There she was on a large screen, speaking in fluent Khmer, watched by over a thousand Cambodians women, children and men.
Time: One evening in December 2005
Place: A village temple close to the historic city of Siem Reap, Cambodia
There we were, practically in the shadow of the massive Angkor Wat temple complex, and trying to reach out to rural Cambodians on practical ways to live more sustainable lives.
The event was an evening of variety entertainment laced with some information and education. Colleagues at Action IEC, our Cambodian partner, knew exactly how to get this mix right. Amidst songs, drama, comedy and live competitions, they screened Hands On video films versioned into Khmer.
As the loudspeakers boomed and (Hands On host) Anita Roddick appeared on screen speaking in a strange tongue, I watched the audience closely. They were spell-bound: especially the children belied a sense of wonder.
But sustaining their attention is a big challenge. That evening’s 4-hr programme was the result of over a dozen Cambodian colleagues planning and working for days. It was part of the public outreach activity for Hands On films that we versioned into Khmer under a 4-country, Asian project called Localising Hands On in Asia.
The young and not-so-young in our audience that evening were there mainly for the fun and games. Rolling out Anita and Hands On was a clever ploy by Kosal, Cedric and other Cambodian colleagues. Call it ‘sugar-coating’ the development pill.
Oh yes, we also had the Khmer versioned programmes broadcast on Cambodia’s most popular TV channel (CTN). That engaged a different kind of audience. A passive broadcast can never really produce the kind of audience engagement we saw that evening.
In our efforts to engage Asia’s eyeballs and minds, we’ve made modest progress by proceeding parallely on broadcast and narrowcast fronts — but there is a great deal of unfinished business.