Friday, December 28, 2018

Young people lead review of UNICEF activities

By Elizabeth Fisher

Four UNICEF youth evaluators in the field.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Elizabeth Fisher

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 2018: It was a special week for Aing David, Nao Vanny, E Vy and Thorn Sreynang from Ratanakiri, a province, located in northeast Cambodia. Along with eight other students and with support from UNICEF, they implemented the first youth-led review for two UNICEF initiatives -  the Magic Classroom (Title in Khmer: Prai Krala) and the Community Preschool Programme’s playgrounds.

The Magic Classroom is a television series produced by UNICEF, with a total of 14 episodes. In partnership with the local NGO Sipar, the series is currently being shown in remote communities in Cambodia through Sipar’s mobile library project. UNICEF produced this series to deliver important messages to children and adults related to topics such as hygiene, good nutrition, inclusivity, and child protection. The series is titled ‘Prai Krala’, which means ‘transformation’ in Khmer and ought to promote change in people’s behaviour. The second initiative evaluated, is part of the Community Preschool Programme to create safe playgrounds for children, with the use of recycled and new, more durable materials.

Trained by UNICEF Cambodia’s evaluation team, students travelled to three different provinces to conduct interviews– Kratie, Ratanakiri and Phnom Penh. In Ratanakiri, David, Vanny, Vy and Sreynang’s, involvement was a huge asset to the project as they all come from the Tampoun indigenous community. Thanks to their cultural background, the teenagers were able to translate all materials into the Tampoun language. This way, all respondents were able to express their feelings in an open fashion without a language barrier.

As part of the youth-led evaluation process, UNICEF made sure to spend time establishing a trusting relationship with the youth evaluators. “When we engage young people, we can learn from them to design the best possible programmes and achieve results for children in Cambodia and around the world,” stated Erica Mattellone, Evaluation Specialist at UNICEF Cambodia. But it is not just organizations like UNICEF that benefit from this exchange, the students also gain valuable insights for their future careers.

David, Vanny, Vy and Sreynang all have different ideas of what they want for their professional careers. Some want to work in tourism or as a flight attendant, others aspire to a career as teachers of geography or Khmer literature. Despite financial hardships, due to the costs associated with schooling, all are determined to make their dream come true by looking for scholarships to provide them with the necessary funding.

Young people share their thoughts with youth evaluators.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Elizabeth Fisher

For them, working as an evaluator is a great opportunity. Sreynang, one of the evaluators emphasized how the work helped him to “get a better understanding for younger and older people’s lives in other villages.” Other evaluators stressed the importance of communication and now feel more comfortable talking to people. 

Many students were surprised about how much knowledge their peers had on topics like health and sanitation. A good sign that programmes like the Magic Classroom and the playground project trigger change in behaviours and promote the adoption of healthier practices.

Prior to the evaluations, each student was introduced to evaluation and data collection methods. Out in the field, everyone had the chance to apply their knowledge, conduct interviews and focus group discussions and record observations. Afterwards, the youth evaluators analysed the results and came up with an overall rating, focusing on the activities’ relevance, effectiveness, sustainability, and equity. In the end, they shared valuable recommendations for future strategies. 

Youth evaluators analysing their results.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Elizabeth Fisher

During the process, students were able to develop key skills in interviewing, conducting focus group discussions, and data analysis, which will be useful for their future aspirations. Furthermore, approaching more diverse groups in the interviews, helped them to get outside their comfort zone and better communicate their needs and ambitions as they move past secondary school and into university or into the job market.

Working with these wonderful youth evaluators was a huge success. Thanks to them, UNICEF will be able to strengthen its programming to deliver better results for children. 

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