Mr CHHEOUN Tola
Welcome to all the friends of Youth Star! I hope you find this report inspiring, as it profiles the life and work of one of our current Youth Star volunteers, Mr. CHHEOUN Tola (Tola), who is transforming the lives of many community members in Preah Domrei commune in Kampong Thom province.
Tola has a very different background to many of our Youth Star graduate volunteers, who often achieve their educational qualifications with the strong support of their families. Tola was born in the rural Cambodian village of Kork Chan, in the Ta Sorm commune of Siem Reap province. When he was just 3 years old, his parents and 3 of his 5 siblings all died in tragic circumstances.
As a young child Tola was supported by the Cambodian Buddhist religious community and he later decided to become a Buddhist monk. At the age of 12 he entered the Sangkheum Center for Children in Siem Reap, which provided him with a home and educational opportunities. He lived in this centre for 8 years, and through his educational achievements obtained a scholarship to study at the Center for Information System Training in Phnom Penh for 6 months.
After this study, Tola moved to Battambong province to work for the micro finance enterprise Digital Divide Data, before returning to Phnom Penh and obtain a degree at the Cambodian Royal University of Agriculture, where he majored in rural development.
Tola has been volunteering for Youth Star since August 2015. His invigoration of the Preah Domrei community during the first two months of his placement has been extraordinary.
Usually our Youth Star volunteers are accommodated by families in the local community, but Tola is staying at the Prasat Pich Rangsey pagoda in Leuk village. At the pagoda he is helping teach the monks English, clean the pagoda surroundings and construct new buildings.
At the local commune school Tola is currently teaching 520 students— including 25 monks—from 13 surrounding villages. His classes include respect and care for the surrounding environment, with all students joining together to clean the teaching area and school surrounds before the daily lessons commence. He is so popular in the community that he is always receiving gifts of rice, meals and other offerings. He is also very popular with the Leuk Cheah school principal, Mr. Bin Tieng, who told Youth Star he is:
‘so happy to have a Youth Star volunteer in my community, especially in my school. Before the presence of this Youth Star volunteer, this school is silent during the vacation. Now there are hundreds of students coming to study English for free with Mr. Chheoun Tola. And, there is no more concern about the rubbish in the school like there was before.’
In additional to his school classes, Tola often visits villages in the commune to undertake reading promotion for local children. One of Tola’s main activities during these visits and more generally during his placement is encouraging ‘out of school’ children to attend classes. (Youth Star is being supported by Aide et Action in its program to improve school attendance and greatly appreciates this support.) Tola is also helping the commune leader do administrative work to help support the entire commune.
When I think about Tola’s pathway in life so far, I am so grateful for the support that was given to him as a child by the Sangkheum Center for Children, who help abandoned and orphaned children. His life would probably have been so different without this support. Now he is helping other Cambodian children to obtain the educational opportunities that have transformed his own life.
At Youth Star we are all very interested in following Tola’s future activities after his volunteer placement finishes. Just as his pathway to Youth Star has been very different, I suspect his future direction will also be very different.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this report about a truly inspirational young man, who exemplifies what we are trying to achieve at Youth Star through improving the educational opportunities available to marginalised Cambodian children. As always, if you would like any further detail on Youth Star’s programs and activities please send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students at the pagoda
Commune school children learning English
Preah Domrei commune students
Tola's school and students