In memoriam of Kannitha Lim

A tribute to Kannitha Lim who died of malaria on 19 February, 2010, kindly written by Dr Carl Traeholt, The Royal University of Phnom Penh:

Today, four years ago, in February 2006, Kannitha was one of 24 students who made up the first intake of our new Master of Science (MSc) course in biodiversity conservation at The Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Like most of her peers Kannitha came from a family of very modest background and, like most of her peers, Kannitha’s educational background was, at best, very erratic. As such, it was tempting to think that Kannitha would follow many other students out of the course before managing to complete it. But Kannitha defied the odds, because she had what many of her peers lacked: determination, an indomitable spirit and a hunger for knowledge that left her eager to learn and to overcome challenges.

Rather than being upset about failing her first assignment Kannitha welcomed the feedback as a chance to improve her research skills. She quickly realised that the MSc that she had enrolled in was not only a life time challenge but a life time opportunity and it merely made her work harder and become even more determined. She did not study so hard to prevail only, but to reach a level of scientific excellence both for herself and for her country.

Unfortunately, the tragic demise of Kannitha to malaria came much too early for her to enjoy life as a scientist, a life that she so deserved and aspired to. She represented the very best of the MSc course and she possessed the rare combination of qualities required to make a good scientist: curiosity, commitment, creativity, intelligence and altruism.

Kannitha also had the tenacity to break from traditional conservatism and face new challenges with a smile and without prejudice. Her open-minded spirit made her at home amongst all cultures, in the lab as well as in the field. Possessing such qualities, I had no reservations about recommending her to pursue her studies in Denmark with Prof. Dr. Ole Naesby Larsen (Odense University) and Prof. Dr. Knud E. Heller (Copenhagen University) who, in several emails to me, repeatedly acknowledged her outstanding potential as a scientist and appreciated her wonderful demeanour and positive personality.

While breaking with traditional cultural expectations as a woman and pursuing her studies Kannitha was also a role model for many of her peers and younger students whom she never failed to help whenever she could. She had charm, was mild-mannered and possessed a very winning personality that made her a favourite amongst her peers and she will leave immense sadness and grief amongst fellow students and scientists in Cambodia as well as in Europe, and not least amongst her nearest family and friends.

It is not meaningful to utter that death is unfair – but in this case I would say that it came at a very untimely and tragic moment, simply because the empty space it leaves is far too large. Much has been lost with her demise both for her family and friends but also for her country as one of Cambodia’s most promising young researchers in the field of biodiversity.

She will be sorely missed by students and fellow scientists.