Cambodian author Lam Lay has made it his life mission to empower the nation’s youth to become the next leaders through reading, founding AmnanyuVeajun to promote reading and writing, particularly in Siem Reap, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces.
The author, youth development advocate, and social entrepreneur has already penned three books on leadership, youth development, and social issues and is the founder of AmnanyuVeajun, which translates as youth reading.
The group aims to change the habits of people from not enjoying reading to reading, and then from readers to become leaders. "Read a book if you love yourself; read if you love your family; read if you love your nation; and books also bring us to where we want to be," Lay told Kiripost.
Lay's mission is to engage youth to become involved in society and help each other, as well as understand that they are an important part of the nation. He aims to help youth have the foundations for reading or develop a reading tactic; not just to read but to gain more knowledge and take advantage of reading to be brave like people who live in a modern area.
"I was rejected and discriminated against by others. I was told that you are too young to write or speak about leadership or social issues,” he said. “I just aim to make a positive change and engage youth to love their nation. I'm not going to show anyone how strong I am. What matters is that I understand myself and my goals.”
"There are different opportunities for youth in the provinces and in Phnom Penh, and I've noticed that youth in the provinces have fewer opportunities than those in the city, which is why I focus on them," Lay added.
Lay, who is from Siem Reap, published his first book in 2018. However, he said writing books is just one part of his journey. Previously, he worked as an English and Japanese teacher and manager at a private school. He has also created his own school. However, before becoming an author, he was involved in social affairs and had missions in many provinces.
During his working life, he has come across a lot of youth problems in rural areas and it is these experiences that unintentionally led him to become an author. Furthermore, Lay also works freelance as a life-skills professional engaging youth.
"All of the things I learned through experience, so I can see that what I was is what I am, and when I understand myself, I don't just solve my own problems, I also solve those of others," Lay said.
He added that his books are admired by people in positions of leadership, such as monks, business owners, politicians, and youth that want to become politicians because his books discuss strategy and solutions based on research and meetings with people in positions of leadership, which he then combines, reflects on, and writes down.
Lay said he plans to publish more books, and wants to play with different genres he has not previously dabbled in, such as philosophical or social novels.
Lay has also experienced rejection during his career. He recalled being rejected by a philosophy professor to study philosophy. Later on, he tried to learn indirectly and also produced a book related to psychology and sent it to the professor to read.
"I am a person who has no choice but I create my own choices; I lack support from others, and I support myself. So, I can say that no choice is a good choice," Lay said. "I don't have a new cloth but I have a new book because in the chapters they contain solutions to problems that reflect what people experience around us.”
"If you want to be a writer, please hold a pen and write it down now; don't wait and ask others how to make it, you have to produce the result," he noted.
AmnanyuVeajun's mission is to involve youth by creating a training platform and forum regarding life skills, reading, and writing. Lay engaged in youth work as a volunteer and is now passing on his skills to the next generation, in the hope they will do the same. He also encourages youth who have no experience reading, to still do it and be leaders for the next generation.
There are many programs in Amnanyuveajun, however, the main programs are training youth to read for 12 weeks, meetups between readers and authors in nine provinces and distributing free books, and teaching youth to read and research to understand the text and produce their own work.
The Amnanyuveajun team receives support and cooperation from another university, a non-governmental organization, and ex-coworkers.
He said all teamwork has a goal, strategy, and plan. For the next step, the team aims to evolve from social work to social enterprise by providing services including counseling, training events, and a bookstore.
If the program can gain revenue, he believes it can push ahead on a long-term journey. Lay hopes that this program is a place for youth to get involved and share what they have, learn more from other experiences, spread their talents, and provide a place to find their favorite job and income.
Lay was born in Siem Reap province and went on to study a Bachelor's degree in general management skills and continued his studies for a Master's degree in education at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Farmer at 12 -years-old
After finishing high school, he delayed applying for university for two years despite receiving a scholarship to study in the city, he didn't even have money to rent a room or pay for daily food at that time.
It has been a difficult journey for Lay to get to where he is today. He lost his father when he was young, and he had to explore ways to support his education independently while his single mother looked after him and his three siblings.
Lay had a good family but everything changed when his father passed away and he felt the hardships of life. He started planting rice seeds when he was 12-years-old working as a farmer while other kids focused on learning.
"I appreciate my mother because even though she didn’t have enough money to support me and my siblings, she never wanted me to drop out of school. I was inspired by her actions and I thought she played a good leadership role in this family," Lay said.