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Cambodian 'Peace Corps' seeks young stars

Cambodian 'Peace Corps' seeks young stars

Though many of Cambodia's young adults volunteer informally in their communities,

few opportunities afford them long-term training and support for their contributions

to society.

Youth Star Cambodia, a new Cambodian organization to encourage volunteerism among

young people, was designed to address this need.

It will launch September 9 with a reception at the Phnom Penh Hotel.

Young adults in the Kingdom face many challenges, and Youth Star's founders hope

that structured, year-long volunteer stints in three provinces will promote a spirit

of civic leadership and social entrepreneurship among youth aged 20 to 27.

"We want to promote the concept of service among young people," explained

Eva Mysliwiec, founder and director of the program along with Renne Outh, founder

of Youth for Peace.

"Volunteer work is often misunderstood or undervalued ... [but] Cambodian youth

are an important partner in development," she said.

Mysliwiec brings years of technical expertise to Youth Star. A Peace Corps alumnae,

she is also the former director of the Cambodia Development Research Institute. Before

going forward with her idea for Youth Star, Mysliwiec spent a year researching attitudes

towards volunteer service in Cambodia among some 400 students and community leaders.

She said that most people weren't familiar with the concept of volunteerism, especially

in the provinces where it is typically associated with religious obligation. Nonetheless,

her proposal for secular service activity was received warmly.

"Many people were very excited, and they offered to help," Mysliwiec said.

Youth Star's inaugural class begins training in December, and an estimated 20 people

each quarter will start the program throughout the year.

Volunteers will spend the first month learning the technical and personal skills

required for a year in their assigned community in Kratie, Prey Veng or Kampong Cham.

Youth Star participants will live in small groups and work with local organizations

on education, health and economic initiatives. Each volunteer will receive a monthly

stipend of $40, as well as a small sum to devote to the project. A preschool teacher,

for example, might use the funds to purchase crayons for the class.

After a year studded with periodic training sessions, Youth Star participants will

end the program on a practical note with job training. Mysliwiec's research found

a 90 percent unemployment rate among university graduates, confirming to her that

students interested in volunteerism also need help entering the job market.

Though Youth Star has yet to graduate a class of Cambodian volunteers, the program

has already garnered the support of some of the Kingdom's top leaders, including

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Former mayor Chea Sophara serves as chair of Youth Star's

board of directors.

"He has always had a great relationship with young people, it was easy to interest

him in the project," Mysliwiec said.

Youth Star received early funding from Oxfam and the British Embassy, but Mysliwiec

and her colleagues must continue to raise money to support this year's class of volunteers.

She estimates that it will cost $300,000 to support 80 young people for the year,

and she has approached individual and corporate donors from Cambodia and abroad to

invest in a service corps for the Kingdom.


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