Koh Pich Hall, Phnom Penh
September 26, 2015
Your Excellency Mr. Yuk Ngoy, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
Good afternoon. It is my great honor to be here with you today for this important event to launch Youth Fair 2015. On behalf of the U.S. government, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Bendarom Yin of the International Republican Institute and Sothy Im of the Youth Council of Cambodia and their teams for organizing this event and for inviting me to speak to all of you today. I would also like to thank Mr. Yuk Ngoy,Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. Congratulations to the Ministry for the notable improvements in the process of administering the high school exams that were conducted last month. This is a major accomplishment!
As I look out at the audience, I am excited to see so many talented and enthusiastic young Cambodians. I have heard all about the wonderful work you are doing to promote democracy and governance in your communities. I understand there are people here from all over Cambodia. When I travelled recently to Koh Kong and Battambang, and previously to Siem Reap, I met young people just like you, working to help their communities. Across Cambodia, you have shown that you are committed to your country’s growth. I know each of you have faced your own personal challenges already in your lives, and your parents and grandparents have made huge sacrifices for you. Your success and resilience are an inspiration for all of us. I would like to congratulate all of you for your work and encourage you to never give up in reaching your life goals.
This event is indicative of how youth are critical to the development of Cambodia. Youth are also an important part of civil society. I believe a strong, vibrant, and free civil society equates to a strong Cambodia. I have no doubt that the advances that Cambodia has achieved in recent years – a growing economy, improvements in health care and schools, and more – are due in great part to the work of civil society working in conjunction with government and the private sector.
The United States is supporting many exciting programs that encourage youth participation in Cambodia, as youth participation is key if the country is to achieve an inclusive democracy. Since 2009, more than 17,000 young Cambodians have completed civic education programs taught by the Youth Council of Cambodia, through the USAID-funded Accountability in Governance and Politics program. Since 2012, USAID has supported 40 episodes of the Next Generation policy debate television program which carries democracy messages and policy debates to millions throughout the country.
In a separate activity, 41 participants – 14 of whom were women – graduated from the USAID-supported Future Leaders program. Fourteen of these graduates now serve in senior government positions. Two are in the National Assembly and four are in senior leadership positions of political parties. We are very proud of these impressive young Cambodians. We also need to see more women in positions of leadership throughout all sectors of Cambodia, a reason the U.S. helped launch a women’s entrepreneurship center last week.
Young Cambodians are also actively engaged outside their country’s borders. In June, six Cambodians were among a group of young professionals who met President Barack Obama at the White House. The six were part of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative fellowship program sponsored by the U.S. government. At that meeting, President Obama urged them to use their experience in the United States to help professional and cultural communities in their home countries. YSEALI is a tool for the incredible young people of ASEAN to collaborate with each other and the United States to face some of the most significant challenges facing the region. Through YSEALI, you will have access to amazing opportunities including networking, seed money for projects, and even the opportunity to travel so I urge everyone here to sign up today online if you haven’t already.
And just like the young Cambodians who recently visited the White House, you are all future leaders. You play a critical role in helping your communities better understand the role of young leaders in shaping your country’s future.
Before I conclude, I would like to repeat my thanks to Mr. Yuk Ngoy,Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports for all the ministry has done to support the youth in Cambodia. My thanks, also, to the International Republican Institute and the Youth Council of Cambodia for organizing this event. I am thrilled to be here with you. I wish everyone continued success as you work to promote youth participation in the political process. One of my favorite Cambodian proverbs is: “Rolok Kroay Chran Rolok Muk” (Literally translates to: “The wave at the back pushes the wave at the front.”), which means that the next generation shapes the previous generation. I look forward to hearing about all of your future successes.