How SMS messages revitalize the lives of Cambodian youth

Overcoming complexity of text messaging with InSTEDD’s Nuntium

In this interview, OneWorld Cambodia’s Project Officer, Sanary Kaing, and OneWorld Global Programme Coordinator Jeffrey Allen, discussed how InSTEDD’s Nuntium acts as a one-stop for all the messaging needs of applications, while helping them focused more on providing valuable content to their target groups.

This is an unedited interview with: Sanary Kaing, OneWorld Project Officer, Cambodia, and Jeffrey Allen, OneWorld Global Programme Coordinator.

Could you please tell me what is Youth Chhlat or Learning about Living? Starting from when until?

Youth Chhlat, is a cross-media life skills programme that enables and encourages young people to engage with gender, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues. It combines a computer-based eLearning system with a mobile phone question-and-answer service.

OneWorld is working with local NGO partners including Child Helpline Cambodia and Inthanou to implement the question-and-answer service. Young people can text their questions anonymously to a short code, and they will receive accurate, confidential, and non-judgemental answers, usually within 24 hours. They can also submit questions via email or Facebook’s private messaging system.

The eLearning platform ( is being implemented by teachers in Cambodia’s public school system. The national Life Skills curriculum has been adapted into a series of “info-cartoons” and interactive exercises, making learning interesting for young people, and enabling them to tackle difficult subjects. The Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC) has worked with OneWorld and the Cambodia Ministry of Education to develop the eLearning curriculum and implement it in schools.

Youth Chhlat is part of the “Learning about Living” programme OneWorld and its partners have developed and implemented in six countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East since 2007. The programme is adapted to the local context in each country, making use of whatever new media is popular among young people. It was conceived and co-developed by OneWorld and Butterfly Works, a social innovation studio in the Netherlands, which has worked closely with RHAC to develop the eLearning platform for Cambodian schools.

The mission of Youth Chhlat is to leverage cross-media ICT innovatively to promote sexuality education, gender empowerment and life skills among young people. It launched in July 2013, following an in-depth scoping study OneWorld conducted with local partners in Cambodia in January 2013.

What are some of the key technologies used for this project?

An eLearning Platform ( provides young people accurate, in-depth information on sensitive subjects in a fun and entertaining style. The question-and-answer platform makes use of SMS texting, email, and Facebook. Radio spots have also been used to reach out to young people in schools and out of schools.

Why SMS?

We decided to focus on SMS (as well as Facebook) because during our scoping study we saw how much young people liked to communicate with their friends by chatting and SMS. We knew these trends would only continue to get stronger as mobile phones and the internet became more accessible for more young people.

Also, information about sexual and reproductive health and rights is very sensitive — it’s a difficult subject for many people to talk about everywhere in the world, and this is definitely true in Cambodia too. SMS allows young people a private, “safe space” to ask their questions without fear of judgement.

When/how did you hear about Nuntium?

We heard about Nuntium when we were looking for a Value Added Service Provider to connect our short code (1293) from the various operators in Cambodia to our Q&A platform, in 2013.

What made you decide to look into Nuntium?

With so many operators in Cambodia, it would be difficult for OneWorld to build separate connections to each of their SMS gateways. Nuntium already had the infrastructure in place to connect from each of the major operators to our cloud-based Q&A platform.

How has Nuntium been utilised? How does it work as part of the overall system?

Nuntium transmits SMS messages from the various telecom operators to OneWorld’s cloud-based Q&A platform, and back again. So a Cambodian young person can send a text message to our short code (1293) using a Smart sim card, for example, and Smart will send the message to Nuntium, which recognises the short code as belonging to the Youth Chhlat project, and then sends the message on to OneWorld’s Q&A platform. When one of the counsellors answers the question, it’s transmitted back to Nuntium, which recognises the sender as a Smart sim card user, and so Nuntium sends the reply on to Smart, which sends it back to the user. All this happens in just a matter of seconds each time a young person or a counsellor sends a message.

How do you find this technology important? And why?

The technology is very important for OneWorld because it allows us to connect our platform to several operators without the difficulty of developing a new set of code for each one. Our time is freed up to develop the platform for the counsellors, while Nuntium manages the connection with the operators.

How did Nuntium help the project achieve?

Nuntium transmits SMS messages from the various telecom operators in Cambodia to OneWorld’s cloud-based Q&A platform, and back again. This has freed up OneWorld to focus its limited resources on developing the technical platform counsellors use to respond to young people’s questions, making it easier for them to provide accurate, confidential, and non-judgemental information about youths’ daily problems related to reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, STIs, love, family relations issues, and gender.

How was the experience working with the iLab Southeast Asia team? What aspect did you like most?

The tech team of iLab Southeast is very supportive and collaborative. We like that we can contact them whenever we notice problems with the messages arriving on our platform, and they are available to troubleshoot the problems quickly. Young people expect to get answers quickly, so it’s important that we can work closely with the iLab Southeast Asia team to keep the whole system working smoothly!

Any plan to implement Nuntium in other projects?

Yes, in fact we used Nuntium’s “Local Gateway” to run an election monitoring platform for NGO partners in Guinea Bissau in West Africa in 2014. Over 350 trained election observers sent several thousand messages to OneWorld’s platform during the two weeks before, during, and after Election Day.

We also used Local Gateway to power a pilot project in Cambodia called “Ask Your MP,” which enabled people to submit questions for national MPs by text message. And from time to time we use it to show potential partners how a Question-and-Answer system could work for them in their country. Just two weeks ago we used it to demonstrate the power of SMS reporting for election monitors in Burkina Faso, and we’re now considering using it to transmit text messages between young people and our democracy and governance platform in Myanmar.

Would you recommend InSTEDD tools to others?

Yes, we find the service very convenient and we very much appreciate working with iLab Southeast Asia!

Any other InSTEDD technologies are you interested in? And why?

We’re particularly interested in mBuilder right now, as we’re working on several projects that require data collection and analysis — both for election monitoring by trained volunteers, and for monitoring impacts and other indicators of success in all our projects.

Anything else you want to share?

Just thanks to the whole InSTEDD team for all the good collaboration over the last two years!!

Learn more:

Video: Introduction to Nuntium

Make your SMS apps scale

Sex-education by SMS in Cambodia

Photo courtesy of: OneWorld

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