Sotheavy AT: Think Plastic is what I like

Sotheavy AT is the winner of the Women of the Future Southeast Asian Awards 2020. She is the founder of Think Plastic, which is a social media campaign to raise awareness of people on plastic usage and environmental pollution in Cambodia. Her campaign page, Think Plastic, has more than 97,000 followers. She produced more than 80 videos on topics related to plastics and pollution. Each of Sotheavy’s videos encourages people to discuss environmental pollution caused by plastics and reaches thousands of people across Cambodia. During COVID-19, Sotheavy creates another campaign, Stay Home, to raise awareness of people on COVID-19 and to share necessary information related to COVID-19.

Sotheavy At’s Interview with Next Women Generation

[Below is translation of the interview that is edited for clarity.]

Social Media Campaign Initiatives

Q: Hello! How are you? You seem very busy recently.

Sotheavy: I am quite busy these days.

Q: What are you working on?

Sotheavy: I am running two campaigns. My first campaign is Think Plastic, promoting the concept of plastic usage reduction. My recent campaign is on COVID-19.

Q: Why do you do these campaigns?

Sotheavy: I love doing the campaign. I am interested in the issues. For instance, I am running Think Plastic because I concern about environmental issues. I have seen many plastics in public places, especially single plastic usage such as plastic bags and coffee cups. Then, I run a campaign to raise awareness of people in reducing plastics usage.

Q: How about your second campaign?

Sotheavy: My second campaign is on COVID-19. Because of COVID-19, I work from home, which saves me time to do another campaign. I have seen many misinformation and fake news about COVID-19 that terrify people. Thus, I started running a campaign discussing COVID-19. I produce videos and invite guest speakers to share their experience on issues related to COVID-19.

Q: Do you work alone or in a team?

Sotheavy: I have a team of two people.

Q: How can you make your campaigns happen?

Sotheavy: I started Think Plastics in 2019. It happens because of one reason—just do it. If we just thought about it, there would not be anything happen. I see the problem, and I want to talk about it. I went to Kep beach. I saw a lot of garbage. I filmed the trash on the beach and asked people to think together. When I do it, I learn that many people concern about this issue. People share and comment on the video. If we discuss and raise awareness of people on the problems, we might be able to reduce plastics usage.

Q: How did you feel when you shared your first video on social media? Do you remember any responses from Facebook users?

Sotheavy: When I made my first video, I created a Facebook page. My page had only one like, which was me. I spent a lot of time to make each video, yet it didn’t mean that people would watch my video. I shared my video on my Facebook timeline. Then, my friends watched it and shared it. I got more shares than watches for my first video. People commented on it and supported what I was doing. People commented on my video so that they knew more about my content.

Q: Have you received any negative feedback or comments from Facebook users?

Sotheavy: Generally, I get many comments on social media. People can write whatever they want. More than 90% of the comments on my video are positive; they share their personal experience or encourage me. Some people criticize my appearance. For instance, they commented that I should not have highlighted my hair. Other Facebook users responded to this type of comment. Some responded that my hair color doesn’t create any problem; that is my style.

Q: What did you tell yourself after reading negative comments?

Sotheavy: We need to learn how to manage our emotions. We are happy with useful comments and upset with negative comments. We need to learn how to accept it. When you are a public figure, it is unavoidable that some like you, and some dislike you. If you keep all of that in your head, you will be stressed and won’t be able to get anything done. We need to analyze whether those comments are rational or not. I mostly accepted comments of people even if it is irrational. I learn from it and improve myself. I didn’t respond to some comments such as my hair color because it is my hair, and I love it. I won’t change my hair color because of ones’ perception of that. I am happy with what I am doing, and this is my body.

Q: I am wondering why do people comment on your hair color?

Sotheavy: They said I am an educator. I should be a role model for other people. Women should not got their hair dyed. However, it is me. A woman like me likes short hair; then, I get my hair cut. I had my hair highlighted before I started running these campaigns. This is my style; I won’t change because of other people’s comments. If I changed it, I don’t feel I am me anymore.

Q: Have you experienced any comments that anger you?

Sotheavy: I don’t take those comments as obstacles for what I am doing. I do it because I like it, not because of other people’s comments. I do it because I care about it, which affects our lives nowadays. I have to talk about it because there is no one talks about it. Whatever other people comment on my work, I continue doing it. Sometime, I am disappointed because I work so hard and spend my money and time. Then, I received criticism in return. I need to accept that I can’t make everyone happy. Only 1% or 2% comments are negative and more than 90% comments are positive; thus, I encourage myself to continue making videos.

Family

Q: Have you shared what you are doing with your family?

Sotheavy: Yes, I have. My mom always shares my video. I talk to them because I want them to understand what I am doing. I am trying to reduce plastics usage as I can. I am not just only doing that for the sake of taking video; it is my normal way of living. If I do not bring my bag with me when I go out, I do not buy anything home with plastic bags. I want my family and people around me to understand that.

My choice to live in this way is not easy; sometimes, I do not bring my bag with me. When I go out with my family, I hesitate to tell them that we should not buy food with plastic bags. I can’t force them to think like me. I try to raise their awareness to avoid using plastics if we can.

Q: How do they respond to you when you tell them about plastic usage?

Sotheavy: They might not have an entirely different opinion from mine. I do not expect that they can practice ways of living without plastics as I do. After they see how I am living without plastics, they learn how to do that.

Q: Do you remember what was the first video that your mom watched? How did she respond to your video?

