Every year more than 50 young students and adult mentors from Southeast Asian countries travel to the United States and engage in discussion on environmental sustainability, education and leadership, as part of the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program.
Since 2009 the program has been organized and implemented by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University, through funding from the US State Department.
The program aims to improve skills in leadership and civic engagement, as well as fostering a culture of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding among Asean citizens for building the future as an Asean community.
This year CSEAS at NIU welcomed 60 participants, from Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. During this intensive three-week program, participants engaged in courses and workshops on environmental sustainability, supporting vulnerable people, leadership and cultural diversity.
Van Chouen, one of the three high school students from Cambodia, said he learned a lot from the program, and from other Asean participants. “We learned about leadership skills, and especially how to work as a team. We also exchanged our culture with the American culture by living with an American host family.”
The students, between 15 to 18 years old, also interacted with American high school students in northern Illinois, during the three-day Global Youth Leaders Camp, to do community service and to exchange knowledge and culture.
The program included a three-day study tour in Washington, DC, where all participants had a chance to meet and talk to members of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill.
Ken Khouch, a 16-year-old high school student from Ratanakkiri province, said the trip to DC allowed him and other participants to learn about American government. “We had a chance to meet and talk to the chairman of the House of Representatives, learning from his experiences in leadership.”
During the trip to DC, participants also stopped by Voice of America’s headquarters, to learn about VOA’s broadcasting work in Southeast Asia.
After the trip to the US, all the participants returned home with an action plan to deal with environmental, educational and social issues in their communities.
With their action plan, the three Cambodian students hope to create a library in their community in Ratanakkiri. They also hope to organize a public forum to share the knowledge and skills learned from the program with people in their community.