A New Vision: Cambodian Youth Lead the Way in their Communities

Community development initiatives often fail because community members do not feel any ownership over the project, or because external organisations impose their own beliefs and attitudes.

Sangkat Khmuonh’s Youth Group is different.

Based in an Urban Hub in Sangkat Khmuonh, Phnom Penh, the group is an initiative of World Vision’s “Community Engagement and Sponsorship Programme”. It provides a space for young people to collaborate on their own innovative ideas in response to issues they identify in the community.

World Vision monitors the progress of the group and provides some resources, but the Youth Group is otherwise very independent. 

Members of the Youth Group have been meeting for many years. In 2006 , the “Children of Hope” Area Development Programme (ADP) brought the children together for the first time. The programme, facilitated by World Vision, aimed to create a network of sponsored children and involve them in transforming the community.

The ADP focused on capacity building, teaching the children soft skills such as facilitation, as well as technical skills such as video production and article writing. The children utilised these skills to raise awareness about community issues including child well-being and disaster risk reduction.

The theory was that this training would give them the skills needed to stay in school, instead of dropping out. But the programme has given them so much more. The critical thinking skills they learnt in “Children of Hope” helped them to identify rubbish as a problem in the community. For their grandparents, the piles of litter on the streets were just a normal part of life.

But the Youth Group had a different perspective. They knew that if they put their minds to it they could change things in their community. In 2008, they came together to solve the problem, mobilising family and friends to clean up the rubbish.

The Youth Group’s success can be attributed to the depth of their trust in each other, and their sense of pride in the initiatives they implement.

Their achievements were formally recognised by the government, which strengthened the conviction of the group and led to the formal development of Sangkat Khmuonh’s Youth Group as we know it today – a collective of community-minded young people who come together to make a difference. 

Since 2008, the Youth Group has continued its successes. Recently, they organised a concert with local performers to raise funds for the community. This enabled them to conduct an environmental campaign, through which they raised awareness about how to keep the streets clear of rubbish, and how to maintain a tidy home. They even came up with key messages to illustrate the impact littering has on the environment.

The Youth Group’s success can be attributed to the depth of their trust in each other, and their sense of pride in the initiatives they implement. Over the years, the members have bonded over their shared achievements, such as the fundraising concert and another initiative to involve local children in the Urban Hub’s nightly English class.

For Uykakada, one of the members, the group provides a supportive environment to share his feelings without being judged. He loves that every member has a positive attitude and is happy to help the community. Uykakada explains how he used to be a quiet person and didn’t have many friends, but now he has developed confidence and leadership skills.

Savornveasna, another member of Sangkat Khmuonh’s Youth Group, says that he always learns a lot from the Youth Leaders, and that he likes helping his community develop.  

Despite the many strengths of the group, and despite their close and trusting relationship with each other, they face challenges. In 2018, the area will graduate from the ADP, which means they will lose the support of World Vision and will need to become self-sustainable. 

In order to formalise the Youth Group as an organisation, members are working hard to gain employment that will help them support the group they love so much.

While the future of the Youth Group is uncertain, we know that the critical life-skills these remarkable individuals have developed will help them lead successful and fulfilled lives.

We can't wait to see what they do next!

 This story is written by Naomi Sarah Armstrong, an international volunteer with World Vision.