Thursday, November 23, 2017

Cambodia Voices of Youth 2017: A Reflection

By Sarah Cowley 

©Chansereypich Seng/2017

The end of the 2017 Cambodia Voices of Youth blogging internship programme (VoY) is upon us. What a ride!

As the project lead/coordinator for VoY, I can honestly say that it’s been a fun, educational, engaging and inspiring programme to be a part of. I am grateful to have worked with our fantastic VoY youth bloggers and I am so impressed with their depth of thought, commitment and engagement throughout the VoY internship.

The UNICEF Voices of Youth initiative is a global project that aims to empower youth by providing international dialogue through youth blogging. In line with the Sustainable Development Goals - UNICEF puts youth engagement at the core of its activities. Through VoY, UNICEF is committed to giving young people a safe online space to learn and to share views and join in global discussions. The initiative also offers young people resources and digital knowledge with which they can take action for bringing progress in their communities. Other aspects covered by the internship include understanding the risks presented by digital tools in new contexts, and promoting safe and responsible use of digital tools through the concept of digital citizenship.

©Sarah Cowley/2017

This is the second year that UNICEF Cambodia is working together with VOY at UNICEF headquarters to host a local version of the internship, here in Phnom Penh. Ten amazing youth bloggers were selected, from a 150+ applicant pool, for the 10-week course which was developed and facilitated by blogging expert, Kounila Keo, and guided by the Global VoY curriculum format.

Kounila said, “What I liked most about the VoY programme was meeting interns who are passionate about blogging. To be honest, I didn't expect that much passion from them, and this programme gives them a chance to prove that they can write and connect with many other young people”.

About the class and content, Kounila stated, “We were strangers when the first class started. Throughout these 10 weeks, I have noticed that the students become more expressive in their writing and interaction with each other. The programme has helped open up some students, and some of the content that's been written is not easy to write at all, from my perspective… I noticed that they became bold in expressing their very personal stories, and some content was really emotional.”

©Youra Soeum/2017

The intern’s blogs have covered the sensitive topics of body image, sexuality and self-worth for teenagers. Students have discussed issues related to generation gap and how globalization and a rapidly changing Cambodia is creating both problems and solutions. I have been moved by the sincerity and honesty in blogs about disability and staying true to yourself, and read passionate accounts of the importance of preserving traditional Cambodian culture. I have been reminded about the importance of volunteering to serve the greater good and read moving open letters.

The words of these courageous students resonate not only with me, but with so many others around the world. How many of us have had to deal with the struggle of finding out who we ‘really are’? Or had to come up with innovative ideas for what we can do to reduce our impact on earth? What about the struggle of trying to bridge the divide with your grandparents, who grew up in a world so very different to ours?

There is something for everyone in the 80+ blogs that the 2017 class has produced over the last three months.

Our group had some online learning modules this year. Here we are with teacher Kounila Skyping in from the USA. ©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Chansereypich Seng

I also wanted to know about the interns experiences, so I asked them a few questions in our last class. These are some of the responses:

“The best thing about this internship is that it allows me to express my opinions and write about what I strongly believe in.. I was able to write about some controversial topics and this internship provided me a great platform for my blogs to be seen” – Sopearith, 2017 VoY intern.

"VoY internship was a positive experience for me as I get to voice my thoughts in the blogs. I am also considering starting my own blog after this amazing 10 week internship” – Keomuda, 2017 VoY intern.

“The best thing about the VoY internship is that it is a pressure-free environment where youths can freely express their opinions in writing, and we can receive a lot of useful feedback to improve our writing” – Sotharath, 2017 VoY intern.

The inclusivity of the internship programme is also notable. We have students who speak and write both in Khmer and English, both genders, a mix of ages and school levels and one student is visually impaired. The programme has been tailored to suit the needs of all 10 participants and ensure that every student excels, with no one left behind. I witnessed how students support each other, are kind to one another and help each other with their work.

In terms of the training itself, Kounila said, “I believe that such training from the internship is really valuable to young Cambodian bloggers that would like some practical advice and hear some practical experience regarding blogging, digital security, the legality around online expression. And, only by taking part in these sessions, they will become more confident in blogging and expressing themselves”.

©Sarah Cowley/2017

The VoY programme has opened my eyes to the world of the youth today, and has offered learning experiences for us who have implemented the project too. I hope that from these blogs, teenagers and adults alike can gain insight into the perspectives of the youth of today, that readers feel a sense of pride and accomplishment for the interns on their journey, and that they value the meaningful pieces that the bloggers have created on topics that are so crucial in the world today.

As for our interns, I hope that at the end of the day, the students feel a sense of empowerment, and are proud of what they’ve produced and how far they have come.

We sure are.

Check out the VoY blogs:
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for regular updates.
Finally, keep your eyes out for future opening in the VoY programme.

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