Can you please introduce yourself?
Jum Reap Suor. My name is Narla Phay, I am 32 years old and I was the first scholarship student to graduate from JWOC’s Scholarship program.

What was your life like before you got JWOC Scholarship?

Well, I moved to Siem Reap 13 years ago to continue my education and degree at university. For the first two years my parents paid for my school tuition, but at the end of the second year they ran out of money which threatened my place, I was ready to drop out. ‘My parents had borrowed money from their neighbors at 120% interest rate to pay for my education, in the countryside you have no choice’; we were struggling to repay! Looking back, I was very lucky as I was such an awful farmer, my parents saw no potential for me helping in the rice fields! However, my family earned a really small amount of money so if you send one kid to college then the other family members will have no education or medical care – they really sacrificed a lot for me!

How did you get your JWOC Scholarship?

At the time, I was working for the tourist police in the Siem Reap to help cover my everyday expenses and one day JWOC co-founder Brandon Ross came to my office as one of his guests needed a police report to claim a new airline ticket. We got talking and I told him about my situation and how I was struggling, so we exchanged numbers, and then two weeks later I came to interview for a job at Journeys Within Boutique and for the first class of scholarship students! I started my new job at the hotel front desk on April 20, 2006.

Can you describe what it was like when you first started at JWOC?
At the beginning it was just the three of us (Managing Director, John Walsh; Narla and Brandon Ross) working together on the projects, it was tough! At that time I was attending school and as JWOC was only a few months old at the time the projects were just being set up and we were learning the community’s needs.
My first volunteering project was the Clean Water program (the original JWOC project), but I soon became involved in the Microfinance program as one of the co-founders, working with Brandon Ross we were one of the first organisations in Siem Reap to offer loans to poorer people. We didn’t have our own office or the Community Center at that time either so we had to share an office with the tour company inside the hotel.

The first JWOC Scholarship Students; Narla is second on the left
What was it like volunteering for the Microfinance project?
We gave out small loans to borrowers that wanted to create a business or expand their current one. At the beginning we would go out and interview future borrowers in the local village near JWOC to find out what they would do with the money, how the business would work and discuss the risks involved. This was all new to me and Brandon, but we’d spoken to the community and they had told us that this is what they needed to help them and their families. Every Friday I was in charge of going out to collect the loans, everyone always paid back on time!
Narla collecting loans for the Microfinance program

What is your most significant memory whilst being a Scholarship student?

Narla with a newly installed well and family

I remember one woman, she had HIV, she had three children and her husband had died; she sold drinks on the street and never expected anyone to give her a loan – in Cambodia if you don’t have any collateral then you won’t get anything. But I remember her crying when we decided to give her a loan and it was that opportunity that totally changed her life. It made the volunteering all worth it – knowing you were really helping your community.’

What has your life been like after graduating from JWOC?
JWOC’s Scholarship program has totally changed my life; I was about to drop out of school and my parents were in a lot of debt. After graduating I now work full time with Journeys Within Tour Company as Tour Concierge and Customer Service Director after being promoted. I was also able to repay my mum’s loans that helped to pay for my early education and then help my brother move from my hometown to Siem Reap. On top of this I’ve managed to now save to buy a piece of land and to have my own car – all of this because of the opportunities given to me by JWOC.

What’s your connection with JWOC today?

Narla attends JWOC’s 10th Anniversary Party

Even after I graduated I still want to be a part of it all so I am now on the JWOC board as an ‘in-country’ advisor. I work closely with staff in Cambodia as well as the board in the states to make sure that decisions made will benefit the local community. I now use my position within the tour company to tell people about my story and introduce them to JWOC. It’s my hope that through this story guests will see the impact that JWOC has had on my community and want to support others that were in my position. I also use my position to help inspire other young Cambodians to fulfill their potential, as Brandon and Andrea allowed me to.

I would like to say thank you to JWOC and its supporters for giving me the opportunity, which means so much to me – without JWOC I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you. I would most likely be working in a rice field in my home province without an education and the knowledge to pass down to my children and their children. I think I will have a bright future; in fact, I know I will. Thank you!

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