By Keo Kounila
Young Democracy Rising toward Leadership
“Bamboo shoots will replace their old ones (bamboos),” says a Cambodian proverb, citing that a new generation of youth has an obligation or moral duty to make changes to their own community, society and country. As youth are future leaders of tomorrow, their power of decision-making and their rights empowerment (freedom) given by open society will make good leadership and rise the country into the international stage.
More than 50 percent of the Cambodian people nowadays are considered to be the active forces in the country. Thousands of them have now involved in political, economical and social activities in the country as data from many youth organizations indicates. In the July 27 national election, thousands of youth volunteered to be election observers for a free and fair election, a great move for youth to get involved in a political arena.
While Cambodia, a young democratic country, has newly emerged from chaotic inner conflicts, the more-than-50-percent youth are an indispensable factor to rebuild the country’s structure of control and good image.
For much of the past several years, a lot of youth organizations like YCC (Youth Council Cambodia) have as yet trained thousands of youth in more than ten provinces in the hope that they understand their own power and use it for the sake of their country.
Ms. Mao Puthyroath, Director of YCC, says that YCC is meanwhile running some education programs in 12 target provinces aimed at the age groups of 13- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 23-year-olds. The older group looks at the issues of democracy, the election process and good governance – while the younger ones study “living democracy” about democratic values and ideas in general.
Besides the education programs above, the YCC in partnership with International Republic Institute and USAID (US Agency) has conducted six youth festivals in different six provinces. Set up with about 40 booths representing different NGOs or companies’ goods and services, the last youth festival in Prey Veng hosted the 13,000 youth guests.
The YCC director has also assured that it has been the most successful event since many youth joined and gained knowledge from the festival. YCC has planned to do such an event in another province.
IRI resident director country John Willis has been impressed with the youth in Prey Veng youth festival. He was surprised to see how brave they were, standing on the stage speaking to the audience who had no the foggiest idea of how the speakers got the ideas to say.
“Our objective is to engage as many youth as possible and expose them to democracy,” he said in the event. This shows support for the fact that public debates and speaking contests can sharpen young people’s speak skills, encourage them to further enlarge their knowledge horizon and allow flows of freedom of expression, he comments.
Youth are believed to be future leaders of tomorrow. This idea is agreed by a 16-year-old Sak Srey Roath who shares the same status with other young Cambodians. Her very first exciting day was spent at the youth festival competing for the best speaker. Even though she was lost to a young boy nearby, she says that the program gives her freedom to think and express her ideas. What she never forgets is to remember to participate in such a public debate again if there is another one to be celebrated in her province.
When youth are helped to realize their power of decision-making and rights, they can make the best choices for themselves and their country. Furthermore, future leaders are people to speak and listen to other ideas before making a serious decision for the sake of others.
Cambodian Youth Challenges
As clearly stated in one of the articles of the Cambodian constitution, “Youth have the rights to participate freely in political, economical and social issues…” In Cambodia, there are however still many restraints in how youth can practice their rights for the sake of their impoverished country.
Known as having rigid social traditions, Cambodian parents teach their children to follow authority without question, and the word ‘debate’ comes loaded with tense undertones of defiance. However, a new era has prompted parents to give space for children’s new thoughts and revolutionized ideas.
Not to mention parents’ authority at home, teachers at school are less worried if students are obedient not to get involved in political debates. A subject of concern like ‘Election’ is not popularly talked in the class since it brings more fears than understanding. One high school’s curriculum illustrates that only a few out of around 1,000 teaching hours are devoted to the Election, which has left a lot of nearly eligible young voters behind, in understanding that a right decision in the Election is a breath of the country.
Whereas, politicians might still narrow the gap of youth’s social position in engaging in political activities. The government’s stance was cited when H.E Khiev Kanharith, the government’s spokesperson said in Radio Free Asia early this year that youth should think only about their studies and work but politics.
This receives a lot of resentments from non-governmental organizations like Comfrel (Committee for Free and Fair Election) who is more excited to see more young people understand how to better their own country’s political situation by training young election observers about their power of decision-making. YCC, otherwise, works against the dogmatic speech, by exposing democracy to youth. Democracy is believed to bring the best out of youth to practice their voices. Good leadership is secured democratically, with trials and errors.
Youth and Leadership in the Context of Globalization
Youth in Cambodia are in fact not only responsible for their country but also the whole world. Since globalization has shed its light everywhere, acknowledgement appears that community-based leadership is not enough to equal international contribution.
Although Cambodia is still considered as a developing country, a lot of youth have become far more vocal and active in bringing a closer gap among all classes of people. Gradually, Cambodian youth are confronting the world internationally.
For example, Youth for Peace, an active youth organization, has been in touch with Cambodian youth and will bring young people from different countries together in an international seminar in Siem Reap. This encourages interaction between youth from outside Cambodia and Cambodian youth. Sharing information and ideas strengthens their understanding of different cultures and prepare them to go to the international stage.
In the name of an international community, it is necessary for Cambodian youth to open-minded to more new knowledge. Even in the world of competitiveness, youth from everywhere have to learn from each other and develop something like their leadership style on their own to suit the need of their own people the best.
Good true leadership does not have to be confined to the only nationalistic aspect but the globalistic one. Intensively, globalization has so far benefited all kinds of people who are prepared to take the matters into their hands for the sake of humanities and the world.