Pheary dreamt of becoming an English teacher when she grew up but her high school in the countryside didn’t offer English classes, and there were no opportunities to study English privately. Recognizing that English and computer skills would be critical to Pheary’s future job prospects and her dream of being a teacher, her brother encouraged her to move to Phnom Penh to pursue her schooling. In 2005, after finishing Grade 9, Pheary took her brother’s advice and moved to the city to live with her aunt in the now demolished White Building community.
Upon arriving, Pheary met a neighbor who told her of the free English classes offered at EYC’s Aziza school, located on the ground floor of the White Building. Soon after, Pheary, who was going to high school during the day, found herself each evening in the classroom at Aziza learning English with teacher Rany, who continues to work at EYC to this day. Little did Pheary know at the time that walking into that classroom would open the door to her dream of becoming an English teacher.
One of the unique aspects of EYC is the number of former students who go on to become EYC staff members, creating a continuum of those whose lives have been transformed returning to transform the lives of others. Pheary is an example of this.
After her first year studying at EYC, Pheary became both student and teacher. She took over teaching some of the basic ABC classes for students aged five to nine. Like the students she serves, Pheary not only accessed education and knowledge at EYC but she was also provided opportunities to develop confidence and self-esteem to reach her potential. Through the support of Drew, EYC’s founder, and the mentorship of teacher Rany and others, Pheary built her skills and confidence on the job.
EYC is a place that gives chances. That is what it did for me.
Becoming a staff member at EYC provided Pheary with the opportunity to join trainings and workshops which she credits with improving and changing her life. One workshop on how to help students through hard situations proved to be particularly impactful for her. Pheary learned that you can’t escape or run from a challenge or difficulty but instead must face it and learn from it. This understanding helped guide her through the untimely loss of her brother. While her EYC family encouraged her to take time off to grieve, Pheary chose to continue working. She felt her work was her power and that power gave her the strength to face her loss.
Pheary loves teaching at EYC and her experience as a former student, coupled with being someone who comes from a similar background, enables her to relate to and connect easily with her students. She knows that her role at EYC is not just to impart knowledge but also to help her students build their character, empower them to make smart choices, and guide them to be good and productive people in society. Pheary believes that she and the other teachers teach from the heart. They could earn more income elsewhere else but choose to teach at EYC, recognizing the difference they are making.
No matter where the students come from, EYC helps them broaden their perspectives and see new possibilities. The teachers and staff don’t tell the students what to do or how to think. Instead they provide them with guidance, insight, and support so that the students can make their own choices. Pheary encourages her students not to follow what everyone else is doing but figure out for themselves what they want for their lives.
One of Pheary’s students wanted to study psychology at university and came to her for advice. Knowing that this young woman was sensitive and felt things very deeply, Pheary asked her if she believed she could separate herself from other people’s problems. The student realized that she couldn’t and decided psychology was not the best focus for her. While she doesn’t yet know what course of study to pursue, Pheary believes the young woman has a deeper and clearer understanding of herself that will help her make more informed decisions going forward.
The culture of respect, support, and understanding runs deep at EYC. For many, like Pheary, EYC is a second family. When asked how she would describe EYC, Pheary said, “it is a place that gives chances. That is what it did for me. It gave me the chance to fulfill my dream of being an English teacher.”