EYC is a collection of hundreds of talented young people hungry for change. Here are just a few of their stories.
The Power of Sports to Transform Lives: Dyno
Dyno, now 25 years old, first heard about EYC when he was 16. Team Leaders from Lakeside were opening Youth School in his community, and as two of the Team Leaders were hauling in school materials, they noticed Dyno outside the school. They asked for his help, proceeding to tell him about EYC and explaining that he could come study there for free. That meeting would prove very fortuitous for the future trajectory of Dyno’s life.
At 16, Dyno, the 5thchild of six siblings, had lost his father and was heading down a dangerous path. Dyno shared that kids in his slum community would follow each other – if one of them did something, often the “wrong thing,” the others would follow. As they grew older, most of the kids in the community joined gangs and became involved in drugs and violence. Before that day outside Youth School, Dyno was heading down that very same path.
After meeting the EYC Team Leaders, Dyno started studying English at Youth School, and his life began to change. He no longer hung out with his old friends as much, having come to recognize the difference between their behaviors and activities and those of his Youth School peers.
Along with the teaching he received in English and computers, Dyno also took advantage of EYC’s dental program. With EYC’s financial support, he was able to get two badly damaged front teeth fixed. To have people care about him in this way meant a lot to him, and Dyno committed himself to giving back to the organization.
Dyno became a Team Leader of the football program at Youth School and began to understand he was just that – a leader. When he was with the young kids he coached in the community, he saw he was a role model for them. Dyno realized he needed to learn not only how to control himself and be more thoughtful about what he did and said, but also how best to motivate and inspire the younger kids. Dyno came to understand that if he stayed in the gang and mistreated people, others would think that type of behavior was ok. He credits the leadership training he received from EYC along with the opportunities EYC provided him to put that training into practice as pivotal to changing the trajectory of his life.
In addition to football, Dyno became involved in the Ultimate Frisbee program offered at EYC. He continues to participate in the program to this day, acquiring additional valuable life lessons through the sport. Because there are no external referees in Ultimate Frisbee, Dyno learned that the two players involved in a foul had to come to a decision together as to how it should be handled. His coaches stressed the importance of acting with integrity. Dyno would go home and think about every foul, asking himself if had he handled things correctly with the opposing player. He began to apply that same thinking to all of his interactions with people, and through that he developed an even greater sense of personal accountability. For Dyno, “the value of the game is to be responsible and honest to yourself.”
The skills and values Dyno learned through classes, sports, and the Team Leader Program – hard work, personal accountability, problem-solving, teamwork, and helping others – are values that he continues to apply in his life. Without EYC Dyno says he would “never have realized what is right and what is wrong” and most likely would be addicted to drugs and deep into gang life and violence.
Today Dyno is in his second year at the Royal University of Phnom Penh studying Information Technology. He receives a scholarship from EYC for his studies. Dyno had to wait two years before being able to go to university because he did not have the money or a clear sense of what he wanted to study. However, during that time he attended a two-year computer vocational training sponsored by EYC which helped to confirm his interest in IT.
In addition to his studies, Dyno is responsible for his mother and brother. To help support both his family and his education, Dyno works two jobs – he is a cleaner/receptionist at Rodwell Math Institute during the day and a singer at a restaurant in the evenings. Rodwell, an EYC partner providing math and science tutoring, also leads the Ultimate Frisbee program. It was through his interest in sports at EYC that Dyno first connected with Rodwell Math Institute, which not only gave him a job but also stepped in to help during a family tragedy. A few years ago, Dyno’s family house burned down leaving the family homeless. Rodwell organized a fundraiser for the family helping them get back on their feet.
Dyno’s life is busy and challenges persist, but with his innate talent and the opportunities, support, and learnings provided by EYC and its partners, Dyno is committed to his future and to being a role model for others.
When asked what Khmer word best describes EYC to him, Dyno chose the word – Torsu – “hard work overcomes the struggles.”
Postcards from Phnom Penh: Meet Nara
Hello Friends of EYC!
My name is Sovanara, but people usually call me Nara. I am 23 years old and live with my mom in a house near Lakeside School. In January 2018, I became the EYC Sports Coordinator.
When I was young my life was relatively normal, and I went to school regularly. However, my father left us to start a new family when I was ten years old. We had a number of problems which made concentrating on school challenging. I started hanging out with a gang and skipping school. Many of my friends from that time went on to only reach Grades 5, 6 or 7.
It was my love of sports and the support of EYC that helped me turn my life around. I started at EYC when I was about 12 years old and participated in the computer and football programs. Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF), an EYC partner, led the football program. I tried out to be a coach with ISF but was turned down because I was too small. I was very sad about this, and because I was feeling bad I stopped going to EYC. Luckily for me, EYC didn’t give up on me. Vandeth, a Team Leader, came to my house to check on me and invited me to join the cycling program and play football again.
Back then my friends would call me “Rubbish Boy” because I scavenged through the garbage looking for recycling to sell. From that, I was able to save enough money to buy a football and football shoes. Perhaps one day I will start a recycling company!
Thanks to EYC, I finished high school. They told me that if I wanted to be on the football team, I needed to stay in school. While I wasn’t interested in school, I was so desperate to play sports at EYC that I stuck with my studies!
Some years ago, I was given a pair of biking shorts by EYC. At that time the shorts were much too big for me, but I was proud to have them so I saved them for when I would grow into them. I now wear them when I coach the young EYC students.
If I did not play sports, I do not know where I would be now. Through sports, I made friends and learned that you can change your life and also help change the lives of others. I am very excited to be able to share my passion and bring sports to more kids through EYC.
P.S. កីឡាបានផ្លាស់ប្តូរជីវិតរបស់ខ្ញុំ (Kiela phlasa btaurchivit robsaknhom), which means “Sport changed my life” is the word I would use to describe EYC’s impact on me.
The Impact of Scholarships: 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.
Seizing the Opportunity: 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.
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 at 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.
Realities of Being Born a Girl in Cambodia: 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.
Cycling Her Way to a Career: 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.”
Postcard From Phnom Penh: Meet Sreynuch
Hello Friends of EYC!
My name is Sreynuch. I am a 20-year-old EYC scholarship student studying Tourism and Hospitality at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
My life was difficult growing up. My parents divorced, and people told me I would never be successful because of my parents’ situation. I was afraid to talk to strangers and felt depressed a lot.
That all changed in 2012, when I was in Grade 9, and my sister introduced me to EYC where she was a computer teacher. EYC has helped me to develop new skills, find a part-time job, get a scholarship, build my confidence, and be open to new experiences.
After graduation, I plan to work in a hotel so that I can earn money to help support my mother who is sick. However, one day I would like to open a book exchange so I can make reading more accessible to people in my community.
Before EYC, I would compare myself to others in terms of what they had and what I didn’t. Now, I like myself just the way I am!
P.S. អំណាច (amnach), which means “Empowered”, is the word I would use to describe who I am because of EYC.
How Art & Music Make a Difference: 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.