Saving Champa

The Cham are an indigenous ethnic group of present-day Vietnam. The now lost Kingdom of Champa, which the Chams belonged to, stretched along central through South Vietnam. When the Cham succumbed to the Vietnamese of the north, they continued to preserve their rich culture at all cost. Today, the Cham still struggle to preserve their culture with continued threats from the Vietnamese government.

For decades, the confiscation and conversion of sacred Cham spaces and relics into tourist attractions has been a great concern. The My Son and Po Nagar temples and the Cham Museum in Da Nang are the most notable examples of the exploitation of Cham culture to the determent of Chams who can no longer use these sacred sites or relics for religious purposes. To the south, where Chams are predominately Sunni Muslim, a history of confiscation of land belonging to village mosques and villagers has also been documented. In all of these cases, the Chams were never compensated for their losses, instead were and are still threatened if they choose to take action.

More recently, the Vietnamese government proposed to build a nuclear power plant dangerously close to Cham villages and ancient temples in Phan Rang, Vietnam. These ancient temples, like Po Klong Grai, and villages predates the establishment of present-day Vietnam. Furthermore the Phan Rang region is home to the greatest diversity of religious practices among the Cham, including Balamon, Bani, and Sunni Islam. The power plant will create nuclear contamination of Cham villages that have been in the area for centuries and compromises the lives of the Cham villagers. The Po Klong Garai temple will be in an area of nuclear contamination or down winding, once the plant is built, preventing safe (non-contaminated) worship at a traditionally important temple where many Chams make pilgrimages during the annual Cham festival, Katé.

On November 25-26, 2013, the United Nations will hold its annual Forum on Minority Issues at its European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. This year, the UN Forum will focus on religious rights of minority groups. Azizah Ahmad, Khaleelah PoRome, and Julie Thi Underhill will have the opportunity to attend the UN Forum on behalf of the International Office of Champa (IOC) and address the issues facing the Cham people on a worldwide arena.

They need your help! The cost of sending three delegates to Geneva is extremely expensive. The IOC is a small non-profit and can only provide a very modest stipend to help defray the cost of the trip. Out-of-pocket costs for each delegate are still estimated at $1,500 (airfare, hotel, local travel, etc.). Azizah, Khaleelah, and Julie need your help to send them to the UN Forum. Please consider helping save and safely preserve Cham culture and villagers whose livelihoods are continually threatened. Any contribution that you can afford will be greatly appreciated.

About the delegates:

Azizah Ahmad is an active member of the Sacramento, CA Cham community. She has experience advocating on issues and analyzing policies affecting Southeast Asian and Asian Pacific American communities. In the summer of 2013, Azizah was the Cham representative in a Vietnamese delegation that met with then US Dept. of State Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer about the rights of religious minorities in Vietnam. She is currently the Senior Programs Associate at the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association in Washington, DC.

Khaleelah PoRome and her family has a history of advocating for Cham rights in Vietnam. In 2013 she continued in her father's footsteps when she was a part of the Cham delegation at the inaugural Vietnamese American Meet Up in Washington, DC. Currently, Khaleelah works as a director of affairs in the sports entertainment industry.

Julie Thi Underhill is a Cham-American with maternal ties to the Phan Rang region of Viet Nam. In 2011, she was a delegate to the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva, where she addressed the rights of Cham women in Viet Nam. In 2013, she attended the Vietnamese American Meet Up in Washington DC as part of a Cham delegation. She is currently a doctoral student and instructor at UC Berkeley, where her work focuses on Cham history and memory.
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Azizah Ahmad 
Washington D.C., DC
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