YSEALI Fellows are making an impact in Siem Reap, Cambodia

By: Nicole Mitchell


During my week in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I met with four YSEALI Fellows who are making a significant impact in their country. There is a cultural shift happening in Siem Reap, thanks to these fellows. The YSEALI Fellowship, is providing valuable leadership skills and training to young adults in South East Asia who in return, are working hard and doing meaningful work in their country.

This visit brought me to Siem Reap, to meet with our Flagship fellow, Vybol Chea who is an EducationUSA Cambodia advisor in the American Corner at the University of South East Asia (SEA). For his project with the YSEALI Fellowship, Vybol is developing a SEA-Flagship Program. This program will coordinate with the third and fourth year University of SEA, English department students who will volunteer to teach in the primary public schools in Siem Reap. The SEA-Flagship Program will focus on English literacy. University of SEA college student volunteers will teach English reading and writing in the public primary schools in Siem Reap (15% of primary school children cannot write or read, in grades 4-6 it is higher). The SEA-Flagship Program will target high poverty schools and children with low level English skills.

As part of Vybol’s YSEALI project, he is hoping to partner with the Provincial Teacher Training College. This school trains young adults to become teachers. Piloting the SEA Flagship Program at this school as a part of their education seems like a great fit.

I visited three high poverty schools in Siem Reap that are working with the EducationUSA Cambodia, Help Kids Read Project. This program partners with the American Corner at the University of SEA, where college students volunteer to teach Khmer reading and writing to primary age children. Vybol is hoping to implement the SEA-Flagship Program in these schools.

Through these visits, I learned about public and private, primary and secondary schools in Cambodia. The Ministry of Education funds public schools in Cambodia. In both public, primary and secondary education, children attend school seven days a week. To manage the number of children in both public, primary and secondary schools, there is a morning session and an afternoon session. Children only go to school for a half day and either attend a morning or an afternoon session. At each of the three government funded schools I visited, similar needs are apparent, they lack resources like school supplies or materials, books, classroom space, and fans to keep cool. Funds from the government go towards curriculum, teacher and administrative salaries, and the building space, but most schools are overcrowded. At each of these schools, teachers and administrative staff are compassionate, caring, and committed to giving the children the best education possible.

The YSEALI Fellows are a tight knit group in Siem Reap, who are working in education or NGO’s to better the lives of the people in their country. I met with a former Missoula, YSEALI Fellow, Se Chhin at the NGO he works with called, This Life Cambodia. From my discussion with Se, This Life Cambodia is filling a gap for schools and communities based on their needs. This Life Cambodia works with both, communities and schools on strategies for parent engagement, creating an infrastructure for fund development, and juvenile justice.

Another former YSEALI Fellow I met with, Dara Heng works for The Global Child. The Global Child, is a nonprofit NGO providing free private education to underprivileged youth in Cambodia. The mission of The Global Child is to educate youth who are of the age when families would make them be street workers. The criteria to enroll in The Global Child is strict and the youth must be hungry for an education. The Global Child helps families with domestic violence, breaking the cycle of poverty, equality of gender issues, and placing value on education.

Nicole XV

The final YSEALI Fellow I met with was Kimsru Duth, who works with a nonprofit NGO, PEPY. As a scholarship program, PEPY empowers youth to reach their full potential by teaching them skills to prepare for univeristy. PEPY teaches youth life skills, English, and technology in preparation for university.

lunch with se and kimsru
lunch with Se and Kimsru


Siem Reap is home to many ancient temples, the most well known being, Angkor Wat. I had two opportunities to visit and learn about the Khmer culture and history. The carvings, detail, and designs were extraordinary. The temples were filled with symbolism and stories about the ancient culture.


I stayed at the Rambutan Hotel & Resort in Siem Reap. It was a very nice boutique hotel tucked away, off the main streets in the American Corner. The staff were so kind, warm and welcoming, they greeted me daily by name. The hotel had a pool and small restaurant on site, which had delicious food. My favorite morning dish was “Bobo” a rice porridge with ginger, garlic, onion and carrots. On my last day, I had a wonderful conversation with the manager who was originally from Belgium and who has been with the hotel for eights years. The hotel is a socially conscience establishment that provides scholarships for staff to attend the University of SEA. They also provide health and dental care for employees. Rambutan provides a wonderful experience for guests and takes care of their staff. The staff retention rate is high with some employees having been there between 5-10 years.

It was a bit tricky navigating food as a vegan in Cambodia. I did have fantastic curry and tofu, rice dishes, espresso and fruit. My favorite dish was the Khmer Curry with tofu, sweet potatoes, green beans and onion with rice. I traveled by way of tuk tuk mostly, it was a great mode of transportation to get to know the city.

I had a fantastic stay in Siem Reap and grateful for the length of stay. With the journey to get here being so long, anything shorter than a week would be a challenge.

Nicole XXV


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