The focus of Youth Star’s service program is to place university graduates as volunteer leaders in marginalized communities for one year, where they act as facilitators, tutors, mentors, and role models to children and young people.
Youth Star works in four Cambodian provinces: Kratie, Svay Rieng, Kampong Thom, and Prey Veng. These provinces have high levels of rural poverty which have resulted in significant emigration from the region, leaving the elderly and youth with limited social support. Youth Star works directly in these areas through a community led process to identify key issues related to youth and literacy and devise a strategy for how a graduate volunteer can support the community to address these issues.
Once needs are identified, a process of allocating local resources to support the placement of a volunteer is undertaken. An assessment of the community’s resources and village-wide educational attainment is conducted through a community mapping process in which our volunteers visit every household with children to determine educational levels and school attendance.
We have found that through these processes, a network of local support is developed, ensuring the sustainability of our program, and in this manner Youth Star’s community development model is the output of close collaboration between our volunteers and village leaders. Our volunteers, each of whom is a college graduate aged 20-30, provide a living example to youth in the community of the benefits that education provides, while their relative closeness in age to the youth population assists them in gaining trust among those they work with.
In 2015 we refocused our volunteer efforts to the overarching aim of improving the quality of living in marginalized rural areas by equipping young people with the tools to contribute meaningfully to the improvement of community life. This work is largely done through our youth clubs.
The clubs focus on three key learning areas; literacy, numeracy, and life skills. Our goal is to prevent children at risk from dropping out of school and to improve their academic performance and self-esteem. We aim to keep students on track to finish basic primary education, then move on to secondary and tertiary levels according to their ability. The volunteers identify children at risk through tracking of class progression and attendance records and also help children who have dropped out of school reintegrate back into the school system.
Club members learn valuable leadership and life skills through hands-on activities such as implementing education campaigns to enroll all eligible children in school, working with commune councils to ensure access to toilets in each school compound, mobilizing the community to ensure access to potable water, working to guarantee that each child has his/her birth certificate and “road to health” chart demonstrating access to immunization, and identifying children faltering in their growth. The volunteer leaders facilitate the liaison with local authorities and expert resource persons when needed.
Youth Star typically maintains an active presence in a community for an upwards of three years, during the last of which efforts are made to transfer the management of the youth club fully into the hands of the children themselves, while also registering it as a Community-Based Organization (CBO), so that it may receive annual funding and resources from the commune. This ensures the sustainability of the Youth Star program in these communities for years to come, as year after year of children will take up the mantle of leading and inspiring their peers academically, just like those who came before them did. Not only does the youth club system contribute to the continued improvement of education in rural areas, but it also primes a generation of young leaders who can take a stand on larger scale civic issues in Cambodia in the future.
The Youth Star volunteers themselves gain a lot from this experience as well. Their service imbues them with many leadership and problem solving skills and significantly boosts their career standing and employability afterwards. Additionally, the opportunity to civically participate in meaningful community work awakens them to the feasibility of making a similar difference in other fields, which will ultimately help populate the Cambodian professional sphere with people who are both capable of and motivated to bring about positive change in society. It is in this way that the multifaceted impact of Youth Star Cambodia’s mission reveals itself. The work our volunteers do both during after their service is truly at the forefront of great social development taking place in Cambodia today.