"The legacy for my role is to prove that as a woman, and as a young person, we can do the work, and we can do it even better"
Sopheap on a field mission for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) in August 2013. As Program Director at that time, she was helping to monitor the Peace Walk organized by the Peace Working Group at the Royal Palace. In March 2014 she became the youngest Executive Director for CCHR. ©CCHR 2013
Chak Sopheap, 29, Executive Director, Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Chak Sopheap, at just 29 years old, is the youngest Executive Director for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), one of the most active human rights organizations in Cambodia. Born in Kampong Cham province, her parents moved the family to Phnom Penh to give their children better economic opportunities. As a child, she once dreamed of being a doctor, to serve the poor, but now her dream is to help create a freer, more open and just Cambodia.
In September 2014, her work was acknowledged by U.S. President, Barack Obama, in a forum with world leaders at the Clinton Global Initiative. She is determined to create a legacy beyond herself; to help improve the state of human rights in her beloved country, and to prove that a young woman can do the work--and can do it even better.
I interviewed Sopheap and asked her who was the most influential person in her life, what the state of human rights is in Cambodia, her hopes and dreams for her country, what it was like to be honored by President Obama, and whom she sees as the change maker for the country.
This is her remarkable journey from a rural village in Kampong Cham, to being at the helm of leadership in one of Cambodia’s most preimminent human rights organizations.
"Believe in yourself. Be yourself. Push yourself."
Kouy Chandanich, 26, Judge & Model, Cambodia's Next Top Model
Kouy Chandanich (who goes by Danich) has had an amazing career as a model. First discovered at 21 by Sapor Modeling Agency, it is hard to believe she once lacked the confidence to be a model. She overcame her insecurities, pushed herself and believed in herself. In 2012 she was the first Cambodian model (and only Asian model) selected to participate in Australia Fashion Week. Now at 26 she is Cambodia’s most sought after and seasoned model, gracing the covers of magazines, walking the international runways, and now being the face of the popular TV show “Cambodia’s Next Top Model.”
She wants more, not only for herself, but for her country. She wants Cambodia to be put on the fashion map. She dreams of Cambodia as a destination where top models are sought after; where Cambodian models grace the cover of Vogue; where people travel to Cambodia not only to see Angkor Wat, but for high fashion shopping. She is determined to help raise the profile of professional modeling in Cambodia and wants to help young Khmer models embrace their natural beauty. She is breaking the mold and helping to bring Cambodia to the next level of fashion.
Danich shares with me what it was like to grow up in Phnom Penh in the early 90s, how she started her modeling career, how she overcame her insecurities, her hopes and dreams for the fashion industry in Cambodia, and what advice she has for new models.
"I want my generation to never stop learning"
Dara Veung, 25, MBA Candidate & Aspiring Entrepreneur, Harvard Business School
Dara Veung, 25, is one of Cambodia’s best and brightest students. Born in a poor rural village along the banks of the Mekong River, Dara understood early on the importance of education. At just twelve years old, he asked his parents to move to Phnom Penh in pursuit of a better education. He lived with an uncle in the capital for the first few years, before moving to stay with his aunt’s family, while his parents worked hard in their village to save up for his schooling. They invested their savings so their son could have the best education possible.
All their sacrifices paid off. Dara, who has a thirst for knowledge and a knack for learning languages, studied hard and worked his way through school at Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa) as a janitor and a librarian. He graduated with a double major in Economics and French. He is now living his dream, studying for an MBA at Harvard Business School, the first for a Cambodian national at the prestigious school. Upon graduation, Dara, will join the ranks of famous alumni such as Michael Bloomberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and Mitt Romney. He intends to use this golden education to giving back to his country someday. His story is an inspiration, a testimony of the power of education, hard work, and the love of his parents to sacrifice everything for their children.
I interviewed Dara and asked him about his roots, when he realized education was important, and the problems and possible solutions to Cambodia’s education system today. Writing from chilly Boston, Dara shares with me his inspirational story.
This is the second edition of the popular Young Leaders Series. This series aims to inspire, motivate and tell a more positive story of Cambodia through the next generation of leaders. Too often we only hear about the problems plaguing Cambodia. This special series is dedicated to recognizing the intelligence, talent, creativity, innovation, and promise of Cambodia’s future. Each week in February, through a series of interviews, I will profile a young leader, all under the age of 35, who is contributing to Cambodia’s development in various fields.
In this second series you will meet the men and women who are changing Cambodia in civil society, education, fashion, art, and more. They are making their own unique contribution to Cambodian society now and in the future. These leaders are the ambitious Mr. and Mrs. 30s who are taking the helm of leadership in civil society and government. The young leader is the 25-year-old attending the world's most prestigious university that claims Michael Bloomberg and Sheryl Sandberg as alumni, but who once worked as a janitor to pay for school. She is the beautiful young woman walking the catwalk on the international runaways, determined to put Cambodia on the fashion map. He is the award-winning artist pushing the boundaries of art through thought provoking photography. There many young leaders in Cambodia today. This is only a small sample, together they are all making a difference in their own way, all contributing to a brighter future for Cambodia.
This is the story I want to tell. That despite our challenges, our dark corners, we have many beacons of light. For those outside of Cambodia, I would like to let you know that, through the remarkable promise of these exceptional young leaders, and many others who are positively contributing to our country, WE are on the cusp of something special, a revival of a golden age in a country once shattered by war. For those inside Cambodia, the young generation who is struggling, wanting success but not knowing how to attain it, seek role models and inspiration through these stories. Learn from them. See yourself in their eyes, because at one point, they were struggling just like you.
I hope you will enjoy reading these stories and will be inspired by them.
Socheata Vong, had a busy year professionally and personally. The 33-year old development professional started 2014 by meeting International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Madam Christine Lagarde at a private luncheon for young leaders in Cambodia. By mid-year she volunteered with hundreds of others, to help monitor the controversial high school exam where she met H.E. Hang Chuon Naron (Minister of Education). She wrapped up the year by traveling to Stung Treng Province to meet the widow of Sin Sisamuth, a dream come true for her. In between that she appeared on Cambodian Television Network (CTN) to discuss her views of youth & ASEAN Integration. Passionate about development, arts and culture of Cambodia, Socheata is working on some very interesting projects in 2015, one of which is helping to preserve the legacy of Cambodia’s most famous singer. I caught up with Socheata to see what her year was like in 2014 and what exciting things she will be working on in 2015.
Kavich Neang spent part of last year working in front of the camera, instead of behind it. The young filmmaker made his first acting debut in the critically acclaimed short film “Cambodia 2099” by Cambodian-French director Davy Chou. Cambodia 2099 made its’ world premiere at the Cannes Director Fortnight category.
His middle length documentary ‘Where I Go’ continues to bring him success. Last year, Kavich was busy traveling to film festivals across Asia (Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, and Singapore) to screen his film. In 2015 Kavich will go back behind the camera where he is writing and directing his first short fictional film. I caught up with Kavich to see what he was up to last year, what big plans he has for 2015 and what changes he sees in the Cambodian film making industry this year.