Youth is a valuable resource and the wealth of a nation, and the potential for young participation is reflected in the development of society. Therefore, volunteerism programs are a way to build young people's capacity to be potential resources that are capable of making a difference in society, said Luy Tech Chheng, Executive Director of Youth Star Cambodia, who has been involved in working with national and international non governmental organizations for almost 15 years.
Tech Chheng's experience
Tech Chheng has almost 15 years of experience in volunteering. As a formal volunteer of Youth Star, he values volunteerism, which provides young people with the opportunity to explore and develop themselves within the community.
He said that the challenges facing Cambodian youth today are they have less access to reliable information that can be utilized to make decisions or engage in social activities. Social issues such as using drugs, being forced to use violence, and dealing with criminals are obstacles to youth development. These obstacles have been influenced by social and family factors in their lives that need urgent solutions.
“Sometimes those youth don’t get actual information on how to engage in social work, so when they can't get reliable information, they make wrong decisions and then it turns into a problem for them," Tech Chheng said.
He added that NGOs are indispensable in developing countries and they are the government's best partner in preventing social crises by providing consultation, implementing policies, and providing financial assistance to develop human resources. In contrast, one portion of the government is insufficient.
Youth Star builds volunteer capacity
For nearly 20 years in Cambodia, Youth Star has cooperated with the government and other partners to empower Cambodian youth as volunteers to improve the quality of life in vulnerable communities through education and civic participation.
Youth Star's vision is to enhance young people's potential through involvement in community activities, the development of responsibility, leadership skills, and the acquisition of skills in volunteer work, all of which can increase their prospects of finding a respectable career once the program is over.
“Youth Star believes that by providing opportunities for youth to volunteer their time and talents to help those in need, those young people have the power to change their communities for the better,” Tech Chheng told Kiripost.
Haun Sokrun was a fourth year student of Royal University Phnom Penh, holding a degree in sociology, who was willing to engage in social activities. He combined his prior volunteer work with his knowledge of the difficulties that each community faced, particularly in the area of education, and the limited possibility of assisting them directly.
In 2020, Sokrun received an announcement from Youth Star for social volunteering via a Facebook page. This fulfilled his desire to learn more about the difficulties faced by community members.
Sokrun, a 33 generation Youth Star formal volunteer, believes that volunteerism fulfills the gaps of youth, such as knowledge, while strengthening capacity and providing a fresh viewpoint on societal issues to give young people the chance to get involved in the social work they want.
"It connects youth to the community. If there is no volunteerism, youth themselves have no chance to engage in social works and needs," he said.
Sokrun added that through the participation of Youth Star, in late 2020 he made an achievement by proposing a fund under the project of the UN Youth Advisory Panel Cambodia. It aims to disseminate awareness to children in rural communities about excellent hygiene, clean eating, drinking, and living practices. The activities took place in Strong commute, Kampong Thom province.
During his one year and three month period of service, he claimed both his hard and soft skills improved and he became much more independent in his work, particularly his ability to carry out community activities.
He added that youth need to understand social context and needs, especially those that rural communities demand. Knowledgeable youth should take what they have learned and make it beneficial to society.
“If we are potential youth and knowledgeable, we should use those gaining knowledge to change a community. This is what I and our society want to see,” he said.
Chhun Sreynich started volunteering in July 2020. The 32nd generation Youth Start volunteer was motivated by her parents to join the organization. They saw that the program enhances education and provides training skills to develop young people's mindset that meet her passion.
During her six-month volunteer period, Sreynich greatly benefited in hard and soft skills, becoming fearless in communication. Despite the challenges in volunteerism in the community, she refused to let them lock her potential to make a positive impact on the community.
"At first, I was not accepted by the villagers in the community, they discriminated against me. It was hard to challenge them, yet I didn't give up and learned from what they needed. It made a change," she said.
Similarly, Sap Thida believes that volunteerism is fundamental to building knowledge, gaining new perspectives, and connecting to potential people where she could make positive contributions to the community.
She saw herself as more professional and mature working with a team and other community members, which, compared to before joining, she was unqualified.
"Before, I was not very good at communicating, I was very shy. After getting trained, I have become much better on flexibility and leadership skills" she said.
Lack of understanding education among parents
Children in rural areas are accustomed to overworking, which violates child labor. As a result of deploying volunteers from Youth Star to the community, this has changed by getting involved in raising and sending kids to school, according to Thida.
The 36th generation Youth Star volunteer claims that Youth Star's focuses on education by establishing reading clubs for kids that provide common benefits as a whole. This is what inspires her to volunteer.
The Youth Star program has developed a link between prospective resources to fill the human resource gap in communities that need community partner cooperation, fostering volunteer engagement, solidarity, responsible citizenship, and a stronger sense of community to volunteerism.
Founded by Khmer-American, Eva Mysliwiec, in 2005, Youth Star provides a space for youth to strengthen their capacity. It has about 400 volunteers, most of them from remote provinces. Kratié, Prey Veng, Kompong Thom, and Svay Reng are the four provinces where the initiative has been active in sending Youth Star volunteers to help those communities for a 12-month volunteer period.
Additionally, the volunteer model of Youth Star has had an impact on these community stakeholders, such as village chiefs, monks, the young and villagers, who continue to volunteer by gathering funds to build a study club and materials to help the community.