Kambodscha: Oddom Van Syvorn

The Dhammayietra is not waiting for the next war to begin but comes to spread information everywhere and to call all to a change of heart, a Khmer heart, a soft, kind, gentle heart.

— Oddom Van Syvorn

Oddom Van Syvorn (born 1962) is a Cambodian woman who has dedicated her life to promoting peace and non-violence through the annual peace walk to war-ravaged areas in Cambodia. She joined the first Dhammayietra, which literally means walking with dharma, in 1992 and has coordinated the pilgrimage since 1999. In her work, she teaches Buddhist precepts to the young, blesses and plants trees to raise awareness about environmental preservation and promotes compassion for people living with HIV/Aids.

Oddom Van Syvorn has walked over 4000 kilometers to almost all regions of Cambodia, passing through jungles and landmine-infested areas covering 70 percent of the country. In these pilgrimages, Oddom brings messages of love and compassion for all human beings and the environment. Her peace walks began in 1992 when she first heard about the Dhammayietra walk for peace, initiated by the Venerable Maha Ghosananda, a revered Cambodian monk. Out of curiosity and amid her own doubts about the prospects for peace in Cambodia, Oddom joined the pilgrimage. Seven years later, she became its coordinator and a faithful believer in its active campaign for peace. "I want to truly understand Buddhist teaching," says Oddom, a former trader who quit her small business to dedicate her life to the peace walk. It has not been an easy walk. She recounts, "People do not give much support, and they do not have confidence in peace." Support from the authorities has been mixed and applications for the walk are sometimes lost in the bureaucratic maze. There is also a shortage of funds and limited media coverage. But Syvorn finds strength in these challenges in the quest for a more peaceful Cambodia. During the march, Oddom Syvorn teaches meditation, peace, conflict resolution, non-violence, prevention of HIV/Aids and drug abuse to villagers, school children, traditional midwives, prisoners, monks, nuns and lay Buddhists in the temples. She says she has seen the impact of the peace walk in some communities, where there are fewer reports of domestic violence and fighting, problems that are frequent in the villages. Her vision is to carry the message of the Dhammayietra to the youth of the countryside. "I want them to learn to meditate, the type of meditation which brings them the wisdom of the Khmer heart."

Dhammayietra Center for Peace and Non-violence