29 August 2015“Volunteers of ASEAN, I believe, can do anything. But we can only make substantial change when all of us work together,” says 18 year old, Loh Rachel from Malaysia, sharing her optimistic stand.

She was one of 49 volunteers selected to join the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme (AVYP), The Development of ASEAN Eco-Leaders through Volunteerism and Community Engagement in Cambodia from 2nd until 28th August 2015. Out of 2,500 applicants this year, 49 volunteers were selected and underwent intensive and knowledge-driven journey that focused on environment and climate change theme in Cambodia.

AYVP, on its third year programme, replicated the environmental theme similar to the theme adopted at the inaugural AYVP in Malaysia two years back. The first outside of Malaysia, the programme was held in Cambodia through a joint partnership between Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM – The National University of Malaysia) and Institute of Technology of Cambodia, in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), ASEAN Secretariat, Ministry of Youth and Sports Malaysia, and Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports Cambodia.

The call for Eco-Leaders started as early as March 2015 with the selection made based on their experience and passion towards environmental conservation.

All 49 volunteers, or aptly referred to as the AYVP Eco-Leaders, came from an array of background. They were university students, professionals and NGOs already with a platform or a plan to replicate what they’ve learned and gained throughout the 4 weeks back in their home countries. This makes them very distinct and unique. Their powerful background and set up adds value to the program for the benefit of ASEAN communities working on environmental preservation initiatives.

The 4 weeks programme

The programme commenced on the 3rd of August 2015 with the Eco-Leaders introduced to modules ranging from the ASEAN identity, code of conduct, leadership, background of the community site and the community. They spent their first week at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC) in Phnom Penh. The one week induction and preparation for their site immersion was imperative to prepare and equip them with the basic knowledge of the theme and the community they were about to spend their next 2 weeks with. These sessions were conducted by professionals and by stakeholders brought in especially to provide the breadth and scope of the different perspectives to the modules. Even the community head or otherwise referred to as the Head of Commune were invited to share his take on the challenges faced by the community and what to expect when they arrive there.

The Krakor Floating Village or Kampong Luong is located at Pursat Province, 4 hours away from Phnom Penh. While fishing is the main activity, it has basic village life – groceries, restaurants, homes, schools, church and instead of being rooted to the earth, they ride on the waves of the Ton Le Sap lake. At Krakor, the environmental theme focused on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). Eco-Leaders were guided by the water expert from UKM on Water Testing – discovering the problem to access safe and sustainable drinking water; a daily challenge for the locals. Following this, Eco-Leaders demonstrated the proper way of washing hands and proper sanitation to the local community and school students under the supervision of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Raxee Gonzales, the Eco-leader from the Philippines stated that the experience with the local students has been an eye-opener. “They taught me how your life should not be dictated as to how others see it, it’s about how happy you are with it.”

After two weeks at Krakor Floating Village, the Eco-Leaders returned to Phnom Penh for the last week of workshops on Project Management and Proposal Writing, Budgeting, Log Frame Development and Monitoring & Evaluation to equip them with relevant skills and knowledge for their community projects in their home countries.

It’s not the end, but in fact, the beginning

The end of their journey was marked by the closing ceremony that brought together the volunteers with partners and other stakeholders to showcase the learning, the culture, the song and dances of various countries and communities across ASEAN. Ambassadors and senior officials from the High Commissions of ASEAN countries and the United States based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia came together to witness the wonderful journey presented through cultural performances and video presentations.

It may be the end of the 4 weeks, but the beginning of their newfound knowledge and friendship developed during their stay in Cambodia.

They will now travel homeward bound into the reality and challenges faced by their own communities, eager to contribute the only way they know how; through compassion and understanding.

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