Every student who is part of the free lunch program at Phare Ponleu Selpak knows SOM Savoeurn. For 17 years, she’s been the chef in the Phare kitchen helping the social support team by cooking nutritious meals for students in need or who live too far away. 

This month, she’s retiring. Her work as the campus chef provided a free lunch for needy children since 2006, ensuring no one missed their daytime meal. 

After a home visit and family evaluation by the Phare social support team, students in the child protection program are eligible for a free lunch on campus if their family is facing economic difficulties or other challenges. The free lunch program isn’t only about providing sufficient food but also about addressing proper nutrition for students. 

In honor of her retirement and to thank Savoeurn for her many years of service at Phare Ponleu Selpak, we decided to ask her about some of her fondest memories and insights from serving as the campus chef. 

Photo Credit: Olivia Audo

Did you have any special connection to Phare before you worked here?   

I knew one of the co-founders, Mr. KHUON Det, from when he first visited my neighborhood during a community outreach. Also, all three of my daughters attended the Performing Arts School at Phare Ponleu Selpak. 

How did you first discover the job of campus chef? Did you think you’d be working at Phare for so long? 

I knew Mrs. Lin, a teacher at Phare who taught my girls, before I started working here. She came for a home visit and found me running a little wooden stand in front of the house selling snacks and groceries. She asked me if I would be interested in working in the kitchen with Phare. I have been working at Phare ever since.  

I never imagined working here for this long when I received the job. It simply kept going and going after I started working.  

Three of my daughters learned circus, dance, and theatre at Phare Ponleu Selpak. Getting to watch them get an education in professional and life skills while also securing good jobs has been very fulfilling. I was very proud to see my daughter perform at Phare Circus in Siem Reap. 

Watch the video below to see the full story of SOM Savoeurn and her three daughters, as documented by Al-Jazeera: 

What was Phare like ten years ago? How were things different? 

Ten years ago versus now, things are very different and have evolved so much at Phare.  

Today, the campus is very beautiful and clean. The meals must be sanitary, have enough nutrients, and follow stricter MSG and sugar guidelines as part of the nutrition program. Lastly, we used to be able to serve three daily meals, but now the program has been reduced to only lunch. 

What’s your best memory of working at Phare? 

The Phare campus always felt like home. If I didn’t need to retire, then I would love to keep working here. 

My most memorable moments were seeing the kids grow up, learning French, becoming teachers, leaving Battambang, and living abroad. I am really proud of them. I don’t recall any particular memories as the best ones, because I enjoy them all.

What do you hope for Phare Ponleu Selpak to become in the future? 

I want Phare to flourish and to have the funding to give underprivileged children three meals a day.  

My work was perfect for me, and I enjoyed being here. As I grow older and I’m more prone to illness, I wish I didn’t have to step back from the job. I’m always eager to help if Phare needs me.  

Read SOM Savoeurn's interview about her experience as the campus chef at Phare Ponleu Selpak 

Photo Credit: Olivia Audo


After 17 years of loyal service, SOM Savoeurn has now retired. The children she prepared meals for will always be grateful. The Phare team is also thankful for the work she has done, and we wish her rest and peace with her children.   

Social support and nutrition are important parts of the child protection program, and that’s why Phare provides free lunches but also food packages and rice bags for families who have difficulties. 


Ready to make a difference in the lives of Cambodian children? Contribute to the collective child sponsorship program at Phare Ponleu Selpak today and create a positive impact. 


Olivia AUDO on the Communications team at Phare Ponleu Selpak
Olivia AUDO
Olivia AUDO works as a communication intern at Phare Ponleu Selpak. She is looking to develop her writing and communication skills, and is particularly interested in the humanitarian and cultural sectors. She is currently a student at Sciences Po Toulouse in France.