Founded 10 years ago, Cambodian Youth Network (CYN) continues to work on its goal of increasing youth mobilisation, boasting more than 2,500 members consisting of university students in Phnom Penh and rural youth living in and around the Prey Lang Forest.
“We noticed that the voice of the youth was often dismissed or ignored in policy decision making. So we decided to found CYN in 2009 and eventually registered it as a non-governmental organisation at the Ministry of Interior in 2013.
“We believe that young people are crucial in promoting social justice and natural resource protection,” said CYN co-founder and vice president Sar Mory.
As a youth organisation, CYN works towards the promotion of three main areas: “Our work is to increase youth participation and civic engagement in Cambodia to promote children’s rights, natural resource and environmental rights, and human rights,” said Mory, who is responsible for the creation of strategic campaigns and advocacies for young people and the management of fund-raising activities.
Explaining CYN’s area of interest, Mory said that “many youth organisations mainly focus on human rights but fail to promote youth participation”.
He added: “When it comes to our work in promoting human rights and democracy, we generally work with partners. But for discussing natural and environmental protection issues, we encourage the youth to participate and organise events themselves.”
CYN has been working at Koh Kong province’s Areng community and Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary to protect the areas from illegal loggers and encourage students from the capital to work with rural communities.
“In 2013, we participated in Mother Nature Cambodia’s (MNC) campaign to protect the Areng alley by preventing the building of a hydropower dam.
“We have also been working in Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary since November 2011 by promoting youth participation in forest protection.
“We try to connect university students from Phnom Penh with the rural youth and encourage them to work together in protecting Prey Lang through camping activities and study tour programmes.
“We initiate dialogues with ministry representatives and organise national youth forums regarding natural resource protection,” said Mory.
He continued: “Eventually, our efforts bore fruit with the government’s designation of Prey Lang as a wildlife sanctuary in 2016.
“Of course, we were not the only ones who worked on this project.
“Local communities and environmental organisations each pitched efforts to ensure the protection of Prey Lang.”
Mory noted that Cambodian youth have been interested in the protection of natural resources and the environment since they recognised the depletion of natural resources caused by climate change and other man-made acts.
In early November, CYN reported the loss of some 3,000ha of forest land in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary to illegal land clearing.
Members interviewed residents and local authorities to document further evidence of land encroachment and illegal logging in the area.
However, Mory added that although CYN has worked tirelessly to protect natural resources and the environment, their efforts usually caught the ire of authorities.
“Authorities, including the police, came to stop us. They said we didn’t have a permit and some of them took photos and filmed videos of the attendance list, and posed several questions to the organisers.
“It was threatening to our youth,” said Mory, who claimed that the municipality never gave them permission when they asked to hold a parade and send petitions to ministries and the National Assembly.
He recognised that the members lacked scientific research and documentation though they had witnessed first-hand the issues they had raised.
“Some officials denied our reports and claimed that they were baseless and were not supported by any concrete evidence.
“Our members also face difficulties on the tight security and lack of funds. Most of our members come from rural communities so they have to work to support their families,” said Mory.
The CYN will strengthen their arguments through scientific research, he said. They would also create more dialogues with ministries and launch campaigns on social media.
“We will organise as many public meetings as we can because we think that this is one of the most effective ways [to engage the youth],” Mory added.
To further increase youth participation, the CYN launched learning and employment centres to provide skills training for underprivileged youths, mostly migrants from rural villages to the capital, who lack technical skills and knowledge.
The students, according to Mory, are trained in computer literacy by learning how to navigate the internet and use email for work. CYN also has job-to-job programmes where participants receive skills enhancement training in specific areas, such as administration, collaboration, leadership and CV and job interview preparation.
“Every year, we train between 400 and 500 students,” said Mory.
CYN receives its funds from three main sources: the members’ contributions, a portion of the income from the learning and employment centres, and donations from international organisations.
“Learning through our centres is free of charge but we do ask for small contributions.
“For instance, the Microsoft Office package costs $20 but we only ask $5 from them.
“The rest of the expenses are supported by funds received from our international partners in Australia, Europe and the US.”