Sreymao: “Business Angel” of the poor

With a confident walk, straightforward gaze, Sreymao draws attention. It has been 10 years since she obtained her diploma, yet each year she continues to visit the Doctor Christophe Mérieux Centre to share her professional experience with the students.

Text and photos: Agathe Ducellier

Sreymao smiling at the camera next to a tree
Sreymao: “Business Angel” of the poor

Walking with confidence, and a straightforward gaze, Sreymao draws attention, as she steps through the gate of the Children of the Mekong centre. Her hair in a bun, a little black dress on and two phones in her hand. She perfectly embodies the image of a businesswoman.

It has been 10 years since she obtained her diploma, yet each year she pays a visit to the Doctor Christophe Mérieux Centre to share her professional experience with the students. Despite a busy schedule, she is always present at alumni ceremonies and parties. While a student, she had promised to be involved in the development of her country after graduating and she has remained true to her promise by sponsoring numerous projects.

AN EXEMPLARY JOURNEY

Sreymao in her village with other people
Sreymao in her village

It is hard to believe that this self-confident young woman grew up in a small village on the Thai border, where most of the surrounding youth leave school to help their families collect rice.

It was her farming parents who encouraged her to study as her two privileged brothers did.  As a result of their support, in 2006 Sreymao went to Phnom Penh to pursue a master’s degree in marketing. She also simultaneously studied at the Doctor Christophe Mérieux Centre. There she learned English, French, and IT, as well as vital skills such as self-confidence, leadership and teamwork. She was greatly encouraged by the volunteers at the centre.

They spend a lot of time with us, they advise us, listen to us and help us envision a different, possible, and better future. They devote all their energy to show us how big and beautiful the world is; they believe in us and our dreams; they love us. Yes, I think that they simply love us.”

All these experiences led to her securing a position at Wing, one of Cambodia’s premier online banks, where she rose through the ranks to become an e-commerce manager. A prestigious position that did not prevent her from keeping her feet on the ground.

Heavily blessed as a sponsor child of the Children of the Mekong organization, Sreymao is currently working on the creation of several social businesses. She firmly believes it is possible and necessary to combine economic activity and the common good.

children in cambodia dancing at the Sreymao association smiling
Dance lessons at the Sreymao association in Cambodia

As soon as she graduated from college, she began investing her personal money into a project with local communities called “Community School for All”. The initiative now brings together 130 students from the regions of Takeo and Banteay Meanchey, to whom around ten volunteer high school students are providing lessons in exchange for internships and training. A win-win system that allows the former to receive education and the latter, a training certificate.

This initiative is essential since the education system in Cambodia is failing. Being a teacher is a great way out of poverty since, in addition to providing a decent salary, it allows an individual to rise socially.

Sreymao also believes in the power of creativity. Her association offers dance and art lessons, which she sometimes teaches herself on weekends.

The youth also learn the basic habits of hygiene such as brushing teeth and washing hands, such habits are unfortunately far from the norm in the countryside and can promote the spread of disease if not done.

Despite the covid crisis, classes continued even though they had to be held outdoors within small groups. When meeting with her, Sreymao mentioned she had plans to travel to the Oddar Meanchey province to apply the model there.

“Cambodian society still has a great need to develop. In rural areas, many children do not have the chance to study, especially women who are not taught the professional skills that would allow them to fend for themselves. “

It is clear that Sreymao has a burning desire to help others. Inspired by the examples she witnessed from the Children of the Mékong, she herself sponsored eight young individuals, aiding them with housing, school fees, etc. The students – like her- went on to study in Phnom Penh and are all graduates now.

In order to carry out all these solidarity projects, Sreymao does not benefit from state aid but rather private funds: Korea, Japan and Australia are her reliable partners.

COVID, TURNING TRAGEDY INTO OPPORTUNITIES

Today, Sreymao is certain that it is up to Cambodians to take their destinies into their own hands! She is presently working with a group of former sponsors of Children of Mekong to develop several social businesses; projects that mainly focus on agriculture, an activity representing nearly 20% of the GDP in Cambodia and severely suffering from a lack of modernisation.

Since the start of the covid crisis, the group has met regularly to set up a comprehensive scheme in the Kampong Thom province, a three-hour drive from Phnom Penh. The scheme includes a credit foundation that allows farmers to borrow low-interest money and a “gasoline bank” to sell gasoline at lower market prices to farmers. It also incentivises farmers to grow cocoa and lemongrass, with the commitment to buy their produce at a good price. The project is ambitious and exciting even though it is still in its early stages.

We were amazed by her entrepreneurial spirit and charitable nature. She later expressed the great example her parents set for her whilst growing up. Her parents are generous people who, although modest, have always made an effort to aid people in the community and are very invested in community life.

students in Cambodia being taught
Sreymao investing in the education of her country.

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