US Ambassador William Todd created the Ambassador’s Youth Council in Cambodia in 2012, one of 80 such groups of youth around the world.
Today, the Cambodian Youth Council has 25 members, led by Leav Kimlay, 24.
In an interview, he said he has been working for positive change in society, including volunteer and social work.
The goal is to create better relations between Cambodia and the US and to cultivate young leaders for Cambodia, he said. “Those activities are what I want to do and to share in our country.”
The Youth Council is financially supported by the US Embassy, so embassy officials play a role in what the council does, he said. Council members volunteer for activities and give the US ambassador feedback on policy and the views of the youth, particularly in environment, education and employment.
The council has relationships with Wildlife Alliance, Winrock, United Nations Volunteers, and the Khmer Youth Association. It is involved in projects that help raise awareness of illegal logging and the wildlife trade, for example.
Chin Sopheaktra, 22, a project coordinator at the Youth Council, said she recently helped on those projects, organizing a seminar and learning about forestry law, wildlife protection and the planting of trees.
“After that, we organized another tour to Prey Lang forest in Kampong Thom to understand about people's livelihoods over there and to know about environmental activists who are preventing and protecting illegal logging in Prey Lang,” she said.
She has to balance her time between work, study and volunteering, which can pose challenges. “The first is time management,” she said. “In order to secure the results of my studies, as well as for work or volunteering to be done successfully, I have to arrange my schedule effectively.” She must also learn to work as a team member, with people who have different attitudes or ideas. “It’s very difficult to work together if we don’t try to understand each other,” she said. That has lead to “team spirit,” she said. “With each project, we cannot work alone, but we also need help from other team members.”
The Youth Council has other challenges with its projects. Collaborating with local officials can be difficult, as they sometimes require official permission from higher authorities, for example.
But the project is growing. There are 25 council members now, compared to 15 when it started. Members can stay for two years, and they are expected to recruit replacements.
To be a member, one must be ready to work hard, as Cambodia is one of the most active councils of 80 around the world, Leav Kimlay said. “And our 25 members have a very good cooperation to one another. Plus, all of our activities always have impacts regarding to the topic of interest.”
Kov Channic, 20, one of the volunteers on the wildlife project, said she has seen positive changes from her work, thanks to support from the embassy.
“I am now more mature and independent,” she said. “I know how to communicate, how to work on a project, and I have more responsibilities now.”
Leav Kimlay encouraged others to get involved in volunteer activities, because this is one way to solve the country’s social problems and help its development.
“In fact, the youths themselves have no idea how much they can bring impact to society until they start engaging in social activities,” he said. “They can learn the process of group work, learn how to work with foreigners, learn how to communicate, and know how to sharpen their leadership capacity. The reputation of AYC is globally recognized and can help young people get job opportunities and the chance to study abroad.”