Sreymom gratudated from university with a Bachelor of English Literature and Business Administration in Marketing in 2010, and is now almost finished her MBA in Enterprenurship Management. She has volunteered in organizations raising awareness about HIV, drugs, democracy, reproductive health, and the environment, and has worked as a Project Intern for a young women’s leadership program and as a Program Officer in the Education Unit of the National Federation of UNESCO Asssociations Japan. Sreymom’s experience working in poor communities has taught her that while her people have human rights, many don’t know how to access them – she wants to see all Cambodians have enough to eat, accessible education, and full protection of their human rights. Sreymom says that “As education is a key factor in a country’s development, so every child must be provided chance to go to school, especially girls” because educated girls will grow up to be women who can make decisions about their lives, make their own money, and transfer knowledge to the next generation.
San is thrilled to be a part of the Free To Shine team, as this type of job has been his goal since he was in grade 9. San began his journey with Free To Shine as an Education Officer, but due to his hard work, ambition, many skills, and incredible compassion, he has worked his up through the organisation to become one of our Social Workers. While at school, San could not afford additional classes, he embraced the opportunity to attend free English classes offered by a pagoda and further ones offered by a small organisation. San has held many jobs including working in hotels and at an international airport. Whilst San did not particularly enjoy these positions, they enabled him to use the money he made to fund his university fees, gaining his degree in Information Technology. In 2016, San decided to further his education and enrolled in a Masters Degree of General Management. He promised his friends that once he was able to support himself, he would open up a small school to share his education so that more children could learn and support their families. He knows this is needed to help Cambodia grow. “Now I work at Free To Shine, I feel very happy to do this job to help the girls in the poor family,” says San.
Kongkea grew up in Siem Reap province, later moving away to complete a degree in Psychology from the Royal University of Phnom Penh and begin her career. Whilst at university, she volunteered with the Khmer Youth Association on a drug prevention program, following that with a position as a social worker and counselor at GHOC where she worked with underage survivors of sexual abuse and trafficking. Kongkea’s strength and professionalism are an asset to Free To Shine and she says that “because of my experience working with people in the community, especially in the rural areas, I want to see young girls receive an education so they can protect themselves from traffickers. Education is so important, it teaches them to think critically so they can have a better life in the future. I want to see all people in Cambodia understand the importance of education, and understand how it can protect their children from bad situations.”
Vichheka grew up in rural Cambodia with his parents and three siblings, all of whom became teachers in their hometown. After finishing High School, Vichheka made the brave decision to move to Phnom Penh and study a Bachelor of Social Work. During his degree he interned with the Housing Rights Task Force and worked closely with communities facing eviction. After university Vichheka found a job working with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre, developing curriculum and trainings for abusive men. He worked closely with men who had committed - or were deemed at high risk of committing - family violence, teaching them how to change their abusive behavior so their wives and children could live free from violence. He also provided counseling to men who have experienced human trafficking, supporting them on their return to their families and communities. Vichheka’s experience working with men, violence, counter-trafficking, and mental health is valuable to Free To Shine, as family dysfunction is a common theme in the lives of our girls and our practice is to involve all family members in seeking solutions.
The second of eight children born to very poor farmer parents in a rural area, and with limited early schooling because of poverty and hardly any support or encouragement, Kimsea left his family’s home when he was 12 to live in the local pagoda. There he progressed through primary school, serving the monks to pay his way. Kimsea helped two of his younger siblings to move to the pagoda with him so that they too could receive an education. In 2008 Kimsea moved to Siem Reap to live in a different pagoda while he attended secondary school, and was able to bring another of his siblings with him, working at an NGO to support them all. In 2014 he was awarded a university scholarship to study Agriculture in Siem Reap, and has now entered the third year of his degree. Kimsea has overcome many obstacles to ensure his own education and that of his siblings. He is a firm believer in the life-changing power of education and he uses his own story to connect with and inspire the girls on the Free To Shine program.
Bona has recently graduated from university with a degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. He chose this degree because his father once told him, “When you study this subject, it will help you in the future because our country will not stay still and we won’t use only one language; so choose to speak two”. Bona dreams of one day becoming an English teacher, “I’ve seen when I visit some villages, most of the rural students are still poor at foreign languages, especially English. Therefore, I want to help them to get the same knowledge that I have experienced. Moreover, it’s very easy for girls to get cheated by bad people if they are not educated. Through learning from books or teachers, they will know how to protect themselves from someone who wants to do bad things to them. I want my country to be more developed than now. Mostly, I want to see all of the girls in Cambodia get an education, in both rural and urban areas.”
“My dream is to make my mother and father happy, to be a good son, and have a good job.” Phanna comes from a small family and is extremely close with his parents. His father (and hero) supported his studies through tuk-tuk driving and his mother has instilled in him a strong sense of ethics. Whilst studying in grade 12, Phanna volunteered with a local NGO, Journey’s Within Our Communities. He was able to teach financial skills to families in the local villages to help them start a small business. He has just graduated University with a Bachelors degree in Law and Social Science. Phanna has such happy memories from his time in school and he hopes for a future in Cambodia where all girls and people have access to the opportunities that come from education.
