ASEAN Youth Ready Together!

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ASEAN Youth Ready Together!
Ixora Tri Devi
Staff Writer, The ASEAN, Analysis Division, ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Department
28 May 2024
Civil service, Youth

ASEAN Volunteers, an ASEAN Cooperation Project, aims to foster a caring and sharing community among ASEAN youth through volunteering activities. It aspires to become an ASEAN-led integrated platform for such activities, to promote ASEAN awareness and to foster participatory community building by actively engaging the youth.

From first aid training to disaster management training, discussions about climate change, and engagements with local communities and schools, young people from across the region have been exposed to various engagements as part of the ASEAN Volunteers Project.

They are happily immersed in life-changing experiences while learning firsthand about the substantial role communities play in disaster management.

Twenty-two days, countless experiences

January 2024 was not a typical month for 21-year-old Laotian Sulaphy Phangsuvanh, a volunteer in Singapore. Energised and ready, she looked forward to days of learning about disaster management from Mercy Relief Singapore. Her schedule included visits to galleries focusing on sustainable development and disaster preparedness, as well as engaging in conservation-oriented and sustainable tourism at local attractions.

“Working closely with communities was a significant part of our experience,” Sulaphy tells The ASEAN.

Another youth volunteer, 30-year-old Bruneian Izyan Binti Haji Osman was actively involved with Mercy Malaysia in October 2023. She participated in community-based disaster risk management activities, which included fieldwork in Batu 23 Sungai Lui, Hulu Langat, Selangor. There, her team collected data and employed techniques such as transect walks, conducted interviews to create seasonal calendars, and mapped out facilities in various areas of the village.

“Working together as a team was really important in this project. I got better at working with different people from different backgrounds to reach our goals,” Izyan states.

Similar to her peers, 24-year-old Chhoun Sokchea also spent three weeks full of activities. However, unlike Sulaphy and Izyan, Sokchea could participate in all activities from the convenience of her home country while working with the Cambodian Red Cross in January 2024.

“We completed nine community activities together, including trash cleaning incentives for high school students, shooting videos on fire disasters, raising awareness about fire hazards among primary school students, planting mangrove trees, cleaning beaches, and more,” says Sokchea.

The inaugural cycle of the project was organised under the theme “Community-based Disaster Risk Reduction and Preparedness” with funding from the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF). The project deployed approximately 100 young people aged 18-30 from all ASEAN Member States to serve as volunteers in community development projects across the region for 22 days.

Many of these volunteers are involved in community projects in their home country. Sokchea, for example, led a project to improve waste management awareness in the Chnok Tru Commune of Barbour District, Cambodia. The same goes for Izyan, who recently held a Ramadan donation drive for single mothers with Persatuan Membangun Wanita dan Masyarakat [Association for Women and Community Development] in Brunei Darussalam.

“I have been a volunteer since 2019. I have learnt a lot from all of my past volunteers, but I want to learn more. I want to know what is new in ASEAN. What is the difference between the national and ASEAN levels,” says Sokchea.

Sulaphy, who also participated in numerous volunteer programmes during her university years in the Lao PDR, reveals that the experience has given her first-hand exposure to numerous challenges the world faces, “especially disasters such as flooding, global warming, and climate change.” She adds, “I am also eager to learn about their strategies and methods, which I can then adapt and apply upon my return.”

Just as the theme suggests, the project focuses on community-based disaster reduction and preparedness. The volunteers received first-hand lessons on enhancing community capacity and reducing vulnerability through awareness-raising and knowledge-sharing initiatives. “By empowering communities with information and skills, we can strengthen their resilience and ability to cope with natural disasters and climate-related challenges,” says Izyan.

Beyond learning about disaster management, the volunteers also benefited from interacting with each other. Every deployment consisted of 10 volunteers from the ASEAN Member States, which opened opportunities to strengthen the regional identity.

“Besides the training, activities, and meetings, we also had team-building sessions and spent time together. As all ten members, we were friendly, creative, intelligent, kind, productive, and clever,” says Sokchea.

“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with volunteers from different ASEAN member states. I have learned so much from them due to our diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas. They have become like brothers and sisters to me,” adds Sulaphy.

For those interested in joining the ASEAN Volunteers Project, Izyan offers some advice: “If you’re considering participating in this project, remember that it might not always be straightforward. Prepare for challenges and embrace new experiences. Maintain a positive attitude and value the opportunities that arise. Most importantly, be true to yourself, even if you feel nervous or uncertain.”

Volunteering supports character development and enhancement of skills such as leadership, problem-solving, and teamwork. Combined with the practical experiences in various ASEAN communities, ASEAN youth are prepared to be future leaders of ASEAN with the capacity to overcome challenges and manage future disasters. (Director of Human Development Directorate of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Department, Rodora T. Babaran, at the ASEAN Volunteers Report Meeting in Jakarta, 27 March 2024)
ASEAN volunteers gain firsthand experience working with various local communities to reduce disaster risk and improve preparedness
My volunteering journey has been transformative, both personally and collectively. Through individual activities and interactions with fellow volunteers, I gained valuable skills, formed lifelong friendships, and developed a deeper understanding of the power of community service and international cooperation. Moving forward, I am inspired to continue contributing to positive change within ASEAN and beyond, guided by the lessons learned and the connections made during this remarkable experience. (Chhoun Sokchea, 24, ASEAN Volunteer from Cambodia)
Photo Credit: © Chhoun Sokchea
I was so interested in it because I have never experienced working with people from outside my country. I saw this as a golden opportunity to learn how other ASEAN member countries prepare for and respond to disasters and climate change adaptation. I am also eager to work alongside others to foster a conducive environment where everyone can thrive and engage in collaborative efforts to create a better and safer ASEAN region for all. (Sulaphy Phangsuvanh, 21, ASEAN Volunteer from Lao PDR)
Photo Credit: © Sulaphy Phangsuvanh
The project has reinforced my focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems. By maintaining a positive mindset and approaching challenges with a problem-solving attitude, I've been able to effectively address issues and move forward towards our objectives. Overall, the project reinforced the importance of proactive measures in building resilience and fostering sustainable development in the face of evolving environmental threats. (Izyan binti Haji Osman, 30, ASEAN Volunteer from Brunei Darussalam)
Photo Credit: © Izyan binti Haji Osman
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