July 8, 2010 — “A Lively Community Starts With You” is the slogan motivating a youth group in O’Dambang I commune of Battambang province. “I am very interested in this program,” 21-year-old Sim Savan says proudly. “I want to apply it to my community because I want to see it vital and lively.”
To get things moving Mr. Savan and his team are piloting several approaches. First, they are mobilizing funds to support the poorest elders in the community; second, they are using funds to mend potholes in rural roads; third, they are helping the commune to collect community contributions to match the co-financing of the commune projects; and fourth, they are helping the commune to disseminate information from the commune to villagers and to bring the concerns and needs of the villagers back to commune council members to consider in their commune development plan.
Mr. Savan is among 29 youth volunteers in the O’Dambang I commune Youth Network program who are being trained by the Khmer Youth Association (KYA), which works on human resources development, human rights, democracy, peace building, youth exchange, drug prevention and reproductive health. With $6,000 support from the World Bank’s Civil Society Grant, the KYA focuses this support on strengthening the capacity of youth networks to be ready to become involved in community development and to promote and support their ideas to participate in local good governance. KYA focuses its program in 43 communes in eight provinces.
The youth network in O’Dambang I commune has identified problems in their community such as poverty, poor quality of rural roads, and limited understanding by villagers of their role in participating in their community’s development. The young people hope their involvement will help address these issues.
A 17-year-old girl, Say Phoeurp, another youth network member, says the team decided to start with small projects, then scale up after building experience and better understanding of the issues.
“We are young and have limited experience in our community’s development,” she says. “So we decided to start with a small project and learn from it.”
Youth involvement in community development is praised and welcomed by villagers and O’Dambang I commune chief Ham Khan.
“We welcome them and are happy because they help us,” Mr. Khan said.
The team strongly believes their role in helping to build their community is important and they are confident that when all people have the same idea of helping the community, it will become a lively and vitalized community.
Ly Phearich, 22, another youth network and a sewing-shop owner, smiles and says: “We are part of our community, so we have to help our community.” She continues: “We want to see our community progress and people have jobs and be happy and respect and recognize one another. Most important is that we want our community to see us as problem solvers, not problem creators.”
Savan, Phoeurp, Phearich and other youth members hope their efforts will bring villagers and commune council members closer to one another so that people are better served.
“I hope that the gap will be narrower when they understand their rights and their roles,” says Mr Savan. “Our goal is to see our people happy and participating in our community’s development.”
The team is allowed to attend commune meetings, and helps the commune disseminate information on commune development progress and plans.
Among practical things the youth team has done so far: helping one of the poorest older women by providing her with basic needs such as rice, soya sauce, milk, a mat and some money; repairing 50 meters of potholed road; and successfully collecting contributions from people to build a 2-km commune road.