by Mom Chantara Soleil
“I didn’t realise at all that we children are vulnerable, easily tricked and abused until I became a member of child club and trained by Plan five years ago,” said 17-year-old Samen, a child club leader in Romchek commune – about 35 kilometers to the northwest of Siem Reap.
Samen started the welcoming conversation at her community to 40 new child club delegates who took 11-hour ride all the way from the northeastern Ratanakiri province.
“We encourage other children to learn and exercise their rights for the better of our families and villages. During our school break for the upcoming Khmer New Year [Songkran 2013], for example, we will stage series of educational drama in our villages. We fund this ourselves and do it for our community,” she added.
Experience sharing from the child club managed by Samen was an activity of Plan Cambodia’s first-ever effort of its kind to expose the indigenous child club delegates to best practices of their counterparts in different province.
“Our child club in Ratanakiri was just formed. We hope this kind of study visit will provide them ideas to run their club and address their issues, though the issues are indeed different,” said Plan’s Child Right Project Officer at Ratanakiri who facilitates the visit.
It was the first time for more than 90% of the delegates having crossed their provincial border. Nevertheless, they were enthusiastic to engage a wide range of activities: group and plenary discussions as well as visit to child club, school, and child protection network.
The child delegates are from four of the seven indigenous minorities in 26 mountainous communities where Plan started it work two years ago.
“The two-day visit is very good. They are lucky generations to have come this far and learn as group. I will support future activities of these children and engage parents, too,” said a leader of one of the delegates’ commune, Moeung Chhoun, 63.
According to education officials, Mr. Ngueng Pheurn and Mr. Touch Bunroeun, in the communities of the child club delegate, preschool is accessible for less than 8% of the children. Though primary school enrollment rate is more than 70%, the dropout rate that peaks at grade 4 or 5 (especially among girls) is around 18%.
“It’s interesting to learn that child marriage, having no birth certificate, no preschool, and little understanding about child rights are still issues in Ratanakiri. It sounds like Siem Reap before,” said Samen.
The delegates spent their last session at one of Siem Reap temple complex to draw up plan of actions for the next year as presents for their peers back at home.