Cambodian students set to hit the world stage at major disaster summit

by Matt Crook

Two students will be flying the flag for Cambodia to share their experiences of disasters at an important global summit being held in Geneva, Switzerland, May 19-23. Held every two years, the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction is a forum through which everyone from governments and NGOs to scientists and UN agencies can exchange ideas and best practices on how to build a disaster-resilient future for everyone.

Seventeen-year-old Hengmeang and 18-year-old Sophoeurn will be making the trip overseas to share their experiences and opinions, including at the Resilient Future We Want high level side event, which is being organised by the Children in Changing Climate coalition, including Plan International, Save the Children, World Vision and UNICEF.


The dynamic duo, who will join six other young delegates invited by the coalition, will get a rare opportunity to come face to face with major global players to talk about the importance of involving children in disaster risk reduction activities. Cambodia experiences a wide range of disasters every year, including floods, storms, drought and landslides. Living in the world’s most disaster-prone continent, children from Asia can usually teach the adults a thing or two about disaster preparedness. Hengmeang and Sophoeurn will be in good company, with a whopping 4,000 conference delegates from 100 countries set to descend on Geneva for the summit.

“It’s really a great honour for me to participate in this event,” says Hengmeang, who comes from Kampong Cham and helps other youngsters find ways to get involved in disaster management in his community. “When I get the chance, I will tell everyone that child participation in disaster preparedness is vital because hundreds of children are drowned by floods every year. Children are the most vulnerable people during any disasters,” he adds.

Making children central to community disaster risk reduction initiatives is one of the founding principles of the work Plan International does in Cambodia and the other 49 developing countries in which the children’s development organisation works.

“Involving young people in disaster risk reduction is easy and can take many forms. Children can get involved in mapping hazards in their communities, they can raise awareness through games, radio and drama performances, and they can influence others, including parents and teachers, on how to reduce the effects of disasters. Disasters affect children the most, so it makes perfect sense for them to be involved,” says Peuvhenda Bun, Plan’s Regional Safe School Project Manager in Asia.

Sophoeurn and Hengmeang will also be on hand to present a statement at a side event about Safe Schools. High on the agenda will be fleshing out ways to ensure education facilities are as safe as possible for when disasters strike. This ties in with the UN’s One Million Safe Schools and Hospitals Campaign, which Plan is heavily involved with in Asia.

No stranger to the international circuit, Sophoeurn last year travelled to Yogyakarta in Indonesia to be part of the 5th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. There, Sophoeurn and 15 other children got the chance to share their experiences with Margareta Wahlström, the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction. The children were also able to ensure their voices made it into the official conference outcome document. 

Once again, Sophoeurn, who comes from a small village in Srei Snom district in Siem Reap, can’t wait to make her voice heard.

“I’m very excited. I will raise the issues faced by children in my village during the conference. I hope the voices from children will be heard and supported,” she says.

Hengmeang and Sophoeurn will be leaving behind two very proud mothers back home.

“I am so proud that my son can explain about the disaster issues related to children in the communities and I hope that at the conference he will learn a lot from others and come back with good experience to help children in Cambodia,” says Hean Kunthea, Hengmeang’s mum.

Sophoeurn’s mum, Noy Tum, adds, “I am a famer from a remote area. Sophoeurn is my daughter and she is just a girl, but she can share her knowledge with other children around the world. I am a mother, who had less opportunity for a good education. I feel so happy and I wish my daughter all the best there.”


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