Training on 'story telling'. Photo: Soknak Por/Oxfam

Engaging in Storytelling

It was my pleasure to join the three day ‘Regional Youth Exchange and Storytelling Training’ jointly organized by Oxfam on October 16-18, 2018, in Siem Reap province of Cambodia.

The event engaged 20 youths (65% of them are women) from five Mekong countries, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.

Phean Sophoan, Manager of People Protecting Their Ecosystem in the Lower Mekong (PEM) Project and a Lead Facilitator in this training, said the objective of the training is to provide a chance for youths from the Mekong and Salween River Basins to connect and share experiences in natural and water resource management; to learn and practice how to develop engaging communication and learning materials focusing on story documentation; and to provide a platform to discuss and think about strategic and innovative approaches for their engagement in natural and water resources management.

The first day of training focused on storytelling theory, how to structure a story, techniques and elements to write a good story, and how to take photos that captured the audience’s attention.

The training was jointly facilitated by Mark Tilly and Oeurm Savann, Oxfam Communication Experts, and Chalefun Chale Ditphudee, a Photography Specialist from Oxfam’s partner EarthRights International.

The participants were split into three groups for discussion and translation purposes. The language barrier meant it was challenging for some of the participants to connect with one another. However, they had more of an opportunity to connect at the end of the day with a welcome dinner featuring delicious Cambodian food.

Youths practice story collection, Kampong Phluk Community Fishery, Tonle Sap Lake. Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam

During the second day, we brought participants to visit and learn from Kampong Phluk Community-Based Ecotourism and Cultural site situated in Tonle Sap Great Lake, the largest lake in Southeast Asia that wowed some of the youths. This community-based Ecotourism site has been supported by Oxfam’s partner, Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT).

“It is really amazing experiences I had never had before. I learned a lot about community’s lives in the floating village," said Hpauyam Htoi Nan, a participant from Vietnam. "Their struggles and stand for their own people that’s wonderful thing. As you know most of societies are corrupted by their own people, I saw that they are really special and it’s not easy to survive in that kind of floating village, even I could not imagine how it is difficult.”

During the visit, participants interviewed community members in three groups as part of the training exercise; one interviewed the community committee and discussed how to sustain water and fisheries resources; the second interviewed the women’s group of women boating services and the third interviewed a youth group who discussed how youth engage in water and fisheries resources.

A solidarity lunch was provided after the interviews before participants were brought to see the great lake where participants were surprised to see a few grocery boats chasing our tourist boat to sell snacks!

The last day of the event consisted of participants presenting the stories they had collected and wrote based on the visit to Kampong Phluk. I was impressed how each group successfully developed their own story, however it was clear that practice is essential in order to grab the audience’s heart.

To that end, each participant is expected to write their own story about their community or work and submit to the organisers to help them practice before they can receive their certificate.

Personally, I think the youth exchange and storytelling training was a crucial event to connect youths from different multicultural contexts in the region to share and learn from each other on sustainable natural resources management. Besides learning and sharing, it helped build youths’ confidence, networking and engagement in transboundary water resource governance.

Oxfam believes that by working with young people, provides them with the opportunity to increase their awareness on the issue such as water resources management, connect, exchange and learning, that they become the active citizen in protecting the important resources vital for the community life and livelihoods such as the river resources from the Mekong and the Salween.

Group photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam