Author Archives: Empowering Youth in Cambodia

Permalink to What’s Happening at EYC: Spring 2018

What’s Happening at EYC: Spring 2018

The second quarter of 2018 proved to be a busy one for us. We celebrated the Khmer New Year, distributed computer tablets to every school, increased the number of violin, guitar and piano classes, and started Jujitsu classes each Sunday.  A few additional highlights from the last three months include:

Skype Pen Pal Program :
Towards the end of 2017, we kicked off our first ever Skype Pen Pal program in partnership with university students at Whitman College.  Eight female EYC high school and university scholarship students were paired with US partners for bimonthly Skype calls.  The program’s objective is for the EYC students to further develop their English language skills through regular communication with native English speakers and for the Skype pen pals to develop a better understanding of each other’s lives, cultures, and values. While time zones and nervousness created some challenges, the chance for our students to practice their English and increase their confidence is an amazing opportunity, and we plan to continue it next Fall, hopefully expanding the program.

Lice & Deworming Program:
This spring, we hosted our annual deworming and lice removal program at all EYC schools.  Many of our children have lice, and some students’ scalps are too irritated for them to concentrate on their studies.  In addition, a number of our students have worms, which impact their overall health.  During the program, we provide deworming pills, clean their hair and provide training. This is an important yearly program designed to equip students with a knowledge of hygiene as well as ways to prevent worms and lice.

All School Bike Race Event:
On May 20th, 30 kids (ages 7-12) from all schools participated in a bike event with the goal of creating the next generation of EYC bikers!  The event consisted of four races – three categories for boys and one for girls – and medals were given out for the top three competitors in each category. Chhenghour, Nara, the Team Leaders, as well as EYC’s bike team helped organize the event and offered encouragement to the kids throughout the day.  Our wonderful partner, Flying Bikes, was invaluable in helping to make this event a reality.

Team Leader Monthly Development Opportunities:
Team Leaders are an integral part of EYC. They are responsible for making many EYC programs a reality including sports and library activities. This volunteer position allows the Team Leaders to develop leadership and personal skills and also helps keep EYC costs lower.  Monthly development programs included a “sound healing” workshop in March, a First Aid training in April, and a pizza party in May with EYC graduate, Simouy, who shared her story of inspiration and what the Team Leaders could achieve through hard work and perseverance.

Permalink to Featured Student Profile: Sreyroth

Featured Student Profile: Sreyroth

When Sreyroth was a young girl, she believed her life held little opportunity.  At best, she would finish high school and become a vegetable seller like her mum or a construction worker like her sister who had dropped out of school in Grade 8. However, when she was 12 years old, she learned about EYC, and her future started to unfold in a new and unimaginable way.

Today, at 22, Sreyroth is studying Hospitality and Tourism at Norton University in Phnom Penh with the help of a tuition scholarship from EYC. She dreams of owning a resort where people can come to relax, enjoy time with others, and connect with nature.

Sreyroth’s family lived in a slum community near the White Building, the former location of Aziza school where Sreyroth started learning English with EYC at age 12.   Unfortunately, the community was forced out, and Sreyroth’s family lost their home due to eviction. The families from the community were resettled 20 kilometers outside the city where there was no school. For many kids, that was the end of their education, but not for Sreyroth.  Although it took her 1.5 hours on the back of her dad’s motorbike or in a “tuk-tuk” supplied by EYC, or even longer if she rode a bicycle, Sreyroth went to school each day and was able to continue her involvement with EYC.

Through EYC, Sreyroth has improved her English proficiency and developed her leadership potential and creative talents through community service, volunteer jobs, and participation in art and music opportunities.  Sreyroth has also received EYC scholarships including those for high school math and science; housing and food assistance, and university tuition.

When she was 14, EYC provided housing to Sreyroth at Aziza in the White Building so that she would not have to commute 3-4 hours a day. When the White Building was demolished, she lost her second home to eviction, but she now lives at Aziza Thmey where she is the Assistant School Manager.

