Green Groups youth organize environmental events and outreach to educate their peers. | Photo Credit: USAID Cambodia Green Future Activity

Cambodia’s Youth Take Action for a Green Future

By Celia Zeilberger

Forests and wildlife are important parts of Cambodia's national heritage, but they are rapidly disappearing from the country’s landscapes and protected areas. Cambodia has lost nearly a quarter of its tree cover since 2001 because of overexploitation, land use change, and climate change. Conservation crimes threaten the animals living in the remaining forests; while the government of Cambodia signed international conventions outlawing the wildlife trade and passed local laws that make poaching and selling endangered animals a crime, poachers often evade law enforcement and wildlife sellers can escape prosecution by paying bribes or using loopholes. The decline of Cambodia’s biodiversity is devastating for the individuals who rely on the country’s natural resources for sustainable livelihoods, and these economic impacts are felt at the national level.

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A group of people wearing medical masks stand around a tree preparing to plant it.
USAID Cambodia Green Future engages influential individuals like Venerable Kou Sopheap, a famous monk and professor, for outreach and events like tree plantings.

With 60 percent of Cambodia's population under the age of 25, engaging them is key to ensuring sustainable economic growth and achieving Cambodia’s Sustainable Development Goals related to environmental protection, wildlife conservation, and sustainable natural resource management. USAID is beginning to tap into this group’s enthusiasm and commitment to conserve the environment for themselves and future generations. Since 2019, USAID’s Cambodia Green Future Activity (CGFA), a five-year project implemented by ECODIT and FHI 360, has catalyzed a dynamic youth movement in the country around combating climate change and protecting natural resources. CGFA uses social and behavior change communication (SBCC) to reduce demands for luxury wood furniture and bushmeat and to discourage littering, including through social media campaigns with the hashtags #Talk2ProtectForests, #Talk2ProtectOurWildlife, and #Talk2StopLittering. 

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A group of people take a campaign photo with hashtag signs and a cutout of a facebook post.
USAID Cambodia Green Future has catalyzed a dynamic youth campaign around environmental issues.

In October 2021, CGFA began organizing high school and university students into Green Groups (GGs) composed of volunteer environmental champions. There are currently 12 GGs with 106 members, 75 percent of which are young women. They serve as change agents influencing their peers, family, and community members to adopt sustainable behaviors and conduct important outreach activities at schools.

“We encourage students to start discussing environmental topics with their families, friends, and communities.” 

Nann Pechpheary, a youth leader who co-founded one of the GGs,

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A group of students bookmark a sign while holding trash bags and picks.
Green Groups youth organize environmental events and outreach to educate their peers.

GG members also played a central role in the development of CGFA’s SBCC campaign materials by providing insights into the target audience. After a project training on the campaign’s overall strategy and how to use the campaign toolkits, GGs are ready to serve as role models for other youth and advocate for better implementation and change in relevant policies through CGFA-sponsored policy dialogs. In the past two years, GGs conducted 55 outreach and sharing sessions with 718 youth participants. GG members have repeatedly said they enjoy expressing their creativity through these activities and that they appreciate the project’s platform to elevate their voices and harness their talents to protect their natural environment.

“We do not want the new generation to be left with a ruined Cambodia. We are more confident and motivated than ever.”

Sovichea Saron, GG youth leader

CGFA’s work has demonstrated the potential of youth as key agents of change in Cambodia, and the project is confident the behavior change efforts led by young people will continue long after the project ends. CGFA has learned a lot about the capacity and value of integrating SBCC into all aspects of climate change programming, which USAID can continue to build on in future programs.  

 

Country
Cambodia
Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Integration
Topics
Biodiversity Conservation, Education, Forest/Forestry, Youth
Region
Asia

Celia Zeilberger

Celia Zeilberger is the Director of Communications and Learning at ECODIT and the Home Office Project Director of the USAID Cambodia Green Future Activity. Prior to joining ECODIT, she served as the Senior Development Outreach and Communications Specialist at USAID/Ghana. She has over 12 years of experience in communications for USAID and other development organizations.

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