Lightmary Flores

Environmental Advocate on Senate and Co-Vice President of the Sustainability Club on campus, Junior Maddie McMurray (pictured right) sat in the library preparing for her next class as she glanced outside the glass windows and beyond the campus courtyard. “You can read about deforestation but when you actually see it in person, it is a lot more weighted in that moment; it sits in your gut for a while and makes you reflect on your habits as a consumer of the global north and that is what truly makes you want to do something,” junior McMurray said as she spoke about her summer internship in Cambodia as a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) ambassador.

After her parents told her about the opportunity both of which are a part of the USAID embassy, McMurray decided to channel her passion for biodiversity as an economic and environmental analyst for Food Security in the environment sector. As part of the developmental team, she helped research and proofread a current four-year competitive bidding contract that helps allocate resources and implementforest and land laws as part of the Supporting Forests and Biodiversity Project. 

For this project, McMurray drew from her Business Administration background, but relied extensively on her Environmental Studies work.“The greatest challenge became being well-read enough in everything that was happening in Cambodia to really be able to synthesize everything that I was experiencing properly,” McMurray said. 

“When dealing with the issue on a scale as large as a country, you seehowinterconnected all factors are in development. I was monitoring political players, climate issues and political figures.”

McMurray saw a completely different way of living when she went on a field tour away from her headquarters, within the provinces of Kampong Thom and Preah Vinear that consisted of a two-hour drive on a mope headmiles and miles of chared soil, endless stumps and raised homes built of wood. “These multi-generational farmer communitieslived off of cucumber, eggplant, bitter gourd and cassava. At the center of every village is an open-air community meeting place that is characterised by Buddhist flags,” McMurray recalled.  

McMurray witnessed how USAID policy initiatives translated into the community during a village meeting which she took part in. There, the villagers met at central meeting homesto learn about USAID’s mission and about properly conducting patrol forest protection teams to prevent illegal deforestation and poaching.

“Cambodia itself is a great case study to look at as the country with the largest deforestation in the world,” McMurray said. “There is a lot of political uproar around the issue of deforestation and a lot of slash and burn techniques. As people move out into provinces, really rich resources such as expensive mahogany trees get cut down and sold. That profit does not make it back into pockets of Cambodian people and often goes illegally to government officials and other countries.”

McMurray acknowledged howpolitically sensitive the topic of illegally seized timber could be when working her last week. She was told that a political activist was shot while trying to expose illegal logging activities in a forest reserve by military police.

According to McMurray, not only does the International Organization ensure government funds are being allocated properly towards preserving environmental landscape, but its biodiversity project also promotes female empowerment. “It makes sure they have voices; the whole community,” McMurray said. “It teaches them about the importance of patrols in community forest areas. That is how a lot of illegal logging is caught.”

“This internship really has set me up for success and has really made me appreciative of the opportunities that I am fortunate enough to take advantage of,” McMurray said. “It inspired me to continue working toward making our campus a more eco-friendly.”