Ou Ratanak, 28, became the executive director of People Health Development Association (PHD) at an early age. As executive director, he has received training domestically and abroad on issues related to gender and violence. His international training has been helpful, but sometimes those lessons cannot be applied to his work in Cambodia and he has to improvise.
Ou Ratanak is polite, and speaks without even a trace of violence or aggression. “I have to completely adapt the lessons I learnt because the situations from one country to the next are always different, so I adapt to the Cambodian context,” he said.
His institution is unique because it only targets students in university. They decided to target younger Cambodians because there are many organisations working on those with a history of violence.
“We want long term solutions, once the youth understand the consequences of violence they are less likely to act violently,” he explained.
Ou Ratanak works hard to train his staff about dealing with cases of violence. He said, “In order to educate people, a worker needs to know about the meaning of violence and the related laws, document and cases.”
Although violence has always been a problem, its roots are still unknown. In Ou Ratanak’s experience, people often think of violence as a “private or individual issue not a crime”.
His biggest challenge is dealing with sexual harassment because people cannot accept that what they do to their life partner in private can actually be considered as sexual harassment. Furthermore, dealing with such cases requires a lot of evidence and ways to validate what people say.
He also mentioned that “it takes a lot of time to change people’s perception and behaviour, especially if they are used to violence”.
PHD has successfully educated people about violence and the law in the 10 universities in Phnom Penh. The organisation also works with universities in Siem Reap, Kampong Cham and Battambang provinces.
With his program’s continued success, Ou Ratanak is committed to continuing his program against violence. He said his institution will continue to train more youth because “if you want change, you have to educate”.