Dressed in her school uniform, 17-year-old Sorn Reaksa took some time from her break at school to share how excited she was to become the Children and Youth club leader in her community. “I never imagined I could have as much confidence as I have today. I feel very excited every time I raise children’s issues with the Commune Committee for Women and Children – an help to solve them,” Reaksa said with a smile.
Reaksa is the oldest of three sisters living with their grandmother in village of Peam Koh in Prey Veng province. Her family is one of the poorest in the village, and her parents work in Thailand to earn extra income for the family. They come home every three or four months. “Although my parents are away, they always encourage me to go to school and continue my education for as long as I can,” Reaksa recalled.
Like other children in the commune, Reaksa used be very shy and knew very little about child rights. Domestic violence and child labor were the most common problems in Reaksa’s poor community, followed by out-of-school children, children migrating with their parents, and discrimination against children with a disability and those living with HIV/AIDS. “I used to think it was totally normal to see parents scolding and hitting their children when they get angry,” Reaksa said, adding that some children were left without proper care as their parents are away for work.
In early 2013, Save the Children and its local partner WOMEN began implementing the Child Rights Governance programme in Reaksa’s village. The programme aims to empower children and youth of all backgrounds to participate in the commune development process. It established a Child and Youth Club through which children and youth can get involved in training courses on Child Rights, Child Participation and child safety, contribute to plans and activities, and participate in data collection and the development of the annual Commune Investment Plan (CIP).
When Reaksa first joined the club, she was still very shy to talk about children’s problems - or even her own problems, for that matter. But she joined in with the club activities, such as holding public forums, club meetings, attending monthly meetings with the Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC), and CIP meetings with the commune council. Following a few months of actively contributing her ideas to the club, she was elected as a deputy Child and Youth Club leader in her village in early 2016.
Mr. Oeur Lux, chief of Peam Ro commune, said that children in his commune (covering five villages) have become very brave to talk to elders about their issues and request for the council’s intervention. “I can see that most of the children are very motivated to talk at the workshops. Listening to them has made a deep impression on me; they really express the needs of children,” he explained with a smile, adding that he had noticed Reaksa had become more active from one meeting to another.
“I’m very proud to be part of the club. So far, we have raised 24 children’s issues, and the authorities have been very responsive,” said Reaksa. “What makes me happier is that we have advocated the commune councils to allocate a budget of ten million Riels [around 2,500USD] in the CIP to address the issues of the children in my community,” she added.
When asked about what she wants to be in the future, Reaksa, who is now studying at Grade 11, said that she wanted to work in an international embassy in Phnom Penh. “I want to be a good role model for the younger generation, and I also want to earn more income to support my family.”