Two phones at once, in a Phnom Penh cafe.

Two phones at once, in a Phnom Penh cafe.

Image by OneWorld UK

What did we do?
Around the world, young people have questions about their sexual and reproductive health, and very often those questions go unanswered for far too long, leaving those young people vulnerable to disease, unplanned pregnancy, and other unwelcome and unanticipated life changes. To counter this, OneWorld has been working with partners in five African countries to empower young people with the accurate, non-judgemental, and gender-sensitive information they need to keep themselves safe and healthy. Now, Oxfam Novib asked OneWorld to carry out a scoping study in Cambodia to see if a similar initiative could be useful there.

In each country where we deploy our "Learning about Living" programme – which we co-developed with our design partner Butterfly Works in 2007 – we identify the best mix of appropriate technologies like mobile phones, eLearning, community radio, and Facebook to reach the most – and most vulnerable – young people. In December and January, we conducted background research, met face-to-face with top government officials and leaders in civil society, held focus groups with Cambodian young people, and conducted a stakeholders workshop, all with the aim of:

  • understanding the concerns Cambodian young people face, particularly in their sexual and reproductive health
  • understanding the existing Cambodian initiatives to connect young people to the information they want and need
  • understanding what technologies young Cambodians are using, and how we might make use of them to connect with young people via the communication channels they love
  • identifying key partners in civil society, government, and the private sector, who could help implement a long-term, sustainable ICT-based programme for young people.

What did we find?
OneWorld is happy to report that Cambodian young people and key civil society and government partners were all extremely enthusiastic about the potential for success of a "Learning about Living"-style project, and expressed their commitment to participating in the project to ensure its successful implementation and long-term sustainability.

Time and again, the experts and officials OneWorld spoke to emphasized that the time is right to launch an ICT-based project to provide young women and men accurate, confidential SRH information, as well as a positive vision of gender relationships. Some of the key factors influencing this opinion include:

  • Many of Cambodia's young people regularly engage in risky sexual behaviour, but entrenched cultural taboos tacitly reinforced by older generations mean that young people – and young girls in particular – have virtually no means of accessing the accurate, non-judgemental SRH information they need to keep themselves safe.
  • Cambodia's national reproductive health curriculum has just been revised to a very high standard, with the strong support of prominent domestic and international civil society organizations, who have expressed their commitment to collaborate in the development of a digital ("eLearning") version of the curriculum. Top leaders within the Ministry of Education and the powerful National AIDS Alliance – a ministerial super-structure – have also expressed their strong support for such an effort and committed their on-going leadership and guidance to help ensure sustainable success for such a project.
  • Several local and international organisations are engaged in efforts to provide reproductive health information to young people and there are several organisations working on technology solutions for civil society, providing a fertile ground of expertise and technology platforms that a coordinated collaborative project could build on and innovate from.
  • Mobile phones have quickly become the dominant technology throughout the country, are available quite cheaply, and are now impacting the way of life of practically all Cambodians. There are 19 million phone subscriptions in the country of 15 million people, and 25 of the 26 young people OneWorld interviewed had their own mobile phone, including girls as young as 12 and 15 in Kampong Cham province and boys as young as 9 in Phnom Penh.
  • Almost all young people now use their phones to send SMS messages, using Khmer-Latin, a phonetic derivative of the Khmer language written with Latin characters, which has become much more widely used in recent months and appears to be spreading rapidly, especially among youth, who are much more likely than their parents to be able to sound out the words.
  • A critical mass of young people now seem to be regularly using the internet and Facebook in Cambodia to find news and information and share interesting content with their friends. The number of internet users spiked from under half a million to over 2.5 million during 2012, and on average over 1,100 people are joining Facebook every day.

What are others saying?
"You've come to Cambodia at the right time. We've observed lots of technology introduced into Cambodia in the last two years, especially for young people. Facebook is very popular - it's the year of Facebook in Cambodia... SMS is also a key activity that we need to consider. I notice that nearly 100 times per day people are sending SMS... Now you can notice that most young people have even two phones. When they meet, they put all three phones on the table to show off. So it's the right time for you!"

- His Excellency Dr. Teng Kunthy,
Secretary-General, National AIDS Authority 

"We've built a high wall between male and female. It's a bit late to talk to the woman [about sexuality] once she gets married, we should talk to her before she gets married."
- Ou Ratanak,
Executive Director, People Health Development Association 

"I talk about SRH with my same-gender friend via phone call only. I am too shy to discuss this issue face-to-face, even with her."
- Female Focus Group participant, 19, Phnom Penh



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