Sreyriem, 38, has worked at Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) since 2004. However, she did not start her Phare career as a social worker to begin with. She started working at the Childcare Center, looking after the children on campus, learning how to understand them better, and encouraging them to study hard. After the Childcare Center was shut down, Sreyriem got promoted to a social worker. She looks back at her time there very fondly, and will never forget her students who are now living brighter lives. However, the promotion was a dream come true for her, because she had always wished to be in a position where she can help children and provide them good education. It was an easy transition, as she already had six years of primary school teaching under her belt. Her previous job was actually at an NGO that used to collaborate with PPS, which is how she ended up working for us. Therefore, working with kids has always been in Sreyriem’s comfort zone.
Her dream job consists of working closely with the kids in leisure classes, making sure that the students remain happy and stay in class. If she notices or is informed that one of the kids has stopped showing up to class, she meets with said student in order to find out the reason behind their lack of attendance. The various explanations Sreyriem hears includes family situations and financial issues. Her job is then to visit the student’s family to report the current situation and to figure out a solution that suits everyone involved. She focuses on the sponsorship program children who make the poor identity cut, because they need her guidance the most. Keeping the student’s best interest and priorities are of the utmost importance to all our social workers and Phare as a whole.
Sreyriem expresses that even though being a social worker can be emotionally draining and difficult at times, she finds it very rewarding. She says she feels overwhelmed with sadness and compassion for the kids she meets, but that she stays strong for their sake – for them to be able to rely on her. It is fulfilling to be able to facilitate the students’ needs and help them face socioeconomic problems together.
‘It feels good to work together with them towards a brighter future. And seeing my Year 2 students managing to stabilize their situations, learn how to take care of themselves, and gain art skills above all of that, makes me incredibly happy.’
She points out the fact that Phare is open to all students from everywhere which is amazing. We welcome everyone who wants to attain a general or arts education despite whatever their background may be. She is specifically happy about being able to help not only the students themselves but also their families. She also says that Phare cares about their students beyond their degrees, since the students are also provided good jobs after graduating. The goal is to not only share the brightness of the arts with them, but also to guide them and give them the push towards a brighter future.
She mentions her favorite memory as a social worker so far: sharing a Khmer proverb with one of the students who was experiencing problems with her family. She wanted to encourage and comfort them by broadening her perspective and offering her a sense of hope:
‘At home, we have different mothers, but outside of our homes, we all have the same mother.’
This helped the student to understand that there are good people outside of her home situation who she can confide in and seek advice from. ‘I gave her hope which is all that matters,’ Sreyriem says. This lesson sums up the intentions and purpose of the social workers. However, sometimes the kids are too young or too close to the situation to be able to understand it fully, which is when Sreyriem says that they can take their pain out on her by lashing out at times. Eventually the kids always realize how vital she has been in their lives and ask for her forgiveness by expressing their eternal gratitude. This pure expression of emotions is what makes it all worth it for Sreyriem.
We want to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to our dedicated, selfless and compassionate social workers. Thank you for everything you do for our schools, community and society. You are highly appreciated.