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Documentaries by and for youth make change

© UNICEF Cambodia/2009/Khoy

By Kounila Keo

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Feb. 15, 2010 - Who would have thought of empowering Cambodian youth by teaching them to speak for themselves by producing documentaries that illustrate issues that affect their lives?
Support Children and Young People (SCY), a Cambodian nongovernmental organization, has been giving youth age 16 to 22 opportunities to participate in media advocacy through “Youth Today,” a television programme produced by children and young people for their own peers. Backed by UNICEF with both financial and technical resources, the programme airs in 10-minute slots each week on Cambodia Television Network (CTN), one of Cambodia’s most popular television networks.

“Youth Today” is currently the only programme of its kind on television that is not only youth focused, but also youth initiated, according to Executive Director of SCY, Em Chan Makara.

“We want to empower (youth) because their voice is very important for us to hear. They’re part of us and our society.” ~Em Chan Makara, founder of Support Children and Young People. 

Created in 2003, SCY has so far trained about 200 children and young people who joined the organization as volunteers. In return, they are exposed to a range of new skills related to filmmaking. The youth have produced more than 260 documentaries on various social issues that affect them, such as youth involvement in local government and child rights.

“In Cambodian society, the old tradition that children are taught to not be defiant must be changed and there should be a motivation to engage children and youth in social development in any sector,” says Makara.

“Also, parents used to devalue volunteer work a lot, but that’s just because they don’t understand that such work will bring the best to the mental growth and knowledge of children and young people.” 

Changing attitudes through documentaries

SCY trains roughly 30 youth at a time, both at the office and on the ground in various locations across the country. Mentoring linked with skills-building on production and equipment use helps bring stories to life. Further technical support is provided by UNICEF, whose in-house veteran photographer and filmmaker, Bona Khoy, guides both Makara and his staff on all aspects of film-making and producing.

Young reporters rotate roles as producer, script writer, camera person and production assistant so everyone has a chance to learn something new.
While discussing the new scripts of her documentaries about “Chapey, Khmer traditional musical instrument” and “birth certificates in Cambodia” with her production team at SCY, 21-year-old Loeng Socheata says that she often thinks that youth in Cambodia need to be nudged forward.

“We need to make good choices to make different people influence our lives. We want people with good intentions to teach us, so youth should volunteer and contribute more to society this way,” says Socheata.

Each documentary is researched, written, filmed, narrated and edited by young reporters who work intensively over a period of about one and a half months for each episode. The segments are then lightly edited by an elder SCY staff member.

A senior accounting student from Norton University in Cambodia, Socheata said she was inspired by one of SCY's shows. She immediately enrolled in the organization and has been a volunteer ever since.

Work is around the corner, but she says fun is always there.

“I have always enjoyed the work I do. It is so much fun being with other young people, laughing about mistakes and learning new things together,” Socheata says. 

Socheata is not the only one who credits her involvement in SCY for helping her become socially active. Hak Gentryman, a 17-year-old SCY cameraman, says he is no longer the unmotivated boy he once was at school.

Empowering youth to actively participate

“I am quite different from before. I speak a lot now because I have to meet and interview different people. I learned to be curious and ask non-stop,” says Gentryman.

Gentryman says he feels proud and happy because he has an opportunity to feel independent and is free to think and create.

“I’ve gained experience and more understanding of our society after meeting new people, organizations and companies we have interviewed. I am a better communicator,” he adds.

The document he wants to co-produce is about youth and career opportunities.

SCY executive director Makara believes that it is important for children and youth to use media such as documentaries to discover, explore, understand and speak up.

“We want to empower them because their voice is very important for us to hear. They’re part of us and our society,” says Makara.

Makara adds that usually children and youth who finish their training and volunteer stint at SCY get job offers from prominent magazine companies, TV stations like TV5 and Bayon TV, and other media organizations that produce documentaries.

SCY has most recently collaborated with the UN Development Programme to produce a one-hour “youth forum” aired in February 2010 that engaged youth leaders from Kompong Thom, Battambang and Ratanakiri provinces, commune leaders, and students from various Phnom Penh universities.

Kounila Keo is a fourth year student at the Royal University de Phnom Penh, Department of Media and Communications. She plans to pursue a career in mass communication after graduating.



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