As a business administration student, Panalath Lathouly has always been interested in starting her own business. Besides that, she has won several achievements including being awarded Best International Team at the Youth Innovation Competition on Lanstsang-Mekong Region’s Governance and Development 2018.
The first time Panalalth Lathouly discovered the eMpowering Youth Across ASEAN (EYAA) Programme, she learnt that EYAA is the ASEAN Foundation initiative that aims to alleviate poverty and improve social and economic well-being of communities across ASEAN through youth volunteerism and social innovation. The programme encourages youth between the ages of 19 to 35 years old from all 10 ASEAN Member States to leverage their experiences, knowledge and put their project ideas into action and create meaningful change for the local community in the Southeast Asian region. Then, they are able to realise their social enterprises with the generous support of the Maybank Foundation. Additionally, the programme aims to build the capacity of youth in ASEAN region to achieve the ASEAN Community building and contribute to the implementation of the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint 2025 of becoming a more open and adaptive ASEAN.
After learning about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Panalath decided to apply to the programme and she became one of the ten Laotian youths who was chosen to be part of the EYAA Programme in 2018-2019. She was then placed in a team with 9 other youths from other ASEAN countries and was assigned to tackle the thematic area of ‘Environment Diversity’ in Cambodia. Panalath and her team wanted to create a project that would solve a real problem. After many discussions, they learnt that the community they were assigned to was located near the river and was well-known for planting mangroves. There, the people depend on tourism activities to survive as their main source of income. However, the head of the village shared that people from the community lack the knowledge and skills to develop a tourist attraction in the village and they are concerned that big companies will take over their place. From that, the team established Project EcoNurture, which is an ecological preservation and restoration management project in Trapeang Sangkae Community of Kampot, Cambodia. It is their mission to plant more mangrove trees to support the signature of the village, help educate the local people in the community regarding the ways to preserve the environment and ecosystem and finally to decorate the village so it is more eco-friendly and attractive to tourists.
Being in a team of 10 youths from different ASEAN countries, Panalath shared that, “I was fortunate to work in a team of dedicated and passionate people. We are all from different backgrounds yet we share the same mission." Throughout their project, the team faced some challenges but they got through it together. “Although our group faced a very unique experience compared to the other teams, we had each other back and we were willing to support one another,” she said.
In February 2019, Panalath and her team traveled to Cambodia to implement the two-week volunteer community project. There, they reached several key milestones. The project increased awareness and knowledge to 9 committees of Trapeang Sangkae Ecotourism, and 196 community members on waste management, upcycling, environmental restoration, management and marketing. The team engaged and coordinated with 6 local government officials (police officer, member of the commune, head of village and fishery officer, 11 Red Cross Cambodia volunteers and 20 Cambodia youth action volunteers). They also managed to plant 1,000 mangrove seedlings in the coastal areas of the community. Lastly, the team conducted a preliminary demonstration to the community on transforming their village to a rainbow village to attract tourists by painting the walkways, making murals, installing strip lights and making English-related sign boards.
Panalath believes that, “EYAA provides a fundamental platform for youth to gain knowledge and practice skills in working on a project. During the one-week workshop in Bangkok I have improved my understanding of project implementations that I never get to learn before in my home country. There are two key lessons I liked from the training, one of them is the design thinking session that taught being empathetic is essential for working in a community especially while working with people who have different cultures, speak different languages, and has their own ways of living.” She also felt that EYAA gave her and the other youth an opportunity to connect with other young passionate youth across ASEAN countries.
Thankful for her experience, Panalath highly recommends students to apply to the programme. “I recommend young people to apply for this programme because this is a real life changing experience for youth, it’s a chance for you to get out of your comfort zone and improve your skills in volunteering, leadership and it will make you become more self-aware and also strengthen your relationship with other ASEAN youth by working with passionate ASEAN friends.”When asked about the lessons she took away from this programme, Panalath shared that, “this opportunity has helped me to be more open minded and it has made me more thoughtful, patient and flexible while working.” and as a business administration student, she has always wanted to start her own business but “after two-weeks of working in a community in Cambodia. I have realised how important it was to think about sustainable development and about the impact of people, thus my interest has developed from creating an enterprise to a social enterprise.”