STUDENT volunteers were out in force on the streets of Phnom Penh yesterday, wearing T-shirts spelling out the message “7 billion”.
Their aim was to mark the world reaching an official population of 7 billion people this year, which according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will be marked on October 31 with a series of worldwide events.
But in the lead-up to that date, volunteers from non-profit organisation Khmer Youth and Social Development (KYSD) decided to raise awareness of population effects by taking to the streets yesterday.
The main challenges facing young people today are sexuality, reproductive health and their rights, according to KYSD executive director Chhoun Borith.
“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. While Cambodia is a poor country, we may be influenced by the activities of other countries such as diseases or the environment,” said Chhoun Borith.
His NGO in partnership with the UN Population Fund runs campaigns to mentor young people on these issues.
And yesterday volunteers took to areas where young people traditionally gather to spread their messages with leaflets and a Facebook campaign.
Around Wat Phnom, Independence Monument, Diamond Island and Central Market, teams of young people alerted people to their sexual health rights, as well as conducting a messaging programme through SMS.
Chhoun Borith said his volunteers, who are mostly university students, plan to widen their campaign by visiting garment factories across seven districts on August 1 to mentor workers about their rights and sexual and reproductive health.
They’ve also taken their message to bus passengers, with volunteers travelling on local bus routes across to other provinces to talk to people on board.
“On the buses, we also show video clips to passengers about reproductive health to educate them how to prevent themselves from any risky sex,” said Chhoun Borith.
They will also host forums on August 12 in Rattanakkiri province to mentor young indigenous people and on October 24 in the Northwest’s in Battambang province.
Pen Sophanara, the communications associate of UNFPA based in Cambodia, says that the United Nations declaration that the world’s population has increased to 7 billion will be made on October 31, but various campaigns have been prepared before that date.
She said many countries faced problems of poverty, disease, reproductive health, the environment or urbanisation.
“In Cambodia, 35 percent of the population is under 18, and they are the future of Cambodia. That’s why we focus on them. When we look at their issues, we can see they have other problems of unemployment, violence, drug use or poverty, not just reproductive health,” said Pen Sophanara.
She said UNFPA was running a contest to find inspiring stories from young people aged between 15 and 30. They have been invited to write two pages in English or Khmer sharing their personal lives, showing issues relevant to reproductive health and rights, or challenges that they have overcome.
The most inspiring stories will win prizes, to be announced on October 31 in Sihanoukville, she said.
“We chose that city because the town has employment opportunities but also reflects many of the social problems that young people face,” she added.
The Cambodian Centre for Independent Media has also launched a photography competition on the theme of maternal and reproductive health. Winners will be announced on August 10 when an exhibition of the top photos will open at CCIM,14A Street 392, Phnom Penh.