Cambodia's youth-led campaign to reach everyone, everywhere by 2030

5 min read
Youth volunteers pose at the WaterAid stand at the 2019 Bonn Phum festival in Cambodia.
Image: WaterAid Cambodia

Engaging and inspiring young people can be a great route to ensuring water, sanitation and hygiene messages spread wide. Dara Chea shares WaterAid Cambodia's first experience of working with youth groups at the country's biggest festival, Bonn Phum.

At WaterAid Cambodia, we believe partnering with young people is crucial in working towards the Royal Government’s plan – to ensure 100% coverage of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) by 2025, corresponding to SDG6 on clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. And campaign work through youth engagement and empowerment is one of our key approaches.

Saart Cheanich is a youth engagement and empowerment campaign, a WaterAid Cambodia initiative that provides a platform to enable Cambodian young people who are interested in WASH to become influencers, and gain the knowledge and capacity to initiate a creative campaign to improve WASH in their communities. This year, for the first time, we engaged and empowered young people in WASH through the Saart Cheanich Campaign during the huge Bonn Phum Festival.

Why Bonn Phum Festival? 

Bonn Phum is an increasingly popular three-day folk-life festival celebrated every April. In recent years, organisers have struggled to provide WASH facilities to the thousands of attendees – about 200,000 people attended this year. Latrines are the major challenge because the venue changes each year and the festival is always held in a pagoda. This means there is not enough water, and latrines are in poor condition. Ensuring hygiene for festival-goers also posed a major challenge to the organising team, because of low resources and infrastructure at the pagoda. 

We decided to work with the organisers to improve WASH access at the festival and build their ownership of WASH management, while promoting national behaviour change campaign key messages on WASH to the audience through engaging activities during the event. The collaboration included technical and infrastructure support (mobile toilets and handwashing facilities), with the intent to create a happy and healthy festival.  

Attendees using WaterAid Cambodia's toilets and tippy taps at Bonn Phun festival.
Attendees using WaterAid Cambodia's toilets and tippy taps at Bonn Phun festival.
Image: WaterAid Cambodia

Promoting a happy and healthy festival with WASH

We presented Saart Cheanich Campaign at Bonn Phum Festival as a way to carry on youth engagement and empowerment, as part of our campaign strategy of linking to existing major events. This year, we supported 30 mobile toilets and 30 tippy taps at different handwashing stations to meet the festival’s huge water, sanitation and hygiene demands.   

We engaged 56 youth volunteers to lead the campaign. Among those, 14 were selected from three provinces, including Battambang, Kampong Chhnang and Kratie, while 42 were from Phnom Penh. We ran training and meetings to ensure they were empowered with the WASH knowledge both to facilitate thousands of people attending the event and raise awareness of WASH with the public.

Festival-goers flood into WaterAid Cambodia's promotion stand at Bonn Phum festival.
Festival-goers flood into WaterAid Cambodia's promotion stand at Bonn Phum festival.
Image: WaterAid Cambodia

During the festival, volunteer teams were assigned different tasks: facilitating, performing, gaming and documenting. Most stood by different latrines and handwashing stations and informed attendees how to wash their hands properly after using the toilet. Another team worked on campaign activities, such as a photo competition on social media, fun activities and some performances on the concert stage with our famous singer with a disability, Phanna, performing ‘Wash it’ (watch the film here!), ‘Love Your Soap’, and Khmer traditional songs.

The group working on documentation produced case studies and a documentary about the campaign activities and WASH practices of festival-goers. Watch their documentary below: 

We mobilised many young people to join campaign activities both at the festival and through online platforms, promoting key messages – drink safe water, use a latrine and wash your hands with soap – at the festival arena. Throughout the festival the key messages were widely dispersed to the public and reached thousands of people in Cambodia. 

Groundbreaking campaigning for Cambodia

WaterAid Cambodia is the first organisation to use an initiative like this to improve WASH at a major festival in the country. More importantly, this landmark campaign has also raised WaterAid Cambodia’s reputation nationally and with the public as an organisation that provides young people with a platform for learning and the chance to make contributions to the WASH field.

Our volunteers revealed their excitement about their experiences:

“To me, taking part in this campaign brings so many benefits to not only myself but also all attendees... we have promoted and communicated key messages on hand hygiene in particular – teaching them how to wash hands with soap after toilet,” – Boran, a volunteer from Battambang province. 

“I have learnt a lot from my fellow volunteers who are also from other provinces. I can communicate key messages to the attendees in Bonn Phum, including handwashing with soap, using latrine, and drinking safe water,” – Leakhena, a volunteer from Kampong Chhnang province.

Mobilising young people to move Sustainable Development Goal 6: do some and inspire others 

One great example of the extended success of Saart Cheanich is a youth group’s pilot campaign work in Battambang province. After being involved in the campaign, our youth group could see the model making a difference in the WASH sector. They went on to lead a campaign to mobilise people, while raising awareness and communicating WASH messages to the public in Sangkranta Battambong during Khmer New Year (12–14 April). 

This successful pilot reflects how youth engagement and empowerment can contribute to the WASH sector in Cambodia, helping us to achieve SDG 6 by influencing others in the region and globally.

Our goal is to see all youth groups in all parts of Cambodia empowered to initiate effective and innovative campaigns to promote WASH across the country, and thereby create a movement and change in WASH policy and implementation. With momentum, this movement could make a big difference far beyond festivals.

Dara Chea was Youth Engagement Campaign Intern at WaterAid Cambodia.