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An Interview with Sarah Rhodes

Sarah Rhodes has worked extensively in tourism for several years – with a lot of the work conducted in her native Australia. She has, among many other things, worked as both an online manager and digital producer for the South Australian Tourism Commission.

However, Cambodia is where her calling led her and she has spent several years working in the Southeast Asian country. She works with an organization named Plastic Free Cambodia that educates local businesses, NGOs and schools about how they can reduce and eliminate harmful effects on the environment, but in the past she was a marketing manager for a sustainable tourism organization called, See Cambodia Differently. So why did she choose to work in Cambodia?

“I’ve worked in tourism for many years and always had a strong desire to work in sustainable tourism, when seeking opportunities in this field my search ventured to Southeast Asia,” Rhodes says. “My friend suggested some organizations in the region and one, ConCERT [an NGO that provides training on child protection and culture to volunteers in Siem Reap], really stood out.”

So what motived her to launch Plastic Free Cambodia? “Looking at the big picture of environmental conservation can be daunting,” Rhodes states. “Plastic is an obvious problem in Cambodia (and the rest of the world) but it’s also easy to ‘fix.’ Reducing the use of plastic is something everyone can do.”

Rhodes’ tourism connections in Australia have actually helped her greatly in Cambodia. After participating in a campaign named Plastic Free July last year, she realized “there is a lot more plastic we don’t realize we’re using.” According to Rhodes, the Australian organizers of Plastic Free July were very enthusiastic of launch of that same endeavor in Cambodia.

But how do you overcome the challenges of advanced sustainability in Cambodia? “Education is the biggest challenge, and that individuals feel like they can’t overcome the way things are,” Rhodes says. She has definitely worked to educate the Cambodian population on the importance of sustainability, collaborating with local schools to provide education about the environment. Rhodes has even served as a guest speaker at an event hosted by the Shinta Mani Resort to encourage the tourism industry to act responsibly in environmental matters.

However, another challenge in promoting sustainability in Cambodia is overcoming the “cost of free” dilemma – for example, people taking plastic bags because they are free. But Rhodes sees a solution for reducing their use. “Charging for plastic bags in many countries has resulted in a drastic decrease of usage,” she says. “So we will continue to collaborate with local authorities to advocate for changes in this in Cambodia.”

Finally, what does Rhodes hope Plastic Free Cambodia accomplishes? “We want to motivate people and organizations that care about the environment to spread the knowledge,” she states. “We provide resources and support to bolster the work people are doing in this area and also encourage others to take action. There are some great things happening in this area we went to help unite people and organizations so we can have a louder voice and learn from each other to make real progress.”

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