I’ve come to Pour Thom high school in South East Cambodia to talk to students taking part in training on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).
DRR is an area of work which helps communities identify the hazards (such as floods and drought) that they are vulnerable to, and take steps to limit the negative impacts these might have.
The training in Pour Thom is being replicated with children and young people from 35 primary schools and 8 secondary high schools across the country, under a project - funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department - which aims to help 46,000 people across 7 provinces become more resilient to disasters.
Students told me how they experienced disasters in their village.
“People in my village are affected by disasters - drought or floods - almost every year,” Yong Srey Neit says. “The floods in 2011 destroyed my rice paddy and other villagers’ crops.”
Disasters can even split families up.
“[My family] had to leave my village to make a living in the city or in neighbouring countries like Vietnam or Thailand.
Moun Touch with his prize-winning drawing of hazards typical in a disaster and actions to overcome them
“They could not plant or grow any rice or crops because the water source was far away from the village,” says 16-year-old Moun Touch.
Preparing for the worst
The training helps young people and their families prepare for the worst.
They get a basic introduction to DRR, sessions on natural hazards, risk-mapping games to understand risks and potential actions to reduce them, and information on how to stay safe during disasters.
“We need to be prepared for floods or droughts if they come to hit our villages again. The training is very good. I have a lot of knowledge on DRR now. After completing this training, I am sure I will be proactive to talk about DRR and share it with my family and friends. ,” Yong Srey Neit explains.
Young people bring change
ActionAid Cambodia has been working on disaster risk reduction initiatives with schools, teachers, students and parents since early 2007.
Andrew Martin, ActionAid’s project manager in Cambodia, explains why working specifically with children and young people is so important.
“It helps generate debate in schools, at home and in the wider community about why disasters happen, and how they can be prevented. Young people witness the problems caused by natural disasters and want to see actions taken by the adult decision makers.
“We need to hear their voices and encourage their engagement in calling for local and national authorities to act before it is too late.”