Between this role, her schoolwork, and her job as a receptionist at EYC’s partner NGO, Music Arts School, Sreyroth’s life is hectic.  That, however, doesn’t stop her from investing her time in creative and community projects like the “White Band.”  This band was formed by a group of Aziza students who, on learning that the White Building was to be demolished, decided to write a song capturing what the White Building community had meant to them.  This moving song was performed during EYC’s “Celebrating The Journey” event in November and brought tears to the eyes of all who watched it.

Sreyroth’s story is emblematic of the tenacity and resilience of our EYC students.  Experiencing eviction twice, only seeing her family sporadically, and surmounting the seemingly endless hurdles in a quest for a better life – Sreyroth is why we do the work we do.

Sreyroth says “I had a new life once I got to know EYC.  It changed me so much.  Before I was a silent girl – I didn’t say anything and felt nervous and shy, but after leadership training at Jambok Has, social work, and volunteer activities, that all changed.  EYC built my confidence.  I can now dream for myself, and I feel like I have hope in my life. EYC is my family, giving me hope and always motivating me to try something new.”

There are two words that Sreyroth believes best describe what EYC means to her.  They are “Kroursa” which means family and “Sangkhum” which means hope.

Permalink to Seizing The Opportunity: Meet Ratha

Seizing The Opportunity: Meet Ratha

In 1987, Ratha’s family moved to the neighborhood of Toul Sangke.  At that time, the neighborhood sat alongside a lake filled with hyacinths, and people in the community would fish the lake and farm the surrounding land.  Over time, the lake was filled in to make way for land development.  A once fertile area now “grows” condominium projects.

Ratha and six members of his family live in a one-room “house” behind the home of another family in Toul Sangke.  Ratha’s father is a moto-taxi driver, while his mother, who is unable to work due to diabetes and lung disease, stays at home.  Two of his three older brothers are construction workers, and one is a mechanic.

While it has numerous social issues including drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, theft, and gambling, the community of Toul Sangke is the only home many, including Ratha, have ever known.  Unfortunately, the place of development in the area threatens the community’s survival, and the future of its residents remains uncertain.   Rather than being at the mercy of these external forces, however, Ratha is better able to direct his future thanks to the educational and extracurricular opportunities offered by EYC.

When he was 16 years old, Ratha’s mother brought home a flyer announcing that a school (EYC’s Youth School) had opened where local children could study English for free.  Since he had never studied English before, Ratha was very nervous to attend EYC at first. Thankfully he did.

For Ratha, EYC has been life-changing.  Not only did he receive free English and Computer training, but EYC also provided him with opportunities for self-development, confidence building, and the chance to continue his education – something that was not an option before. Ratha was very active as a student at EYC and became a Team Leader in EYC’s volunteer program as well as a volunteer computer teacher.  As an alumnus, his commitment to EYC continues with his desire to share his knowledge and experience with the next generation of EYC students.

Currently, Ratha studies visual communications (design) at Phnom Penh International Institute of the Arts, one of the best private art schools in Phnom Penh. Because he did so well in his entrance exam, Ratha receives a 70% scholarship from the school.  In addition, he receives a partial scholarship from EYC.

Ratha works hard.  He goes to school all day, and in the evening he works as a cleaner from 7-11pm. On the weekends he catches up on his studies and plays on the EYC Frisbee Team.

Ratha’s background is similar to that of so many of the young people in the slum communities of Phnom Penh.  What makes his story and his future different is the flyer his mother brought home for free English classes.  From educational classes to sports to leadership development, the opportunities provided by EYC have helped Ratha change the trajectory of his life.  His future will not be determined by the circumstances of his birth but by his desire, drive, and determination.


Permalink to May Postcard from Phnom Penh: Meet Moyura

May Postcard from Phnom Penh: Meet Moyura

Hello Friends of EYC!

My name is Dinamoyura although most people call me Moyura.  I am 18 years old and am attending BELTEI International University in Phnom Penh where I study International Relations.

