Author: Yen Chenda, August 20 2013 The Loy9 team here in Phnom Penh [Cambodia] are getting used to rising to a challenge. Last year, as a finale to our first TV series, we broke the world record for the largest ever Madison dance. But this time we had set ourselves a far harder task. This time, we needed to get 999 people to donate blood in nine different locations in Cambodia in just nine days.
Called Loy999, the blood drive was the second Big Challenge of our multimedia youth project Loy9, which encourages young Cambodian people to contribute to society and become involved in local and national decision making.
And as the event manager for Loy9, it was my job to make sure that our events across the country attracted enough blood donors to hit our target.
We knew it wasn't going to be easy. Last year we succeeded in getting over 900 young people to come and dance the Madison [a line dance that features a regular back-and-forth pattern interspersed with called steps, first popular in the 1950's] in a windy square in Phnom Penh. But that was just convincing people to come and dance - giving blood is altogether another matter!
Not only are people often afraid of needles but in Cambodia, some people also think blood donation can make you ill and that you won’t recover after donation.
So the most important thing we had to communicate to young people was how giving blood is safe, not painful and a chance for people to really contribute to society.
How we did it
Our first step was to spend a month brainstorming ideas about how to make each blood drive an event young people wouldn’t miss.
And while we came up with ideas for the events themselves, we were careful to do the groundwork by identifying useful partners and making sure young people in our nine target locations - Battambang, Siem Reap, Kompong Cham, Sihanoukville, and three different places in Phnom Penh City - knew as much about blood donation as possible.
We teamed up with Cambodia's National Blood Transfusion Centre (NBTC) and the United Nations Volunteers programme, and also partnered with local hospitals and other organisations who could host the drives.
Then we lined up workshops across the country covering what people can expect when they give blood, the health and safety facts about donation - and, of course, how it can save lives.
We also showed clips at the workshops from our much-loved TV drama, in which the drama’s main character Metrey successfully persuades her fellow students to donate blood on Valentine's Day to express their affection for their loved ones.
And then a month before the event, I organised training for our volunteers so they knew all about blood donation and could answer donors' questions.
The Big Challenge
But the real test was only just beginning: how do you get 999 people to show up to nine events and give blood in just nine days? The answer: put on a really good show.
So at each of the blood drives across Cambodia, not only did we play clips of the Loy9 TV show but we also had bands and singers performing live, dancing competitions and performances, stand-up comedy acts, games hosted by the Loy9 presenters - and even a magic show!
The audience filled out registration forms and completed a health test before donating blood and then having a drink and some food - all while enjoying the performances on stage.
The 999th donor
But then it was our ninth and final day and we only had one hour left to hit our target.
But suddenly, the excitement mounted as word got round that the 999th blood donor was getting ready and the Loy9 team ran to interview him.
17-year-old Chan Ratana had never given blood before and as the nurse set up the equipment, his friends gathered around to cheer him on.
After he had given blood, he said, said "I'm fine and in fact, I feel great. I decided to come and volunteer for a blood donation because I wanted to help and support Loy9 and because I believe my friends. They told me that it doesn’t affect my health and it doesn’t hurt. Now I see that's true."
I told him that I couldn't agree more as I had just given blood that day for the very first time too!
With Ratana and all the other donors' help, we had done it: 999 donors in nine locations in just nine days. All the preparation and hard work was worth it.
Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work on Loy9 and in Cambodia.
Image credit: BBC Media Action
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