By Vanly Keomuda
“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”
Growing up in a conservative family in Cambodia, my voice was not always heard and my opinions were not always taken seriously. I was always dismissed or talked over every time I tried to insert my opinion on certain sensitive points. Because of the stereotype of youth, my ability has always been overlooked by the adults in my family and I was always viewed as young and shallow-minded.
The situation that I have experienced above is typical in Cambodian society. The voices and the abilities of young Cambodian are often neglected because of the mind-set that teenagers are still young, lack experience and have yet to experience the difficulties of the adult world. Due to this reason, youth in my country has been working relentlessly in order to reverse the prevailing stereotype. According to my observations, Cambodian young people have been actively engaged in various social activities as well as initiating their own social events in order to broadcast their ability and push for their voices to be heard. For example, in 2016 and in 2017, an event known as Ignite Phnom Penh was organised by a group of young people in order to give youth the opportunity to speak up and express their thoughts on sensitive topics. There are also other projects that have been initiated by groups of young people to broadcast the voices of youth such as Inspired Cambodia, Youthspeak Cambodia, Perspective Cambodia, among others.
In these past few year, youth are seen to fight for their voices and opinions to be heard and for their ability and capability to be seen. Even though only a small impact can be seen as a result, I think the Cambodian youth are setting out in the right direction to prove their abilities and convince adults to see them in a new perspective.
Despite having little experience in adult life, youth should still be given a chance to express themselves because their thoughts also matter. Moreover, freedom of expression, with the help and support of adults, is also a way for teenagers to learn and improve their critical thinking skills. Therefore, instead of neglecting the opinions of young people, I urge the older generations to encourage teenagers to speak up so that they have the chance to improve and better themselves. At the end of the day, Cambodian youth are the future of this country.
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.