Working with comic illustrator Ben Thomas my aim was to explore methods of dissemination that overcome the limitations of the academic written word and increase the social impact of research. My impact aim is humble, I hope to offer easy access into the issue of statelessness, spark conversation and contribute to people's awareness of the experience of children in context of Cambodia.
I am keen to centre children's stories and importantly their agency as they navigate the challenging terrain of legal limbo. Collaborating with Ben offered an opportunity to visualise elements of children's experiences. By using comics or illustration children’s emotion, energy and explanations of a phenomena or experience can be accessed in a way that centres their agency and voice in a unique way.
In the research I conducted with Vietnamese children in Cambodia, water was a theme woven through children's experience of life and death. The river was also used for fishing, a way to earn money for many families. Yet, moments of play were interrupted by moments of tragedy. Many children shared with me stories of death. These heart breaking accounts of siblings or others falling into the water were often shared in interviews, and provided a stark contrast to otherwise ordinary moments of play.
Life and death on the river had opened up another relationship with water. Children were at times afraid of ‘river ghosts’: the spirits of those who had fallen. Faith was also a strong narrative in the lives of some children who spoke openly of their conversion to Christianity. Talking to children about their experiences of conversion, their use of prayer to still things like fear of water ghosts and the dynamics of converting outside of your family’s religion are things that for the most part, represent ineffable realities. Detailing prayer with text is possible but the representation of fear through text is challenging. Prayer was a key tool used by children to quell fear of ghosts. The potency of children’s prayers and faith provided children with a basic yet fundamental need – sleep.