The truth is, the lack of transparency in the chocolate industry makes it hard for consumers to consciously choose from fair trade deals. However, consumers can still take action to help contribute to solving this immense problem. They can seek products that are certified by fairtrade organizations like Fairtrade foundation for example. (For your information, here is the list of fair trade chocolate companies recommended by Fairtrade foundation. ) 

Buying from fair-trade companies doesn’t require any difficulties. By encouraging fair trade, you help workers to have a fair payment while lowering your environmental impacts. So the next time you eat chocolate, make sure you eat those that are produced with love instead of suffering. Help make the chocolate industry sweet and happy again.