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Accelerating development by focusing on youths

Carol Mortensen: ‘At every stage, young people are at the centre of our planning.’

During the last decade, Cambodia has made enormous strides in improving the lives of its children and young people. But to ensure that this progress doesn’t reach a plateau, more work, energy and commitment is still needed, writes ChildFund Cambodia’s Country Director Carol Mortensen.

Over the last 10 years, economic stability and growth in Cambodia has made incredible inroads to poverty reduction – falling from almost 50 per cent of the population living under the poverty line to about 30 per cent today.

However, this means that one-third of Cambodians continues to live in poverty – with the majority of rural communities falling into this group.

So how do we plan progress for the future? In 2011, the Kingdom of Cambodia is an overwhelmingly youthful nation. As such, it is absolutely vital that we engage with this future generation of leaders, farmers, teachers and mothers. It is important that we make time now to listen to this sector of the population, and come to a better understanding of their needs and concerns. All of our program planning arises from community consultations, commune plans and government priorities.

ChildFund Cambodia works in partnership with the government to implement community-based programs in education, water and sanitation, livelihoods, youth, safe migration and rights realisation. Initially commencing operations in Svay Rieng province, in 2009 ChildFund helped to establish the Phnom Penh-based child helpline and last July expanded its provincial focus to Kratie.

Working in communities that are poor and lack access to basic services it is important to facilitate community access to assets. At every stage, young people are at the centre of our planning. It is very gratifying to hear complaints from parents that children want to go to school too much to use the new playground, or to see youth return to school to complete their studies after joining a youth group and being assisted to make a life plan for themselves. Realising the right of children to a safe and child-friendly learning environment is an important goal that builds opportunities for young people.

A recent survey by ChildFund found that almost 90 per cent of young people in Svay Rieng do not want to migrate, but feel they have no choice due to the limited economic opportunities available. During a recent field visit, I met two very impressive young people – both of whom are able to earn an income and improve their lives. Phalla is running a profitable sewing business from under her house and sells to people living in nearby communes, she makes US$150-$200 profit most months; Sophal is growing mushrooms successfully and plans to expand his business in the near future. He earns $50-$80 per month.

There are certainly no easy answers, but given the level of positive change already witnessed by so many in Cambodia, we are confident that further progress is achievable. We now have a decade of lessons from the Cambodian Millenium Development Goals behind us, and a greater understanding of the difficulties that may emerge.

However, with only five years remaining until we reach our CMDG deadline, it is time to put our shoulder to the wheel. As Ban Ki-Moon, UN General Secretary, noted: “Our world possesses the knowledge and the resources to achieve the MDGs,” Falling short of the Goals, he added “would be an unacceptable failure, morally and practically”.



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