My parents are divorced, and my father, who is a “moto taxi” driver, is not around much. I live with my mother, who is a social worker at an NGO called Kung Future, and my sister in a house in a poor community on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Growing up, I remember many times when we didn’t have clean water or enough to eat.  Neighbors would invite us to share meals with them and because of this we became very close.

My father didn’t allow me to study much when I was younger as he thought girls should stay home.  My mom, however, believes in education and has always encouraged me and my sister to study.  In 2013, I began English and Computer classes at EYC’s Impact School.  In addition to studying, I race for the EYC cycling team, and am one of the only two girls who have achieved good rankings in every bike race this year!

The challenges I have faced in life and the lessons I’ve learned through sports have trained me to be a strong woman and leader.  I am determined, brave, extroverted, patient and have a strong commitment to achieving my goals.

One day I would like to an ambassador in a Khmer Embassy.  I would like to travel around the world getting to know other cultures, lifestyles, habits, and sports as well as understand better the foreign perspective in order to attract foreigners to Cambodia to help with education.  After that I would like to be the CEO of an NGO focused on education so that I can share my knowledge and experience with the kids in the poorer communities.


PS.  មជ្ឈមណ្ឌលផ្តល់ឪកាស(mochchhomondal phtal au kas), which means “Opportunity Center”, is the word I would use to describe EYC.  I chose this word because I feel that everyone who really needs help can participate with EYC, and that EYC will always help their students find solutions to any challenge they may face.

Permalink to Realities of Being Born a Girl in Cambodia: Meet Simouy

Realities of Being Born a Girl in Cambodia: Meet Simouy

Simouy’s story follows the trajectory of so many of our students who have overcome significant obstacles to find their talent and shape their futures. However, like other young women, Simouy faced additional challenges and inequities because of her gender.  She credits EYC with helping her see that she could be more than how her culture defined her.

As a student, Simouy participated in all EYC opportunities including English, Computers, mountain biking, leadership development, and job placement.  With scholarship support from EYC, Simouy graduated in 2017 from university with her degree in Sociology.  She currently works for a non-profit organization called Women’s Network for Unity that focuses on sex workers and their children.  The mission of WNU is to connect these women to a supportive network, advocating for them and educating them on their rights, providing greater access to social services, and helping to free them from violence and discrimination.

Simouy is in the process of applying for her Master’s Degree in Gender Studies. Following is an excerpt from her application:

“While there are many challenges I could share about my organizational work, I want to focus on the challenge of being born a girl in this society, because it is at the core of my life, my study, and my career. The challenges for women in Cambodia run through all aspects and all phases of their lives. As soon as I was born, my life – who I would be and what I would do — was already designed by family and cultural traditions.

When I was in grade six, my parents’ business collapsed, so they decided to ask my older sisters to stop studying so that my brothers could go to school. I was so curious as to why they asked my sisters and not my brothers. This was one of my earliest lessons in how much girls were treated differently.

It was seen as not necessary for me to get a good education, and certainly not to go to university, because I was supposed to get married, form a family, and raise them in a traditional way. I was told to sacrifice myself for my brothers because they did need to pursue higher education and be the leaders of their families.

But education is the only path to opportunity and choice for women, so when I was 13 and Empowering Youth Cambodia opened a neighbourhood school (Aziza) near my house, I jumped at the rare chance for free education. Through EYC, which treated boys and girls equally, I met many foreign teachers and donors who helped me see what I was capable of and prepared me for moving on to university.

When I was in university, where probably 80% of my teachers were men, there were many unspoken ways that women were treated differently from men. For example, small study groups were usually led by men; it was not seen as polite for women to directly question or challenge the teachers, and there were no courses focused on women’s health, sexuality, etc. This never made sense to me, and I chose to speak up whenever I experienced something that felt unfair. Often, my teachers would respond by ignoring me, giving me lower grades, or just being angry that they were being challenged.

In my work and volunteer experiences, I have encountered many situations where I was more skilled or capable than others but where there were challenges to do the tasks because of being a woman.

