Community Empowerment & Legal Awareness

Community Empowerment & Legal Awareness

The Community Empowerment Legal Awareness Program’s goal is for Cambodians to be more informed and equipped to become active citizens, defend human rights and advocate for inclusive and equitable development. It aims to address the significant barriers to just and inclusive development by empowering Cambodians to advocate for human rights change by extending legal awareness to vulnerable and marginalized communities, building the capacity of grassroots advocates and supporting community-led advocacy. The program’s main activities are: Curriculum Development, Training of Trainer Workshops (ToTs), Direct Community Training, Community Training and Monitoring, Supporting Community-led Advocacy, the Democracy Summer Camp and Youth Training, and Legal Internships.

Curriculum Development

One of the primary objectives of the CELA program is to raise the standard of community legal education in Cambodia. We do this by building on the Popular Education model and using participatory, interactive methodology in the effort to raise awareness about law and human rights at the community level.The program aims to improve the quality of community legal education and empowerment programs by building the capacity of partner organization trainers, as well as law students who intern with the program. Lessons are presented in clear, simple language and are designed to break down often complex legal issues into the bare essentials necessary to give both participants and facilitators a good, practical understanding of a given topic. In addition to using interactive teaching methods, published materials use text that is broken up by icons, text boxes, diagrams and tables, and illustrations are provided by a local non-profit group supporting struggling artists.

Our publications include

Training of Trainer Workshops (ToTs)

CELA trains facilitators through Training-of-Trainer (ToT) workshops, which typically last 4-5 days, and follow a learning by teaching approach. Since 2009 the CELA program has trained a new group of 30 facilitators each year on its A Cambodian Guide to Defending Land and Housing Rights (CG) course. Facilitated by grassroots activist facilitators selected from various community networks throughout the country, the trainings aim to develop a pool of skilled grassroots facilitators who are well-versed in the substantive content of the guide, as well as its teaching methodology, and who are prepared to deliver its lessons to threatened communities across Cambodia. After undergoing a series of ToT workshops, participants are supported and encouraged to organize and facilitate community education workshops for at-risk communities in their region and are provided with financial support to do so. As CELA develops new curricula, the program provides ToT training to each group on the new guides.

The program has formed a strategic partnership with two community networks – the Community Peace-building Network (CPN), and the Indigenous Rights Active Members (IRAM). The networks have played an important role in the CG project since its inception, and its subject matter is based largely on their learning needs and goals. Given that the CG covers issues of relevance to both Khmer and indigenous minority communities, the trainings are given to mixed groups with members selected by each network. It is hoped that by doing so, trainers from both networks will increase their understanding of the cross-cutting issues, the specific needs of indigenous people as well as provide an environment for the strengthening of bonds between these networks and communities.

Direct Trainings

Direct Training are conducted by CELA team for community that the Community Empowerment and Legal Awareness (CELA) program, the Development Watch (DW) Program and the Community Organizing for Housing rights (COHR) Program jointly work with. We provide educational trainings to these community to increase their awareness of their rights, the law especially pertaining to land rights, negotiation skill, personal security for human rights defenders. We thus empower them to exercise and defend these rights. The Trainings are normally one to two days and our COHR Program and DW program follows up with the communities to assess how their newly acquired knowledge is being used.

Supporting and Monitoring Community Trainings by Grassroots and Youth Trainers

We give technical and financial support for community trainings organized and conducted by the grassroots facilitators who participated in our Training-of-Trainers (ToT) workshops and our youth trainers who completed our Democracy Summer and Youth Training. Both our grassroots trainers and youth trainers, sometimes in collaboration with each other, conduct trainings with communities throughout Cambodia especially those affected by land issues. The trainings are conducted by two to three grassroots/youth facilitators on various topics such as human rights and law based on Equitable Cambodia publications.

The CELA team monitors the trainings conducted by our grassroots facilitators and youth trainers by attending their first trainings to observe their ability to follow lesson plans, their facilitation skills and give feedback for future improvement. They also support facilitators in answering technical questions to workshop participants. Later, the CELA team follows up with communities who participated in the trainings to learn how the communities are using their knowledge, and assess their situation compared to before their participation.


Supporting Community-led Advocacy

CELA supports community-led advocacy around land and natural resources rights by providing financial and technical support and helping to build community capacities. It promotes community led advocacy via workshops, training materials and provides small grants to communities and community networks upon request for their collective advocacy actions. 

Democracy Summer Camp and Youth Training

In 2012 the CELA program held its first Democracy Summer Camp at a rural community center in Kep province. Each year, the camp brought together 30 university students for five days of village immersion and learning the principles of law, democracy and human rights, combined with plenty of fun. The students participated in a training of trainers course on Civics: An Introduction to Law, Rights and Democracy, sandwiched between early morning farm work and late nights of playing games and preparing their lessons for the following day. On the final day of the camp, the participants went to the community school in the village to facilitate four civics lessons for local students. The participants followed up by organizing and delivering 10 civics workshops to different youth groups in their respective homelands.

Legal Internships

The CELA program operates a legal internship program for Cambodian law students. The basis of the program is to expose law students to the circumstances facing poor and marginalized Cambodians and give them practical, professional experience working with the law. Interns assist with legal research on various areas of Cambodian law, help prepare training materials and assist with workshop facilitation, translate legal documents, and monitor community workshops. The experience of working with the CELA program is unique for most Cambodian law students and past interns have even said that it was life-changing. The aim is that the experience working with CELA will shape the interns’ career choices and general attitude toward providing pro-bono legal services to poor and marginalized Cambodian communities in the future. Internships last between six months and one year, and at their completion, they are asked to write a reflection paper on their experience.