No matter if from the city, from the province or indigenous, healthy or disabled, straight, gay or transgender, all groups of youth in Cambodia are striving to have their voice heard and contribute to their society. By his continuous work, Morn Moeun, National UN Volunteer and Youth Focal Person of UNDP, contributed a great deal to make opinions of young Cambodians matter.”Working with youth inspires me and keeps me motivated. Many young people tell me they need more opportunities to do something for their society. By learning about their problems, we can find many solutions,” he says.
Morn started working for UNDP as national UN Volunteer already in November 2011 and he works as Youth and Civil Society Liaison Officer. His work as UN Volunteers allows him to be very close to communities of youth and cooperate closely with many community organizations helping youth and marginalized groups.
One of the main areas of Morn’s work is the multimedia programme Loy9, which is an extremely successful TV show, radio and online campaign followed by more than 2, 5 million young Cambodians. “Loy9 features many active and inspiring stories of young people, who are doing a great job in their communities,” says Morn and adds that the show is especially attractive because it connects entertainment and learning, is very innovative and its quality is very high. “Both producers and audience are young, so the show relates very well to youth and their problems.”
At the beginning of Morn’s task he worked mainly on outreach for Loy9: “Not so many people knew Loy9 and I coordinated outreach and meetings with civil society organizations, which work with young people and have similar missions to loy9.”Because Morn belongs to Cambodian youth himself, his contacts and previous experience was really important to form partnerships and discover challenges that youth is facing today. ”We have a lot of contacts with young people active on community level and we invited them to participate. Local NGOs have youth volunteers and youth groups in many provinces and there are hundreds of young people, who are doing a great job.
Apart from his work on Loy9 Morn also oversees implementation of three small grants directed on participation of people with disabilities and indigenous people in the upcoming elections. “We had a small research in 2010, which showed that indigenous communities are lacking access to information. UNDP provided a small grant to a local NGO in Ratanakiri to create an indigenous radio programme in local languages.” Morn adds that the programme is run by the NGO together with community volunteers, who have been given a basic media training. “They prepare stories in their language about many topics: hygiene, how to feed their pigs or how to protect the forest. “For me it is very motivating to see those young indigenous producers trying to do something for their community,” concludes Morn about this project.
Morn’s work with youth includes also other marginalized groups: the transgender and MSM** community. “Part of my job also includes topic of reproductive health and marginalized communities. I worked on coordination of a set up of support MSM and transgender network.” These marginalized groups very often face discrimination and according to Morn many of their members are afraid to reveal their identity. But things have been changing: “last year UNDP supported the network to organize registration campaign and only during one week over 1200 MSM/TGs registered to the network. By building capacities of the network we enable all youths from this group to raise their concerns with united voice. Such issue is harder in Cambodia than in neighbouring countries, but we believe that even marginalized youth should have the same rights to participate in the society.”
**Men, who have sex with men
Youth population in Cambodia is very large and young people are striving to gain recognition without a regard to their background or identity. One important community, which established itself officially in recent years in Cambodia, are the Men, who have sex with Men (MSM) and Trans-genders. The size of the combined MSM and TG population has been estimated as 4% of the adult male population, or 140,000. However, this is likely to be an underestimate, as smaller surveys have found that 8% to 13% of young men have had sex with another man.* Because of the tradition and culture it is harder for the MSM and TG to deal with their identity publicly. But progress is being made and the groups are also divided in so called sub-populations of MSM. In Cambodia there are: sray sros (cross-dressing, transgender), and pros saat (masculine-identifying). One study of 1306 MSM found four times as many pros saat as sray sros.* In 2006, it was reported that Cambodia had no local MSM-related leadership, such as politicians or spokespeople.* Recognition of this community and their rights has been subject of work of various NGO’s, community organizations as well as the UN.
Indigenous people also belong to marginalized communities. National Census of 1998 identified 101 000 indigenous people in Cambodia, which account for almost 1% of a total population.*** Their cultural distinction, geographical isolation and different mother tongues make their position in the society, and in particular position of their youth, especially challenging.
UNDP in Cambodia works closely with the government in the area of youth civic participation and inclusion of marginalized groups in order to improve democratic governance. UNDP is helping to build a more robust democracy in the country through providing long-term support to institutions, civil society organizations, civic education initiatives and the media.