Cambodian youth mobilized for a clean-up campaign

Change happens when youth take charge

MANILA (April 30, 2019) — Following his youth leadership training in January, Benjie Banaybanay Kitay could say with confidence, “we have a weapon to help meet challenges.” The 25-year-old Filipino had frustrations in the past as he would hear people say the youth are the hope of the future. “But many times nothing happens for us. With the Habitat Young Leaders Build’s Leadership Academy, I think that we are empowered.”

Benjie Banaybanay Kitay, a Leadership Academy-trained youth leader from Philippines.

Benjie feels empowered after his Leadership Academy training.

Benjie is among the 5,000 young leaders trained under the program that was developed by Habitat for Humanity and the Center for Creative Leadership. Launched in December 2017, the Leadership Academy is being conducted in Cambodia, the Philippines, India, Indonesia and Nepal. During the two-day training, the participants have the opportunity to increase their leadership identity, develop their leadership skills and be empowered to implement projects that build homes and sustainable communities in their own neighborhoods.

Of the trained young leaders, 285 young people have gone on to become country trainers. As volunteers, they are also the champions of housing as a driver, catalyst and contributor to sustainable development.

Nepali country trainer Prabesh Shahi

To Prabesh, the Leadership Academy training model is effective and relevant to the youth.

Prabesh Shahi, a volunteer country trainer from Nepal, has gone a step further. He is currently on track to be a master trainer. “I volunteered to be a trainer for the HYLB Leadership Academy because I believe it’s one of the most efficient leadership training models and it mainly focuses on issues relevant to the youth,” he says.

“With housing as its backbone, the Leadership Academy automatically connects other relevant goals to overcome challenges and meet the desired outcomes of SDGs 1, 4, 6 and 11. Decent housing helps people end poverty, allows parents to better support their children’s education, and improves a family’s access to clean water and sanitation for betterment of life,” Prabesh adds.

Like Benjie, Ek Chantha is not content with only talking about change. The 17-year-old youth from Cambodia wanted to play a leading role in her own community after the training. She was among the first cohort of HYLB Leadership Academy graduates who implemented their community action plans to mark World Habitat Day in October 2018.

She carried out her project that was first conceived at the Leadership Academy training by mobilizing 160 participants for a clean-up and awareness-raising drive in Kampong Cham province. The exercise was motivated by Chantha’s own experience of irresponsible dumping of garbage in public areas in her own community. Not only did local community members have to put up with the odor, they also faced health risks of air pollution and other contamination.

On October 29, the participants comprising mostly youth along with some monks and local officials cleared garbage along the riverbank. As the volunteers picked up trash, they encouraged local community members to maintain a clean, healthy living environment. In addition, the volunteers raised awareness of World Habitat Day and spoke out about affordable housing issues in their community through the use of banners and posters.

Cambodian youth (left) mobilized in a clean-up campaign initiated by Ek Chantha (bespectacled, far right).

Cambodian youth (left) cleaning local communities in Kampong Cham province as part of an advocacy project initiated by Ek Chantha (bespectacled, far right). The supporters also included Pak Cheat (holding microphone), Stueng Trang district police chief.

Chantha also shared about the role of Habitat Cambodia in developing youth leaders like her. Her vision is for her community to serve as role model for her fellow citizens. A few months later in February 2019, she reported that between 70 and 80 percent of the community members had disposed of garbage properly.

It was not plain sailing for Chantha in her first-ever community project. First, she had to ask for approval from the local commune office. “I felt afraid to meet with the commune chief and other public officials. But when I remembered the HYLB Leadership Academy lessons on leadership — ‘Direction, Alignment, and Commitment’ and ‘Change Happens’ — I was motivated to push through with it,” she said.

Not only did she obtain the commune chief’s permission with the help of the local commune officials, she also had the green light of the district governor who was keen to join the clean-up drive with his colleagues. “It was amazing that I could do it. You can do it too!” Chantha says.

While the youth leaders want to make an impact in their communities, reflection is also important. In January 2019, 18 Nepali volunteer facilitators came together to glean from each other’s experiences in facilitating the training in their own communities and with partner organizations. They also delved into effective ways of guiding Nepali youth trainees in implementing the latter’s projects for safe shelter and monitoring their implementation of community action plans.

Nepali country trainer Supriya Maskey

Supriya (standing), a country trainer from Nepal, encourages her peers to make a difference. Photo: Supriya Maskey’s Facebook page.

Displaying one of the key attributes that the Leadership Academy aims to train, Nepali country trainer, Supriya Maskey, wants to change the world. “We are the future leaders of our country so we, the youth of our nation, should work together to bring a positive change. Little drops of water, little grains of sand, makes the mighty ocean and the pleasant land.”

In the Philippines, projects are being implemented in partnership between the Peace Corps volunteers and their local youth counterparts. The projects are expected to be completed by June 2019.

Indonesia is the latest to join the Leadership Academy stable with the first training conducted in Jakarta in February.

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A country trainer with participants at Leadership Academy training in Indonesia.

A country trainer debriefing participants after Leadership Academy training in Indonesia.