Two million Cambodians will reach voting age in 2012, yet few people say they think young people should be involved in local or national decision-making.
A participatory youth programme aims to change that.
Broadcasting from January 2012, Loy9 includes a phone-in radio programme, a combined TV drama and magazine show, web interaction and live games aimed at increasing young people’s participation in public life.
It tells the stories of people who have contributed to their communities and shows how they can be emulated. The positive sentiment of inspiration and peer to peer support is summed up in the name, Loy9, which is a slang term of praise among young Cambodians.
At the heart of the TV and radio shows are ‘Bright Spots’; young people who are making a difference in their communities. One such ‘Bright Spot’ is former charcoal burner Hout Khem. Leaving behind the charcoal burning industry, she is now an environmental tour guide, inspiring others like her to do the same.
The idea is that entertaining and engaging people will act as an inspiration to show the audience how they can realise their own potential and, in the case of the ‘Bright Spots’, have a say in how things are run.
Blogging for a new generation
Some of the most inspiring people can be found in Loy9’s production office. Blogger Kounila Keo was spotted by the team when she gave a talk at the global forum for innovators, TEDx.
The 23-year-old was invited to feature in a ‘Bright Spot’ film, and went on to become the project’s digital manager.
She hopes that young Cambodians can become more like their counterparts in other South East Asian nations.
“I’ve travelled to other countries and I’ve met young people from those countries. [They] are not so different from ours except their young people seem to be more active in politics and society,” she says.
“In Cambodia, being able to express oneself is like a privilege. Somebody has to be a politician or famous to be able express an opinion. And young people are afraid to speak up. Their parents have been telling them things like ‘don’t talk in public about politics whatsoever because it’s dangerous for you and you have to stay away from that’.”
Cambodia is still recovering from many years of civil war and the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, under which an estimated 1.7 million people died. Many Cambodians who remember those days still believe that the safest policy is silence.
The youth vote
Despite a majority youth population – two in three people are under 30-years-old – the number of young people who vote in Cambodia is significantly lower than the average voter turnout.
BBC Media Action research exposed a lack of awareness among young people; many are often not sure what democracy is or even what its main institutions do.
Loy9 aims to rectify this lack of knowledge ahead of local government elections in 2012 and National Assembly elections in 2013. It also aims to inspire people of all ages to believe that young people have a place in decision-making about where they live.
The initiative, funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), will be on air for 18 months.