Sayorn comes from a supportive family who have always encouraged her to study hard. Even when they had financial trouble, they never asked her to stop school. Now studying English Literature at University, Sayorn has experienced volunteering with many different organizations and with the help of some friends, she recently started running English and hygiene classes in her community and has also helped set up a small vegetable garden. Sayorn is a fierce defender of womens’ and girls’ rights. She says, “Being a girl is not something men should look down on. Cambodia will only succeed when all of us are equal.” Sayorn believes that there is a fundamental role for girls and women in developing the Cambodia of the future.
Visal has always wanted to work for a Non-Government Organization so that he could help the community of Cambodia. He says, “I really enjoy working with Free To Shine because we all work together to educate families on how to prevent sex trafficking. We encourage girls to get an education to improve their lives in the future.” While at University completing his Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, Visal worked as an English teacher and volunteered as a translator for an Australian medical organization. Visal’s hope for Cambodia is that those with an education will share their knowledge with the next generation, especially with young people in villages.
Chanthy loves learning new skills and languages. She recently graduated from University with a degree in English Literature. Whilst studying, Chanthy worked at a private school to support herself and her family. She is one of seven siblings, and the only one to have attended University. She says, “I think that I am so lucky in my family, they always support my education, even when we were poor. They also encourage me and never try to stop me from studying.” Chanthy believes that education for girls is important to help them protect themselves from exploitation, and to help them escape from poverty. “I want to see my country become more developed than now, especially our education system. I think Cambodia needs more education and to strengthen our human resources,” says Chanthy.
Daron comes to Free To Shine with a degree in Community Development. After finishing his degree, he spent ten months studying advanced agriculture at the International Center for Agriculture Training in Israel. This is Daron’s first experience working for an NGO, but he is determined to try his best. Daron says. “Girls will never be happy if they have to depend on a man for everything. I know that girls have the ability to lead their own lives and have potential to achieve all their goals. Cambodia needs more educated people to develop, including girls. We must all try to be good citizens of the world, good students, good children and good role models for one another.”
Ronouch found her passion for community development and teaching early on, through volunteering at an English school in her local community while she was in grade 10. She went on to volunteer with World Vision working with young children. When she moved into Siem Reap city for University, Ronouch chose Hospitality and Tourism for her major. She quickly realized that her dream is not to work with tourists, but with her people and community. She enrolled in English for Teaching. Ronouch says, “I want to see girls get educated and make Cambodia more developed. We have to show our girls that they have the power to change the world and not just believe that girls are only good at housework. I want to live in a world where there is no discrimination in our society. Real change won’t come from throwing money at problems and giving things away, real change will only occur when we invest time to educate all the people.’
Chanda has been involved with Free To Shine for several years, and in 2016 we are extremely proud to announce that she has made the successful transition from beneficiary to employee. Chanda was one of the very first girls to be accepted onto our program, “When I was in grade 9, I stopped going to school because I had a sickness that made marks on my face. I felt too shy and embarrassed to go to school. That was when Free To Shine enrolled me onto the program.” In 2015 she graduated from high school and began to study law at University, hoping one day to become a lawyer as she believes “it is important that people in Cambodia know and understand how laws should be used.” In August of 2016, Free To Shine was recruiting and invited Chanda to come in for an interview as her Education Officers had always spoken highly of her intelligence and warm personality. Chanda says, “I am very happy to do this work because I would like to help children to study more and see them have a good future.”
When she was in grade 4, Kunthea was selected to study at Jay Pritzker Academy, a school run by an International NGO that provides an extremely high level education, with a particular emphasis on the English Language. Coming from a small farming family, this was a golden opportunity for Kunthea. “I knew that English would change my life for the better, being a language that is spoken all over the world,” she says. This positive outlook later led Kunthea to study Teaching English as a Second Language at University, as she believes “studying English will provide me with lots of opportunity to help my community and give access to education to my people.” Kunthea says that, “Educated academically, and as a girl who has been helped by an NGO, I have the same heart as Free To Shine that all girls should be in schools and empowered with an education to prevent sex trafficking. I want to share my experience and continue helping children who cannot help themselves. I believe that women are not only born to marry, to serve men and give birth, but they can do things for their countries that is beyond what men could think of.”
Yon comes to Free To Shine with a wealth of personal and professional experience. During secondary school Yon’s mother tried many times to stop her from attending school saying it was too far from home and that Yon’s time would be better spent earning income for the family. Fortunately, Yon’s father was a firm believer in the power of education, and insisted that his daughter be allowed to finish High School, which Yon did in 2006. She went on to graduate university with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management in 2010. Since then, Yon has worked with many NGOs such as World Vision, Population Services Khmer, and Cambodian Women for Peace and Development. Yon says, “I want to work for Free To Shine until they are no longer needed in Cambodia. Education for girls is so important, as women are the best role models as mothers and teachers. They transfer knowledge to their future children and always support their families. I want to see Cambodia grow and become fair for everyone, without gender discrimination.”
Kakada is the youngest of nine children and recently moved from Banteay Meanchey province to Siem Reap in order to start working with Free To Shine. His father works as a moto driver and his mother is a housewife and “the best cook in my life,” says Kakada. Kakada graduated from university with a degree in Teaching English as a Second Language. Whilst at University he worked as an English teacher and as an interpreter for the World Hope Network. “It is my dream to be an English teacher. I want to help them and provide knowledge so they can learn and experience the same as me,” he says. Kakada also believes that “providing girls with education is very important so they can escape from poverty. As we know, most people who are uneducated will find it difficult to get a job or a high salary. Through learning from books and teachers, children will know how to protect themselves from bad situations and they can lead better lives.”