New Rights, Old Freedom


Poetry is an important form of expression for everyday and social issues in Cambodia, providing an important voice in increasingly shrinking spaces. The award-winning poem by Chhoy Phanith gives insights into the aspirations and hopes of young Cambodians.

cambodian children

Social poetry to influence social change: Poem Competition on “My Rights, My Freedom” by YRDP

Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP) is one of the leading non-governmental youth organizations in Cambodia. Since 1992, YRDP has been teaching and empowering youth to be active citizens by taking concrete initiatives and motivating others to promote sustainable peace, justice and democracy in the society. Artistic forms of expression such as   drawing, music and Forum Theater, have been integrated in YRDP’s programs from 2012.  “Social poetry”, introduced in 2020, aims to strengthen youth freedom of expression by increasing their capacity to express concerns about social issues through poems. Youngsters are encouraged to join a day of training and submit their works for a competition.

The training focuses on poetry as an important form of expression on daily life and society’s issues; poetry related to social issues or rights as a tool to influence public opinion, positive social change and policy makers and tactics for poem writing. Five poems are selected for a competition based on its relevance in terms of advocating duty bearers on specific issues of public and youth’s interest as well as educating the public and young people about their rights and their role in a democratic society.

Three poems are selected as prizewinners.

During the first six months of 2021, the theme of the competition was “My Rights, My Freedom”. There were 25 youth (12 females) participated in the training and 13 trained youth submitted their poems after the training. Five poems related to topic were selected for the competition and the external evaluators awarded three prizes to the participating youngsters. 

The poem titled “New Rights, Old Freedom” by Mr. Chhoy Phanith received the highest scores.

Cambodian poetry

“New Rights, Old Freedom”


Phase 1

Peak Pram Pir Verse (Seven-word reciting style)

  1. Tonight, my dad recalled his childhood memories of

Living in the ruthless regime  under controlling of the killing field Organization (Angkar).

In a society of no classes no money, no properties, no relatives There was nothing but Angkar the only Caesar to build Kampuchea.

  1. People never experienced joyous moments, jovial laughs, discussions, or chatting about anything, for doing so would violate the rules of Angkar. People were deprived of rights and freedom – no rights to expression, rights to belief, rights to life, rights to education, rights to love, or rights to family gathering.
  2. Nowadays, my dear son, you have rights. However, all you do, you must do it carefully, adhering to my advice so that you are on the right track. If you don’t comply with my advice, you will encounter risks. Take my word for it; you will always live peacefully, for I have paved the way for you.
  3. My dear son, look at our current luxurious house, our high-priced materials, and our abundant wealth- that’s because I am in the business of buying and selling lands. Thus, my dear son, you should not be disobedient. My dear son, you should be hard-working and diligent, save money, buy lands, and become abundantly wealthy to prosper me, your father.
  4. It is not worth trying hard to study – you can’t have future. You won’t go far – with knowledge, you will merely work. You can’t be civilized like nowadays. Society is now developing rapidly; you have to take early actions. Lands in lake areas, river areas, or forest areas should not be left behind for no useful productivity.
  5. Nowadays, no one works in the field anymore. Look for forgotten places, buy here and there constantly, and collect them all as you need. Sell the lands and invest the money. Then run a company for father. Spend your available budget well.
  6. Find someone wealthy –someone who is mighty –someone who is powerful to protect us so that become the wealthy and live merrily.

After listening to the father’s speech, the son became so sorrowful and explained all his reasons to his ignorant father.

  1. Dear father, please listen to me. Please have mercy upon me. Please don’t be furious and revenge. Please patiently listen to me once. Dear father, “rights” does not mean anything like before when people were suffering from the deceitful devils.
  2. They made the law to suppress and torture those who demanded rights and freedom. They exaggerated and fed false information to frighten and stop people from thinking. People no longer considered rights and freedom which then were not as valuable as life, for the law was for the suppression to perplex people and prevent them from thinking due to fear.
  3. Society nowadays changes fast; we have to be fast and wise. We must know our rights so that we can be free from oppression. Therefore, dear father, please forgive me and listen attentively, for rights in your generation is now nonsense.
  4. Now I am grown up and mature. This new decade needs knowledge, skills, bravery, and the power of intelligence of youth to jointly build our nation to become a more developed nation than the society in the past when people were painfully suffered and brutally murdered just because of expression and criticism.
  5. I must use my rights properly, look for knowledge and skills, and become wise to make the new society prosperous. Oh, dear father, this is all what I ask for. Please don’t be frustrated. Please support and encourage me to lift up my willingness. We will earn a good reputation.
  6. Our family will be highly appreciated, have a good name, and live with fame. Our society will also be free from disasters, for we jointly build our nation. Dear father, please forgive me if I am wrong as truthful words show attitudes. If we don’t try hard to care for our nation, no other countries will.

Phase 2

Verse in Pumnaul Kak Style

  1. Having listened to the clear and meaningful explanation of mine, my father did not utter. He reconsidered, thought, and compared what I had said and what he had been through.
  2. “Listening to Angkar, I lived with fear—trying to survive,” said my father. “Now I can escape from the death but still can’t understand what freedom is.”
  3. Living with fear, I have never understood what the rights and freedom are—just like a frog staying near the lotus flower never ever understands its sweet odor.
  4. From the well, the frog can only compare the sky to a small hole. Am I wrong to expel and not listen to my son who is living in the peaceful world?
  5. It is the world of human rights, freedom, laws and rules. Hence, instead of arguing with my son, I should help my son succeed in his studies.
  6. After listening to me, my father recognized the values of knowledge and wisdom. He changed his mind, reconsidered and said the following.

Phase 3

Brahma Keete Style

  1. As I am getting older and older, my son, please listen and bear in mind that you must try your best to freely obtain the knowledge from your studies.
  2. Because I used to live my hard life under the ruthless Angkar, I experienced being pressured to live with no education, no religions, no relatives, no rights, and no freedom.
  3. None of my relatives but I had survived the regime, so I just thought about ways of earning more and more money.
  4. I had believed that the money could do us a lot of favors and dragged us out of any danger. Unexpectedly, my son, you made me understand the real values for everyone—freedom.
  5. Hence, my son, please don’t be angry with me. Now I’ll give you the freedom to wisely do things as you wish to.
  6. From now on, I’ll be by your side to encourage and help you reach your future goals.

The End.