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Life on a crowded planet: drugs, sex and poverty

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Sum Kalyan and fellow activists lecturing bus passengers on the problems Cambodia faces from unchecked population growth.

As the world’s population inches towards 7 billion people, a figure the UN estimates will be reached by October, a new cross-country bus campaign has been launched to educate Cambodians on what it will be like living on an increasingly crowded planet.

It’s early in the morning and passengers on a  bus  heading to Koh Kong are watching Sum Kalyan, a member of the Khmer Youth and Social Development Organisation (KYSD) lecture them on the problems Cambodia faces from unchecked population growth.

In  Cambodia’s case,  existing  social problems including  poverty, drug use, and unemployment will be exacerbated as the country’s population grows, unless action is taken, explained Sum.

“As the population increases, there may be good and bad issues that we will face. When there are more people, there will be more challenges for us.”

The bus campaign is part of the “7 Billion” iniative by the  United Nations Population Fund, aimed at educating citizens of countries around the world about the problems rapid population growth can bring.
In Cambodia, Sum and the KYSD are taking the lead in promoting  the UN’s message, with her organisation starting banner campaigns, photo exhibitions and now bus lectures .

This particular early morning bus was departing Phnom Penh  last Saturday packed full of passengers,  when Sum and her fellow activists wearing t-shirts with the logo 7 Billion, approached the driver.
Soon  the music video on the bus television is turned off, and a spokewoman from Sum’s team turns to the captive audience to start her pitch.    

“Greetings brothers and sisters, let us introduce our team. We’re doing a campaign to raise awareness about productive health and other social issues. We chose this bus to run the programs, and we need your participation.”

After introducing her team to passengers,  Sum waits until the bus stops for breakfast, before embarking on phase two.

“We cannot give advice to people when they don’t have breakfast yet. They don’t have attention to listen to us because they are still hungry,” she explained.   

Before too long Sum is screening education films about healthcare for pregnant women and quizzing passengers afterwards.

“We see most passengers get involved with us. They raise their hands to answer our questions though gifts that we plan to give to them are just T-shirts.”     

United Nations Population Fund spokesperson Pen Sophanara, says techniques such as  bus lectures are effective in getting the message across to Cambodians about the impact of population growth.

“When the population increases, people’s chances of gaining job will be tougher.  We want each country to look for solution for their future problems, but at the same time they should not forget the problems that they haven’t solved yet. Cambodia is still facing of drug use, maternal issues, reproductive health, voiceless, and poverty.”

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