Interview by Tong Hour
For our Youth With Impact interview series, we sat with Mr.Sokunpanha You, president-elect of FUSAAC (Fulbright and Undergraduate State Alumni Association of Cambodia), to find out about the programs it offers as well as the purpose of this youth oriented organization.
Can you tell us what FUSAAC is and why it was established?
Formed in 2000 FUSAAC is an alumni association of people who have gone to the United States through different exchange programs and/or scholarships (such as the Fulbright scholarship, YSEALI, and UGRAD program) that are sponsored by the Department of State. As an association, FUSAAC wants to provide a platform for those individuals who have returned from the U.S. to connect, to network, and to get together to plan and execute specific youth-oriented projects. These projects aim to build the capacity of Cambodian youth to make sure that they can become responsible and productive citizen for this country. While we are not trying to solve any particular problems, we do believe that the power of young, passionate, capable, and committed Cambodians is a huge contribution to the country’s development. We are not exactly identifying the problems, but we are building the capacity of the people who will solve those problems. We believe that by investing on these young individuals, they will bear a lot of fruit and will be an important ingredient to developing Cambodia.
What is the mission and/or vision of FUSAAC Cambodia?
“Together for a better Cambodia” is our tagline which we use to encourage young people up to speed, or in other words, to reach their potential and to promote peace. Our mission is to really build their capacity through different youth-oriented projects and activities ( such as information sharing, encouraging crosscultural understandings, volunteer opportunities etc.) to make sure that they can provide outcomes that are professional. We believe in professional volunteerism in which our alumni and volunteers are expected to run their projects with the same quality as the projects that are run by higher professionals.
Can you share more details and examples of a youth-oriented project that you have run?
The first example would be our biggest project which is our flagship program that we have been running once every year for the past 7 years. It is called, The Major and Career Fair whose objective is the same from year to year which is to help students, especially high school students, make a more informed choice about which major they should pursue in university as well as the career prospects related to that particular major. We invited different experts from various fields to come to this one-day fair and share their knowledge and experience together with the job opportunities after graduation. This year, the event happened in June at ITC and hosted 2,370 students, mostly from Phnom Penh along with the presence of 65 speakers who gave talks about 55 different majors, listing from Business to Agronomy. The goal is to provide access to information about as many majors as possible, hence, the participants would join some common events as well as the breakout sessions, where they would go ask more detailed information about particular major(s) that they are most interested in.
In addition to this huge program, we also have other smaller activities that are also very important such as our volunteer training programs where we select our best volunteers and put them through professional development and our youth outreach programs through which we go to different provinces to conduct mock TOEFL test for university students and provide them information about scholarship opportunities offered by the U.S. Department of State and other sources.
A new project is now in the consideration process through which we will make video interviews with experts about the scholarship opportunities as well as major and career. Through our Major and Career fair, we have learned that although it is a very useful event, the majority of the participants are from Phnom Penh. This is a concern to us because there is an inequality in term of information sharing as we know that the majority for Cambodian students actually live in the provinces, where they do not have access to the same information. So through this new project, we would produce video interviews in which our volunteers will interview the experts and specialists about the factors mentioned above and then publish those videos on our social media platforms so that we can reach out to students in the provinces as well. Furthermore, we are in the process of identifying offline platforms to ensure that students who do not have access to the internet can access information as well. To sum up, this new project is basically trying to introduce the Major and Career fair to a much bigger audience throughout Cambodia.
How big is FUSAAC Cambodia’s network and where are your members from?
FUSAAC now has more than 300 members who are all Cambodian. This is because the scholarship and exchange programs offered by the Department of State are specifically for Cambodians. So it is not a surprise for the members of FUSAAC, who have been awarded those scholarships, to be all Cambodians.
Tell us about the role and activeness of the members of your organization.
Some members are of course more active than the others. As an organization with more than 300 members, it is almost impossible to get everyone involved. So yes, some members are definitely more involved not only with the participation of the events or projects, but also the design and execution of those events and projects. Although we open up the opportunity to every member of ours while trying to get them involved with our project/event opportunities, we have to understand that our members are working in all levels of different private sectors and government sectors. Therefore, some of them are likely to be more busy compared to others. This is why they cannot participate with us as much as they would like to or as much as we would like them to. But this is not a problem because at the end of the day, they are still our members and we value their efforts on our projects, no matter how big or small.
Can you give details about the qualifications required for those who want to join FUSAAC?
First of all, they must have taken part in at least one of the scholarship or exchange programs offered by the Department of State mentioned above. But it is important to also keep in mind that we are recruiting volunteers to take part in our projects for which anyone can apply. For example, the Major and Career fair would not have been possible without our volunteers. This year, we had approximately 150 volunteers who have worked for almost 6 months to put everything together and to organize this one-day fair. So while our official members are limited to those who have gone through the programs mentioned, we are very open to the volunteers who want to contribute to our projects. The volunteers are mainly high school and university students who are passionate about youth engagement and youth capacity building. We really appreciate their efforts on helping us, so we always try our best to do something in return (as I have mentioned, we provide volunteer training programs that last several days to the selected 20 to 30 volunteers). In addition to these training programs, we also offer them mentoring if they need any help with school, work, or even scholarship application by connecting them to our network who are experienced with those fields.
How can we keep in touch with FUSAAC and know more about what this organization is doing?
Go visit our Facebook page , and our website. Send us any questions either through our Facebook page or email. We are very active on our Facebook page so keep up with us. Do as well visit our Youtube channel , to see different clips of FUSAAC, together with the video interviews that we are planning to produce.
Finally, from the perspective of a president-elect of such youth- oriented organization, what would you like to say to Cambodian youth?
I would say that I am continuously impressed by their commitment, passion, and ability. What I would like to say to them is that they have to keep being curious, keep pushing themselves up to develop their skills and abilities.
The economy of Cambodia is rapidly changing and we are moving from a low-income country to a lower-middle-income country, so the kinds of skills that people need to succeed in the new economy will be different from the ones needed 10 to 20 years ago. For example, most of the investments on our countries 10 to 20 years ago were in labor-intensive industry such as garment and construction. That is going to change because investments will go into industries that are more technology-intensive, which will require new and actual skills. Hence, Cambodian youth has to have a long-term view of where our country is going and prepare themselves accordingly.
I would also say that they should build up their professional and technical abilities regardless of what field they choose. Be an expert who has tangible skills that are demanded by the market. Be more informed about the world beyond Cambodia such as ASEAN, the American election, because we are now at the point where we are not only competing among ourselves, but also competing for jobs and markets with the world.
Finally, I would say that in addition to building themselves, they should as well think about what they can do for others. Cambodia has gone through many tragic events and I think it is time for youth to do their part in contributing to the development of this country.
“Ask yourself, what can you do to be useful for your family, your community and society. Think about what you can do to be of use to others beyond yourself. So seek for volunteer opportunities, social projects and help those who are less fortunate than you are. If they could do that, I believe the future of Cambodia would be bright indeed.”