There are countless women in Cambodia who do not see a possibility for themselves beyond being a traditional wife, who aren’t exposed to mentors who help them develop their skills and who don’t have the educational opportunities I have.

I would say my success so far has come both from the support I have gotten and from not accepting the traditional limits on women in Cambodia. There is a saying here: “Women should not leave the stove.” But, education has been the key for me to speak up, expose myself to the public, and search for opportunities to become who I am today.”

Simouy is committed to using her talents to create a different future for other girls and women.

Permalink to Cycling Her Way to a Career: Meet Sreymom

Cycling Her Way to a Career: Meet Sreymom

As the youngest of a family of eight with both parents working relentlessly in the fields to provide for their family’s basic needs, Sreymom grew up believing that higher education, English skills, and assistance in finding quality employment were out of reach.

After graduating high school, Sreymom, like so many rural Cambodians, moved to Phnom Penh hoping for a better life.  On arriving in the city, Sreymom went to stay with distant relatives in a slum community along the railroad tracks.

Once there, Sreymom discovered EYC and began studying English and computers at EYC’s Youth School.  In order to help her earn extra income, EYC assisted her in finding employment as a cleaner.  Sreymom worked hard and connected well with her boss, who found her other jobs cleaning for friends.

With her life on more stable footing, Sreymom began to put additional focus on her studies which resulted in EYC providing her with a scholarship to study accounting for a term. With her good reputation as a cleaner, Sreymom was able to contribute towards her tuition.  After a few terms, she became financially independent and was able to pay for all of her university.

Through EYC, Sreymom was able to get much needed major dental treatment including tooth replacements. EYC covered half of the treatment cost and provided the remaining balance to Sreymom as an interest-free loan.

As time went by, hope was becoming evident throughout Sreymom’s life; she no longer struggled with basic English or computer skills, she moved into a safe home with a dear friend (an EYC English teacher), she was working jobs she enjoyed, and she was taking care of her own needs.  It was then that Sreymom added something she hadn’t had much of in her life – play!

Sreymom joined EYC’s cycling team and proved to be a strong rider.  Like many of the other EYC students who participate in the cycling program, not only did Sreymom experience the physical benefits of cycling and being out in nature, she also developed confidence, self-esteem, and leadership skills.

While at a mountain bike race, Sreymom connected with a cycling tour company.  What was once an outlet for fun and personal development turned into a career path when the company recruited her to work in their shop.  After quickly learning the business, she was promoted to a day-tour guide, and now leads tourists on bike rides through the Cambodian countryside.  Sreymom is good at her job and has lots of opportunities to practice her English, which has dramatically improved.

To give back to EYC, Sreymom volunteered as a student Team Leader and was a key player and participant in EYC’s garbage clean-up program and Youth Leadership Challenge.

When asked what role EYC played in Sreymom’s adult life and future, she was at a loss for words, but then said: “EYC touched all parts of my life…. my health, my education, my social skills, my employment…There is nothing I can say to show how important EYC is to me. All I can say is THANK YOU to everyone that gives money to EYC to change my life and the life of other people like me. Without your help my life and future would be very different.”


Permalink to Volunteer Shares Her Experience with EYC

Volunteer Shares Her Experience with EYC

We were delighted to have Wendi Davies, from the Canadian International School (CIS) in Phnom Penh, volunteer with EYC. Wendy was among three teachers from CIS who visited EYC schools in April and donated much-needed materials to our teachers.  Each volunteer brings their own unique approach to working with our students, and we know our students value the interactions they have with our international volunteers.  Wendi captured her experience in her blog “Retired Traveler”.  Below is an excerpt from her post. Please click here to read the post in its entirety.

“When teaching in a private school in Phnom Penh, it is easy to feel disconnected from the people who live a very difficult life in much of this city. Last week I had the opportunity to visit and volunteer in slum schools and see first hand the work being done by Empowering Youth in Cambodia

…We, Canadian teachers, had an hour to work with 2 classes. I started with the class of sixteen older students who were 12-16.  They looked small for their age.  Their classroom had tall tables and a long bench for several students to sit side by side.  The world map was prominent on one wall.

