Six months ago, when her brother moved to Thailand to find work, Sreychreb Sou decided to get on Facebook. The 18-year-old high school student signed up because she wanted him to be able to stay in touch with the family in Pong Ror Chas. This is a small village in Cambodia's Siem Reap province, and not far from the famous Angkor Wat temples. The platform allowed the family to chat on video.
"It let my brother see his mother's face again," she says.
Facebook has since become an important part of Sreychreb's life. In addition to talking with her brother, she chats with her classmates, reads news and shares information about traffic accidents and other events. The problem was that she had never really thought about what she was passing along to her Facebook friends.
"I just shared everything," she recalls. "I didn't know if it was true or not. I only learned that some things are not true on Facebook when I came to this workshop."
A chance for responsible participation
The workshop Sreycheb is attending with twelve other young women from her province is part of a project funded by Germany's Federal Foreign Office called "My voice counts! – Women express themselves through social media". The project's goal is to teach young women how to use social media to participate in society, and how to use it responsibly. The young women come from three provinces and the capital, Phnom Penh.
"The rapid growth of social media has created new possibilities for participating in Cambodian society," says Sabina Casagrande, DW Akademie's Country Manager for Cambodia. "This is especially important for Cambodian women because they now have new ways to make their voices heard in a traditionally patriarchal society."
One of Sreycheb's trainers is Leakhena Nov, a 27-year-old journalist and local multimedia instructor. Before heading out to conduct the two-day workshop in Siem Reap, a city and also the name of the province, Leakhena had taken part in two DW Akademie workshops herself, where eight Cambodians were trained to become social media trainers.
The future trainers developed a curriculum focusing on the most important aspects of responsible Facebook use in the Cambodian context and also looked at different methods for effectively training the young women.
Many of the participants here are new to Facebook and only have a basic knowledge about the advantages and risks of social media.
"They had no real idea about the importance of controlling their own account or privacy," Leakhena says. "So we've taught them how to create strong passwords or recover those they've forgotten."
Bringing knowledge to the province
The young women have also learned how to recognize disinformation and think twice before tapping "share" on a post that looks suspicious. They've practiced creating effective Facebook posts – taking interesting pictures with their phones and writing text to go with them. They've looked at their privacy settings, deciding on who should see their posts and which information about themselves they want to make public.
"I totally support introducing young women to these topics," says Leakhena. "In the countryside, they don't have the same knowledge and access to information that people in the cities do."
So for some of the rural young women who live among the rice fields, the one-hour trip to Siem Reap city was both exciting and overwhelming. Taking an elevator to the fifth floor where the workshop was held was a new experience - and for some a daunting one.
Sreycheb says the workshop opened her eyes about social media and that she's eager to continue using it. "I want to post things that benefit the community, such as letting officials know about problems,” she says. “Sometimes people see these posts and act."Kyle James