Soth Chhayheng left his home at a young age to pursue an education. Now 22, his hard work has paid off, and he has secured a major position at a German think tank in Phnom Penh.
Chhayheng, who is from Ratanakiri province, has recently been offered the position of program manager of foreign affairs at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS Cambodia).
As program manager of foreign affairs, Chhayheng is responsible for overseeing the organization's international relations objectives, scholarship programs, and public policy initiatives.
“I fully understand that this is a fully prepared process. It's not the things that I wake up to and it has happened to me. It's more of the things that I always aim for,” Chhayheng told Kiripost during an interview at KAS Cambodia.
Chhayheng said he was offered the position right after graduating from Thailand’s Thammasat University in March 2023. He was thrilled to be offered the position, as it aligned perfectly with his personal and academic interests.
Leaving home at 9-years-old
At the age of nine, Chhayheng left his home in Ratanakiri province to pursue an education in Ban Lung district, about 20 kilometers away. If he had stayed at home, he would have had to cycle more than 20 kilometers every day to get to school.
Living alone near the school, Chhayheng had to take care of his own household chores, such as washing dishes and cleaning his room. His family sent him food and teachers visited him often to make sure he was doing well.
“At a young age, living alone was quite a challenge for me. I had to do many things in daily life by myself and not have so much of a kind of warmth and comfort. And at first it takes quite some time to adapt and to actually train myself emotionally,” he said, almost sobbing.
Despite what others might have expected, Chhayheng was not upset with his parents' decision to send him to live alone when he was only nine-years-old. In fact, he was grateful for their unwavering determination to give him the best possible education.
“Without my parents' support, I mean, emotionally, if they were not determined enough to let me live alone in this pursuit of education, I don't think I would have come this far,” Chhayheng said.
In addition, he emphasized the importance of having a mindset of striving for a better future for one's family, along with a belief in the power of education.
“I believe in the power of education that education has no limits, whether you're from a poor family or a rich family, we can overcome many obstacles in life and it will lead us to a better place. And if you're already in a good place, meaning education could help level you up to think even better.”
Motivated by his parents' financial difficulties and his mindset of striving for a better future for his family, Chhayheng is determined to break the generational cycle of his family not having any members graduate from university.
Chhayheng is grateful to his teachers from primary school to high school and university for their important role in his academic journey, both intellectually and emotionally.
“Some of my teachers were aware that I lived alone so they would randomly check up on me just to make sure that they were there for me.”
Start as an intern
Before the program manager position, Chhayheng was an intern as a program officer at KAS Cambodia in 2020.
In university, Chhayheng was grateful to meet a friend named Phanna, whose motivation, support, and encouragement played an important role in his academic journey.
Furthermore, Chhayheng is grateful for the opportunities that KAS Cambodia and a non-profit youth organization, The Young SEAkers (TYS Cambodia) provided him, as well as the understanding of his supervisor at KAS Cambodia when he was an intern in 2020.
“It was challenging indeed. Back then in 2020, there was Covid-19 and I worked full time here in Cambodia physically and at the same time, I studied online at Thammasat University during my internship KAS Cambodia.”
However, the most challenging part was the final semester of his degree at Thammasat University, when he was required to attend physical classes.
As a result, between August and December 2022, he traveled frequently between Phnom Penh and Bangkok every two weeks, spending two weeks in class and two weeks working back and forth.
“I think it's because of my supervisor's understanding, he was fully informed of my personal schedule and commitment and he provided this kind of flexibility for me in order to graduate successfully,” he said.
The Young SEAkers
In 2022, Chhayheng was a chapter leader of The Young SEAkers, a group that focuses on entrepreneurship and economic growth in Southeast Asia and China. The organization was founded in 2020 to enable youth to grow their professionalism and build networks.
Under Chhayheng's leadership, The Young SEAkers grew from 15 members in 2021 to 35 in 2022. Additionally, TYS members grew professionally by organizing and leading more than 40 projects, programs, and site events, such as SEAker in Dialogue, ASEAN Ambassador Town Youth Halls, SEAker Skill Training Series, SEAker Education Fairs, and SEAker GO Cambodia.