We introduced ourselves.  I showed them where I lived in Canada and they shared their name and why they came to school.  They wanted to learn English.  They wanted to be teachers or work in tourism.  I felt very welcomed by the teacher and the students.

I had brought a cup, some water, and some paperclips.  We filled the cup to the very top, then I gave each student a paper clip and asked them to predict how many clips would fit in the cup before it overflowed.  This activity is from the grade 5 chemistry unit I have been teaching at school.  As I handed out the second, third and finally fourth round of clips, their excitement started bubbling over, even though the water didn’t.  Over 60 paperclips fit in the cupful of water.  The surface tension principle worked in Cambodia too.

After I had their attention, we played a math card game where they had to race their partner in identifying a number’s “double”. The giggles and shouted answers sounded just like kids anywhere.

I did the same activities with the younger group.  There were about 20 children, aged 6-12 in the other room.  The response was the same.  Kids love to learn, and they love to play.  Their smiling faces and enthusiasm were clearly evident.”

Permalink to Teaching Design Thinking at EYC

Teaching Design Thinking at EYC

It is important to EYC that we expose our students to different types of experiences and learning opportunities that stretch them and require them to push out of their comfort zones.  One such opportunity presented itself last June when we had two visitors from Hong Kong teach a design thinking workshop to 16 EYC students based on the Student Innovation for Global Health Technology (SIGHT) program.

One of the volunteers, K.C., shared his assumptions, expectations, and realizations in a post on his blog.  See below for an excerpt, and Click Here to read the entire post.  As K.C. discovered, the students of EYC usually exceed expectations 🙂

“On June 11, 2017, together with a Hong Kong friend of mine, Jonathan Yang, we conducted a design-thinking workshop in one of the slum areas in Phnom Penh. Literally, in one of the poorest areas in the city. However, throughout the workshop session, we uncovered so many fascinating insights about the way the participants think, devise ideas, and build prototypes based on their own critical thinking skills and the design-thinking framework (in this regard, Stanford’s 5-step design-thinking process) we have provided in the workshop…

…We gave the participants the five-step design-thinking processes that had been pioneered by Stanford University’s, that is the empathize-define-ideate-prototype-test pattern. To simplify the matter pertaining to what set of problems we would like to present in this workshop, we simply referred to one very simple question: how students can contribute to improving classroom designs. Rather than making text the dominant content in the slides, we focus instead on visuals, presenting to them various pictures of the classrooms, and other scenarios related to a typical school class, in order to give them a better framework of what kind of ‘ideal classroom’ they had in mind that can be introduced in adjustment to EYC’s setting. 

I was initially nervous about the predicted outcome of this workshop, because of several factors that – from my own, personal worldview – could hinder its effective implementation. First, this workshop has only been tested in Hong Kong for now, and my impression shows that design-thinking workshops are more suitable if applied in developed countries. Second, our workshop was situated inside a slum area that is not only poor, but also infamous for illicit drug trading, prostitution, and family violence, and your guess is as good as ours about ‘expectation gaps’ between what we wanted and what they actually needed. Third, Synoeun told us – based on her review of our presentation slides – that the students have never been exposed to the pictures we posted there, and in this regard, their designs of ‘ideal classrooms’ may look not much different from each other, given what she described as ‘relatively rudimentary critical-thinking skills’.



However, we chose to remain optimistic about the workshop because the staff has also positively reviewed our slides, highlighting that our slides focus more on visuals than on texts, which can be much easier for the participants to understand and follow our message. Moreover, if EYC could successfully and smoothly operate a school in this area despite the surrounding circumstances, why not with our workshop? Lastly, we stick to our beliefs that individuals, deep down in their hearts, have aspirations regardless of their current conditions. The only question is what would be the best approaches to truly understand what they really need inside their own hearts. And indeed, our expectation of the workshop worked well; to be quite frank, it even slightly exceeded our initial expectation.”