Sotheavy: I am unsure because I have made more than 80 videos. I am not sure which one she watched firstly. She has not discussed anything with me. She shared it after she watched my video.  

Childhood

Q: I have a few questions about your childhood. How did you know what you wanted to do? Do you want to be a campaigner?

Sotheavy: I had never thought about being a campaigner when I was young. I was born and raised in Kampong Cham province along the Mekong River. I wanted to be a teacher when I was young. I lived far away from the urban area so that I could not see any opportunities at that time. I saw only a few opportunities, such as teacher, nurse, and police. Mostly police were men, and I didn’t want to be a policewoman. I didn’t like nurses either because I didn’t like medical devices and the smell of medicine and blood. Then, the teacher was the only option that I had.

I saw more opportunities when I came to Phnom Penh. I enjoy writing a novel and creating content. I taught myself how to create content. I wrote a story at night. I shared my novel with my relatives to read. I remembered that my father told me to sleep because he saw the light of a lamp.

I didn’t expect to be a campaigner. I did a campaign when I studied in Phnom Penh. I had an opportunity to create content for TV and radio. I am skillful in creating content nowadays. It helps me to run my campaign because I have a full package of skillset, including making videos, creating content, and social media engagement strategy. I also teach others about these skills. I organize the training workshop related to these topics.

Q: What was your first paid job?

Sotheavy: I was a playwright. I wrote a script for TV drama. I worked on a project, Ros Cheat Chivit or Taste of Lives, of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), broadcasted on TV5. The drama was so popular at that time. That was my first job.

Q: Are you still writing script for TV drama?

Sotheavy: I don’t spend too much time on writing drama script. I sometimes write a script for a big film project.

Q: Is that difficult?

Sotheavy: There is no easy or difficult job. It demands our flexibility and cleverness to do it.

Motivations

Q:  What challenges have you experienced as a dramatist?

Sotheavy: The most challenging path is about putting together information that I have into the script. This is very important to me because what I write is not only for me but for educating the intended audience. Many people watch drama on TV or social media. If I put the wrong information in the script, people consumed that type of information. If it is wrong, it is not easy to correct it.

To create good content, it demands more research. My campaign on plastics usage is an example. I am not a plastics or environmental cognoscente. I did a lot of research before putting out my content. Most of the documents are in English with many technical terms that require me to read a lot. I read it again and again. I read documents from many sources. I summarize the content in Khmer for average Cambodians. I spend a lot of time on it, and it is my main challenge.

Q: Have you encountered any problems with how to illustrate your message in the drama? How did you address that? 

Sotheavy: We work in a team who bring in different ideas. It is unavoidable that I want it in this way, and others want it in other ways. Addressing the problem depends on who I work with. I try to reconcile to get things done. I am more open to accept people’s ideas. I don’t think demanding people to accept only my approach can help me to progress. I listen to people: what they feedback, and I take it to improve my work. This is how I work with people. I believe the audience likes what we create. We have to remember that we do not create content just for ourselves. We create content for the target audience. We have to learn whether or not our content is enjoyable for the intended audience.

Women’s engagement

Q: In the field of your work, how do you see women’s engagement? 

Sotheavy: I think we have more men than women in this field. For instance, fewer women are working on producing videos like me. This type of work is seen as an occupation for men. I provided many training workshops. I am a trainer; I design training curriculum, and I am a woman. Trainees often said, ‘Oh, female trainer.’

Courtesy: Sotheavy At’s Facebook timeline’s photo

Q: How do you feel after hearing that?

Sotheavy: I don’t care whether this job is designed for men or women. I love what I am doing. I deliver a good quality of work. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, as long as you know how to achieve it. I am proud of my work because there are fewer women in the field. Some female trainees told me that they dare not to touch the camera because they concern that they are going to break it. I told them that it is fine to hold the camera; if other people can make it, you can make it. If you like this type of work, you just need to do it. There is no such thing as male or female designated jobs. I am a woman who produces videos and teaches others to create content. If I can do it, others also can do it. 

Q: Do you think why there are fewer women in this field?

Sotheavy: I think there is something to do with perception. People might think that work related to innovation and technology are designed for men. This type of work demands us to do a lot of work. For instance, filming a video requires you to hold the camera stand as well. This equipment is heavy. I think that is why some are not interested in this work.

Moreover, the society places this type of work as men’s job. Thus, when a woman works in this field, it is very strange to people. Sometimes, men made a joke about us. 

Q: Have you experienced someone teasing you?

Sotheavy: Yes, I have. They told me that they used the term to call a person who holds the camera as ‘cameraman,’ not ‘camerawoman.’ Then, they changed to ‘cameraperson.’ I don’t take it personally or feel offended. I thought to myself that, if you claim that this is a man’s job while I can do it, you have to reconsider yourself.

Message to other young women

Q: Do you have any messages for young women?

Sotheavy: If you love something, there is nothing to do with being a man or a woman. If you like it, do it. We have different potential and interest. This doesn’t mean that you, as a woman, have to work on the jobs, described by others as female jobs such as accountant, etc. If you like other occupations, work on it. Other people’s opinion is their business. You have to remember that you choose your career for yourself, not for others. If you consider other people’s perceptions so much, you don’t have time to work on yourself. Looking at me as an example, I dedicate myself to my work. I don’t bother to care about what another thinks about me. Your opinion is yours; my perception is mine. This is what I do and what I like.

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