Author Archives: Empowering Youth in Cambodia

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.

Permalink to Doors Open At Aziza Thmey

Doors Open At Aziza Thmey

Three months after the closing of EYC’s first school “Aziza”, doors opened at “Aziza Thmey”. We are delighted to share that our latest school is already providing education to already 158 students!
In the months following the closing of the original Aziza, we managed to continue serving Aziza students with a full schedule of morning and evening English classes along with a fully operating computer lab using space in our offices.
In August we opened Aziza Thmey in the “Chak Angres” community, located about 25 minutes from the now demolished “White Building.”  Chak Angres is a poor community with diverse households, many still lacking basic infrastructure. Adjacent is a project where roughly 100 families from the White Building relocated using the compensation they received from their former homes. Other than this new construction project, the area is very much a slum, with many kids lacking basic education opportunities. Our team members are meeting families at their homes to further build relationships in the community, and we will continue to explain the purpose of EYC to increase attendance.

63 students attended classes in Aziza Thmey on the first day, and that number has already grown to 102. We will continue to expand the programs we offer at Aziza Thmey including resuming our weekly medical clinics, bringing in traditional Khmer dance, literacy classes for mothers and more.

Within two weeks of the “White Building” and Aziza’s closing, temporary English classes were organized at our office at Music Arts School. We are pleased to report that all of our older, evening students continued to attend classes. This is a key group of youth – many of them are scholarship students with incredible potential, and we were able to provide them education and stability during very uncertain times. Educational and leisure activities were promoted on the weekends to keep them united and happy.  We also have decided to keep one classroom running in our office since the location works so well for the older students, and we have 56 students attending classes every day (all former Aziza students).

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