Youth Nutrition Champions make their voices heard in Cambodia
The emerging third phase of the SUN Movement, to be launched in 2021, places an increased emphasis on youth engagement. On this front, Cambodia is ahead of the game. Since 2018, Youth Nutrition Champions (YNC) selected and trained by Helen Keller International (HKI) have been using social media to engage with their peers on this subject and coordinating their views with policymakers. UN colleagues from various agencies have seized the opportunity to engage with these youth, contributing to the mounting momentum of the country’s Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement as it enters phase 3.
In 2020, two conferences were organized around youth participation in Cambodia’s nutrition agenda. These events brought together youth aged 19–29 for meetings in small groups with Government and UN counterparts. Both events ‒ one August and another in October ‒ were joint SUN Movement activities, with financial and technical support from the UN Network for Nutrition (UNN). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) also took part, along with instrumental government focal points.
Bormey Chhun, who works for HKI, participated in all the events as an organizer and spokeswoman. She is only 22 years old, but she is already savvy about multi-sectoral nutrition governance. In recent months, she has given speeches on nutrition at national and sub-national events and has moderated panels on nutrition for government officials, UN counterparts and other Scaling Up Nutrition representatives. She has travelled to Washington, D.C. for training in her field, makes nutrition-focused videos to post on Facebook, and is part of a team organizing an upcoming three-day nutrition ‘camp’ for her peers.
Chinda Thong is a 23-year-old chef working alongside Bormey. In a recent YNC Facebook post, he hosted ‘make breakfast with Chinda’. With an unassuming smile, he shows viewers first to wash their hands before cooking, and then he made a poached egg on top of sautéed greens and mushrooms before asking viewers, ‘What is your favorite breakfast?’ This segment is part of A Day in the Life series, tailored to address nutrition issues for youth who are quarantining at home due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Bormey explains how carefully the series was constructed to address real nutrition concerns of her peers. The youth champions at HKI collaborated with key partners, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the Council of Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), the EU-FAO FIRST  programme as well as UNICEF and WFP, to devise a survey for youth about how their lives have changed since COVID-19. Based on those insights, they developed ten questions for the survey, which they posted on Facebook, where they received about 100 responses from twelve provinces in Cambodia. Some disclosed that they were not eating well because the prices of food are too high, and they ate more noodles and fast foods. The responses gave Bormey’s team the raw material to develop A day in the life YNC video series. Each of the thirteen YNCs then made a video based on the survey answers. In addition to Chinda’s short, easy recipes, others have made Do-It-Yourself style videos. “This helps young people in quarantine to stay healthy,” she emphasizes.
Hands-on Learning and Fun
Before COVID-19 struck, a prototype for the camp had already been tested by Bormey and her team of YNCs. Activities were designed to appeal to youth as well as give them valuable skills to participate in nutrition policy. Tertiary students who are currently studying or show an interest in food security and nutrition, agriculture or food systems would take part in discussions with experienced staff and peers involved with food systems, go on field trips to organic farms and food processing plants and work alongside government, NGO and UN staff. The programme emphasized small group work, where participants will design improved food systems based on their field visits.
“Targeting mainly youth who are students is a deliberate decision in order to test this innovative approach in Cambodia and evaluate whether it could be a successful means to engage and raise awareness amongst the broader youth population. In addition, it can be expected that tertiary students may become more influential in the future to have a greater impact on Sustainable Food Systems,” Iean explains. The endeavor is an example of strong joint programming, with participation from CARD, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, HKI, GIZ, WHO, the EU-FAO FIRST Programme, UNICEF and WFP. It is also aligned with the 2nd National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition (2019–2023).
Looking forward to the camp as well as other YNC activities in the upcoming year, Bormey notes how far the group has come already. “We have held many events, and I’m starting to see the impact of the programs. We are reaching most of the goals we set in 2018: to train young people and to establish national and sub-national networks as well. We are now working on establishing a national and sub-national platform for youth nutrition. In the future, I want to see YNC’s have an impact on their communities. We look forward to training more young people on the topics of healthy diets and nutrition advocacy. That’s our plan for the next year.”
• Read the full story on the UN Network for SUN website – Youth Nutrition Champions make their voices heard in Cambodia