Ms. Jaydelyn Reise D. De Vera, Training Specialist at the Foreign Service Institute’s Carlos P. Romulo School of Diplomacy, participated in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Generation: EARTH (Environmental Advocacy Responsibility and Teamwork) Workshop 2015 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on 22-25 April 2015.
The YSEALI Generation regional exchange gathered 72 rising young Southeast Asian leaders from the 10 ASEAN member nations – Brunei (1), Laos (6), Singapore (3), Cambodia (18), Malaysia (6), Thailand (6), Indonesia (9), Myanmar (6), Vietnam (7) and the Philippines (10). Participants, aged 18 to 25, gained a deeper understanding of a need to collaborate across borders to address environmental issues in the region and beyond.
The delegates were welcomed by US Ambassador to Cambodia H.E. William E. Todd, Cambodian Secretary of State for the Ministry of Education H.E. Dr. Im Koch, and Cambodian Minister of Environment H.E. Say Samal. Ambassador Todd urged the participants to help teach thousands more about the importance of protecting and preserving the environment.
The workshop has three distinct phases: virtual learning exercises (March 31-April 20), a four-day workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia (April 22-25), with the guidance of 24 leader mentors (12 from ASEAN and 12 from the US), and post-workshop activities including the issuance of seed grants to implement environmental action plans, US Study Tour and internships at US NGOs.
The four-day workshop focused on five key areas: climate change, water stewardship, cultural heritage preservation, natural resource management and biodiversity through a series of lectures, interactive discussions and field trips around Siem Reap province. Participants were able to visit Tbeng Village and joined the local villagers in planting 200 trees, saw the species Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) – the first nature conservation center in Cambodia, are working to protect, helped village members in the Eco-tourism site Floating Village (Kompong Phluk) on the Tonle Sap Lake (Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake) place markers around the protected fisheries area in preparation for Cambodia’s rainy season and explored Angkor Complex specifically Phnom Bakheng and Angkor Wat which is under restoration by the World Monuments Fund (WMF).
The workshop not only has enriched the participants’ knowledge on the said areas but also honed their skills in advocacy (i.e., communication strategies using social media), outreach, project management, and resource and partnership development as they were expected to develop and implement action plans in their home countries after the workshop.
The young Southeast Asian participants were divided into 12 multi-national teams guided by two Leader Mentors – one from Southeast Asia and one from the United States. Ms. De Vera, together with two (2) delegates from Cambodia, one (1) each from Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, came up with the action plan called “One Baby, One Tree”—a project to solve the deforestation problem in Prey Lang, Cambodia, and hope to move on further to other areas in the region like Indonesia and the Philippines. The project aimed at tying human health to environmental health wherein parents must plant trees in exchange for free vaccinations for their children. All multi-national teams are eligible to receive a US$1,250 seed grant to implement their action plans in June 2015.
The workshop is organized by the US-based NGO Cultural Vistas and the Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia (Siem Reap Campus) in close cooperation with the US Embassy in Phnom Penh. It is sponsored by the US Department of State and is funded through a grant from the Embassy of the United States in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) is a program launched in 2013 by US President Barack Obama to support youth who are concerned with economic development, environmental protection, education, and civic engagement in Southeast Asia. It aims to strengthen leadership development and networking in ASEAN which is home to two-thirds of the world’s population and among the world’s fastest growing economies, deepen engagement with young leaders on key regional and global challenges, and strengthen people-to-people ties between the United States and young Southeast Asian leaders.
*Some of the photos were provided by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Cultural Vistas