Engaging in Environmental Justice and Sustainability: Immersion Experience in Cambodia

Guided by the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm and the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, the McGrath Graduate Fellows from the University of San Francisco had the opportunity to engage with local communities and Jesuit partners in Cambodia this past Summer.

During a two-week immersion experience, USF students learned about the devastating effects of climate change on Cambodian natural resources and livelihoods. They had meaningful conversations with local Cambodians about the injustices they are currently facing and witnessed the increasing social and geopolitical challenges in the region. One of the main topics was the forced migration in Cambodia due to the depleted fishing industry at Tonle Sap Lake and the harm done to the environment by illegal deforestation.

“Our time in Cambodia offered me the chance to have a truly diverse range of conversations — with a fellow scholar while waiting for a plane, with a gender justice activist on an early-morning van ride, with a conservationist family in the jungle — and I remain in awe of the knowledge and time they freely shared. In the same vein, visiting sacred sites so intertwined with Cambodian daily life, such as the Angkor Wat and Sambor Prei Kuk temples, has given me new appreciation for the struggle to protect Indigenous lands in states like California.” -Lalini Ranaraja, USF student

The McGrath Graduate Fellows were particularly humbled and inspired by the aid already provided by Jesuit institutions in the country. Particular highlights include the Xavier Jesuit School and Jesuit Refugee Services. Students learned from the dedicated leaders of these services and witnessed their positive impact. The Jesuit services in Cambodia are relentless champions of social and climate justice and models of Jesuit action.

“My curiosity was illuminated by the bustling ancient temples, fishing villages, deforestation projects, farmers markets, community agricultural projects led by women, and the role of the Jesuit Refugee Services. The integration of the Ignatian pedagogy paradigm shaped my strategic thinking in tackling social and climate justice challenges. I was inspired by Cambodian individuals and organizations uplifting marginalized communities through collaboration and compassion.” – MandlaMdluli, USF student

For the McGrath Graduate Fellows, being in fellowship is not limited to being in communion with one another, now they are in fellowship with the Jesuit mission already on the ground in Cambodia. Students are engaged in solidarity with the communities as they continue the push for meaningful reflections, dialogues, and actions towards social and climate justice. Now, they are preparing to take action visiting leaders in Washington, D.C. later this month during the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice.

The 2023 USF McGrath Graduate Fellows are a diverse group of students from different disciplines – a unique strength of this fellowship: applied economics, organization and leadership, education technology, international studies, animal law and writing. The varied perspectives sparked profound conversations and rich insights.

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