Age no barrier to helping communities see the benefit of engaging with local services
Young people often have to work hard to have their voices heard by adults in their communities. Sopheap, 18, learned this the hard way when he started working as part of CARE’s partnership with the Cambodian government to improve community engagement with local services. However, within less than a year, he has become well known as a community educator with the knowledge to advise people on the local services available to them.
While still in high school student in his home village in Koh Kong province, Sopheap volunteered
to become a Community Accountability Facilitator. “I wanted to gain more knowledge and have new experiences from community work. I wanted to contribute developing my community.” he says. CARE’s partner Mlup Promviheathor Center gave him training so he had the skills and confidence to stand up in front of others to share information about local facilities such as their school and health centre so that people understand what they can expect from the services available to them, encouraging people to be engaged and supportive.
However, his young age meant Sopheap found his position challenging at first. “At first it was hard to be taken seriously; I found older people did not listen to me, especially when I facilitated meetings with the service providers in my community.” recounts Sopheap. “In the eyes of some people, especially primary school teachers, I was just a teenager in the community and a student they used to teach. It was difficult to get them to respect me and understand that what I was sharing was official information from the Ministry of Interior.”
At one point Sopheap was so discouraged he wanted to drop out, but staff from Mlup Promviheathor Center encouraged him to persevere. By remaining very active, Sopheap was able to overcome these challenges. His commitment has paid off; people in his community have shown lots of interest in the information he shares and he now speaks of all the positive improvements he has seen.
“Since we started this work people in my commune told me that they feel happy with the behaviour change of commune chief and clerk. They are more friendly to people, the service is faster and free of charge. Now community people are happy with this change and they do not fear or hesitate to access the commune services any more. Because of this I think people will seek service at the commune more often in the future.”
This sentiment is echoed at the health centre. “There are more staff at the health center on standby to welcome patients at any time including during lunchtime. The patients feel warmly welcomed … the environment is much better than before.” In the school, Sopheap can clearly see what infrastructure improvements are taking place. “I have noticed there are five more toilets under construction with separate ones for boys, girls and teachers. This will make student feel more comfortable and encourage them to continue their studies at school.”
CARE’s work in Koh Kong province as part of the NCDD’s efforts to improve social accountability is supported by the European Union.