Chhun Bormey, 24, is the leader of the Cambodia chapter of Youth Nutrition Champions (YNC), a global coalition of civil society organisations that advocate for and strengthen nutrition-related knowledge.

Bormey joined healthcare NGO Helen Keller International-Cambodia in 2017 and became a representative of the YNC in 2018.

She spoke to The Post about her work and interests surrounding nutrition in Cambodia:

How did you become a representative of the YNC representing Cambodia?

Since 2018, I have been involved in nutrition and leading the YNC. I was inspired to become a representative of the YNC due to my personal interest in nutrition.

What does this work entail and why does it focus on young people?

The purpose of the YNC programme, which I organised with Helen Keller, was to train young people about nutrition and advocating for it. We have developed various programmes inviting them to join and lead the programme. At the moment they primarily include nutrition champion camping and a peer education programme. We have so far educated 50 young people on key messages relating to nutrition, food safety, micronutrients and breastfeeding.

We are focused mainly on the youth because about 60 per cent of Cambodia’s population is under 30 years old. So if they start feeding themselves well and continue spreading the word on its importance, many people will hopefully become more aware of it.

What are some of the challenges you face in your work with YNC?

One of the most challenging problems has been finding a time where participants and facilitators can gather for the programme. Young people have so many roles and responsibilities to take on daily - some have to go to school or work, leaving them with less time to join. I’m happy that despite that, they took the opportunity to join us. Our solution has been to organise our programmes on their days off, such as the weekends.

What are some of your observations on Cambodian youth and whether they pay attention to their nutrition?

Before we started this programme, we made a lot of observations involving young people on nutrition. At first, they were not very interested because the topic was not raised much at home or school, and perhaps because of that, their understanding of the benefits of caring about their nutrition remained limited.

After the programme, however, we have seen that more and more young people have gotten involved in leading this work and have helped share nutrition-related issues amongst their peers. In 2018, we had only 10 young people who volunteered to join this work, but nowadays we have up to 50 young volunteers.

We have seen that increasingly, young people get involved and become aware of the benefits of considering their nutrition and have spread the word.

How does malnutrition affect individuals and Cambodia as a whole?

The problem of nutrition has taken many forms and young people’s awareness on it remains limited.

The first 1,000 days of anyone’s life is crucial in terms of needing nutrition, for instance. If they do not get enough nutrition, their development, including the brain, will be stunted and they will be more developmentally challenged and frail than those who get enough nutrition.

This will affect their family too as children will always be sick, leading to families spending money on constant medical treatment. They will lose out on income and there may be familial strife due to the constant sickness. These are also key factors negatively impacting the national economy.

In addition, working age adults may also lose out on income if they suffer from malnutrition because they aren’t able to realise their full wage earning potential. These are just a few of the impacts associated with malnutrition.

How would you describe the nutritional education of Cambodians at the moment?

Nowadays, many Cambodians are considering the benefits of nutrition and view it as a health issue. Previously, each family only thought about how to eat until they are full. But now, they have changed their attitude, turning to vegetables, considering food safety and thinking about their health and wellbeing. All of this has collectively helped improve their overall health.

In order to completely eliminate or minimise malnutrition, especially amongst children, what do you think the government, ministries and organisations should do?

They have to draft and promote nutrition and food safety laws and put them into practice. Everyone concerned, including consumers and the government, have to work together to implement those laws effectively.

Do you have any upcoming projects or plans relating to your nutrition work?

Yes, we still continue to train and educate more young people on the benefits of eating nutritionally. We also have many fun activities for young people to keep them interested in the topic, such as camping and cooking competitions that showcase easy, healthy cooking methods. Through these programmes they will be able to gain experience and even win grants from chefs and peer educators.