It is almost 1pm, and Pkayprek is getting ready to go back to school after lunch. She smiles, thinking of her experience as a representative and leader of the children in her own community. “I am very happy that I can see the real value and potential of myself and other children; and I am very courageous that I can solve the problems of children,” she says, with pride in her voice. But she has not always been able to smile as easily as she does now.
Sixteen year old Pkayprek, whose name means “Morning Star,” is the youngest daughter of a poor family of three children living a small wooden house in the village of Ta Mao, Kampong Seung commune of Prey Veng province. Her parents grow vegetables and raise pigs at home, but the income is not enough to support the family, and they are trapped in a cycle of debt. Last year, her parents were forced to take a loan of 6 million Riel (around USD 1,500) to pay for legal fees after Pkayprek’s older brother was accused of killing a neighbor in a fight.
After this had happened, Pkayprek and her family were stigmatized by the other villagers and Pkayprek was excluded by her peers. “I felt very sad at that time,” recounts Pkayprek. “Most of the villagers told their children not to talk and play with me. I did not know what to do to fix this situation.” She felt traumatized and alone, and with no social services in her village, she had no-one to turn to.
In January 2016, Save the Children and its local partner WOMEN set up a youth club in Pkayprek’s village as part of the EU-funded Realizing Children’s Rights through Improved Local Governance project. The organizations worked with Commune Committees for Women and Children to support the most vulnerable and marginalized children to join the youth club. Through these clubs, children can raise their own voices and demand what they need from their government, communities and families. The clubs also train commune councilors on the importance of child participation in local decision-making processes, and enable children to attend monthly meetings with councilors and the Commune Committee for Women and Children, supporting them to create research plans, conduct community forums, take minutes and write reports.
Pkayprek embraced this chance to meet friends, participate in constructive activities together, and potentially improve the lives of other children who had been in a situation like her own. She began to regularly attend club meetings, and gained a lot of knowledge and confidence as an active club member. She led her friends in activities such as going door to door in her village to raise awareness on child rights to community people. Her dedication to helping the most vulnerable and excluded children was well respected by the other club members, and her peers elected her to be the child representative of the ten clubs in her commune. As part of this role, she raises children’s problems at monthly Commune Committee for Women and Children and Commune Council meetings, and advocates for the local authorities to allocate budget to respond to children’s rights violations.
As a result of her hard work raising her neighbors’ awareness of the situation of the most deprived children, Pkayprek has become recognized as an outstanding girl in the village. Most villagers, as well as the district governor of Preah Sdach, highly appreciate her passion and motivation. Furthermore, the incidence of child rights violations has dramatically decreased in Pkayprek’s community, an achievement which the local authorities attribute in part to Pkayprek’s tireless campaigning. “I am excited beyond words that people have changed their mind about me,” says Pkayprek defiantly. “I am also very happy with what I can do for the children in my community. In the future, I would like to be an NGO worker so that I can help my community and earn enough money to support my family.”