The Kingdom of Cambodia is one of the poorest nations in South East Asia, and struggles to recover from years of civil war and genocide, which destroyed social institutions, culture, and family traditions. Cambodia—a society with great respect for its elders and its culture—also lost much of its societal structure, its parental role models, and its family traditions due to the breaking up of families and conventional support systems.
While Cambodia has no armed conflict at this time, true peace based on social justice is still elusive. The breakdown in the social systems affects youth in particular, because they lack the experience and the support to help them cope. Stabilizing influences like employment, family, law enforcement and community are not in place for them. Problems such as discrimination, gang involvement, drug use, violence, prostitution, AIDS are widespread and have become a major influence in the lives of the youth in Cambodia.
While youth want to help build a better society, they feel powerless to change injustice, violence and corruption. They lack good role models for constructive participation in civil society, or education that will train them to be leaders in combating societal problems. Youth learn skills for personal advancement, but without a sense of solidarity with others, or responsibility to solve the problems of society. Youth often respond to conflict with either violence or passivity because they are unable to analyze root causes of conflicts in order to identify peaceful and effective solutions.
YFP helps youth to deal with this situation in a constructive and peaceful way, to build solidarity and responsibility in youth, and to offer youth motivation and skills to solve the problems in their family, community and society.
The activities of Youth for Peace began in March 1999, when four university students, Mr. Outh Renne, Mr. Long Khet, Mr. Ream Rothamony and Ms. Bou Makara came together with a concern for the youth in Cambodia. These four founding students had previously been trained at the Youth Resource Development Programme.
The four founding staff conducted a survey related to the situation of youth in Phnom Penh. They contacted school directors, teachers, people experienced in youth work. The survey indicated that students lacked opportunities to receive spiritual education (voetnoot!). Without this, youth showed little responsibility for their actions, poor communication skills, bad attitudes, and indifference to their own responsibility to society.
In response to these needs, the staff designed a peace building program with a curriculum for several workshops. They contributed their own money for workshop materials, snacks, and other expenses. Without an office, they met under the trees and in some private schools; some public schools would not allow them to meet, because school directors were worried that YFP was related to a political party.
Youth for Peace registered as an official organization with the Ministry of Interior on March 12, 2001. To know more clearly about the results and impact of the workshops, and the effectiveness of the newly formed organization, YFP conducted an external evaluation in 2001 which gave valuable information to help focus the goals and strategies.
YFP has grown organizationally from a staff of 4 to a staff of 19 persons, transitioned from an Advisory Board to a governing Board of Directors, and developed a Constitution and by-law, staff- and financial policy. Annual financial audits verify financial transparency. YFP moved into an office in Phnom Penh, which can accommodate workshops, a student centre and a library space. Workshops are conducted in the provinces of Battambang, Kampong Chhnang and Takeo, as well as the capital Phnom Penh. Most of the activities conducted by youth groups are held in areas outside Phnom Penh, often in the home communities of the student members. s