Permalink to What’s Happening At EYC: Winter 2018

What’s Happening At EYC: Winter 2018

Making Music at the Schools:

At the end of 2017, we were joined by our wonderful Canadian volunteers, Linda, Janis, and Clara. Linda, a pianist, and Clara, a cellist, shared their passion for music with the students of EYC by performing at each school. In addition to the performances, they also donated two keyboards to EYC, which are now being used to teach piano at Lakeside and Youth School. We are grateful they helped us expand our music offerings beyond guitar classes.

Kamol, a piano teacher, and Samnang, an EYC scholarship student, and musician, are continuing to bring music to the EYC classrooms through weekly singing, violin, and piano classes. Samnang’s love of music is contagious and the kids are having a lot of fun discovering new talents.

In addition, we are delighted to be partnering with Cambodia Sings once again to bring singing into our classrooms. Our students find their voices through singing and they also get the opportunity to practice their English through song.

Bringing Art into the Classrooms:

Israeli volunteers and artists, Shoshanna and Gideon, recently spent two months with EYC leading daily art classes. At each school, 15-20 students aged five to fourteen years old participated in the art classes led by Shoshana. These classes explored different art techniques including jewelry making, t-shirt designs, school decorations, and game design. Kids explored their creative and artistic potential while learning other disciplines, including math and English. This culminated in an Art Exhibition on February 11 at our offices at Music Arts School providing our student artists with the chance to showcase their work to their parents, the EYC family, and visitors.

Although Shoshana and Gideon are back in Israel now, our art program continues thanks to our talented teacher, Daneth, who was trained by Shoshana and Gideon and will be teaching an art class every week in each school.

Music and arts offer children a different way to express themselves and interact with the world around them. Not only do the arts broaden their perspectives helping them think in new ways but the arts also bring joy and happiness to the kids. Outside of EYC, our students have very little access to music or to artistic expression, and it is important to us to support their creative exploration and provide them with opportunities to develop these new skills. In addition, through performing or showcasing their music or art in front of others they are building self-respect and gaining confidence.

Permalink to Featured Student Profile: Mok Sombo

Featured Student Profile: Mok Sombo

At five years old, Mok Sombo’s happy childhood changed drastically when his father passed away from HIV, and his mother was also diagnosed with HIV. The extended families cut off contact with Sombo’s family leaving his mother to fend for herself and her two boys in the slums of Cambodia. Out of fear and lack of education, parents in the community told their kids not to play with Sombo and his brother. Sombo describes this period of time as feeling like he was living in a black plastic bag where there was no light, and it was difficult to breathe.

Then, at age 16, a classmate, Bun Nakit, (a student at EYC) brought Sombo to Youth School. From that moment, Sombo knew EYC was different. There, the teachers and students welcomed him warmly accepting him for who he was and helping him see his worth.

Sombo explains, “EYC is so meaningful for me because when I start at Youth School, everything is different. My teacher, my classmates, and friends from other (EYC) schools, are love, and they give me a lot more things than the community I live in. They teach me what is right and what is wrong, and they give me advice when I do something wrong and praise when I do a good thing.

Sombo took English and computer classes at EYC and became a Team Leader at Youth School and a computer teacher at Aziza. Additionally, through EYC’s partnerships with Sa Sa Art Projects and Music Arts School, teachers and volunteers recognized and helped Sombo develop his talents as an artist and musician.

Sombo, now 21 years old, is a scholarship student at EYC studying Design at SETEC Institute and working as the Art Director and Graphic Designer at Music Arts School. He is an accomplished artist and musician and continues to give back to EYC by creating school murals and working on various EYC art projects.

For many years, Sombo kept his mother’s HIV a secret because he was afraid that people would look down on him and his family if they knew. Today, he is no longer afraid. Because of the sense of community he has found at EYC, he has the courage to be himself and express his talents in the world.

Like many of our students, Sombo was filled with potential but was lacking opportunity. Through EYC’s programs and support he now has a future that would have seemed unimaginable a few years ago.

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