History Cambodia has experienced a long history of political instability, including one of the most destructive regimes of the 20th century. The Khmer Rouge took power in 1974. Educated people were the targets of this regime that tortured and murdered more than 2 million Cambodians during its 4-year Maoist revolution. By the end of the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge had completely destroyed the educational system in Cambodia. In 1979, Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge, but guerilla warfare continued. In 1991, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia sought to rid the country of the last of the Khmer Rouge holdouts and usher in democracy and foreign investment. Despite recent economic and political strides, Cambodia faces significant challenges that may impede development. Problems such as extreme poverty, poor education, corruption, and human rights abuses continue to plague the country and its people. The urban poor are undoubtedly some of the worst affected, as they struggle to feed and educate their families. Many are forced to survive with sporadic and informal employment, and youth have few opportunities for a better future. The Project Empowering Youth in Cambodia (EYC) believes that Cambodia’s greatest assets are its young people, as 50% of the population is under 22 years of age. By educating young Cambodians from poor communities, with an emphasis on creating young leaders, EYC feels change is possible. EYC currently operates three schools in slum communities in Phnom Penh, with a total of around 350 students. Students learn English, computer skills, leadership, sports, health, and other life skills. Medical care is offered to the wider community as resources allow, with the priority going to students and children. Many graduates of EYC’s Aziza and Lakeside schools are now employed as teachers at EYC’s Youth School. Other graduates have gone on to university, with seven 1st year scholarships given this year alone. EYC has also provided job placements for more than 20 students.
Looking Ahead EYC recently hired a Community Organizer to assist in the organization’s efforts to engage people throughout the communities in which they work. EYC is also working with youth who have an interest in community organizing and leadership. The hope is to create a team of organizers to help communities with a willingness to partner. EYC recently created a family planning team, and has had great success in the first phase. The plan is to develop an outreach team that would work with larger NGOs to offer much-needed family services in the community. Unfortunately, each of the three slum communities where EYC operates is facing potential or certain eviction, and therefore the loss of EYC schools and students. If and when this happens, EYC will assess the situation, and the possibility of relocating to wherever the community is placed. Much work remains to be done to combat the endemic development problems in Cambodia, but Empowering Youth in Cambodia is providing hope and inspiration that a better future is possible. The support of programs and organizations like EYC is absolutely crucial if we hope to stem the tide of poverty and human rights abuses in Cambodia.