It could have been a free, fun-filled Saturday afternoon for the high school students in Phnom Penh. But instead of going for a leisure walk at the park or looking through new apparel at the mall, dozens of young Cambodians opted to spend their weekend in the most educational and inspiring way – attending Beyond Yourself seminar.
Held at the Pannasastra University of Cambodia, Beyond Yourself was an initiative of the local chapter of AIESEC, the largest youth-led, non-profit international organisation, to encourage students to discover their potentials and become productive citizens of the society.
Mar Kimheng, a senior Education student and the local committee president of AIESEC, said the organisation has grown so much since it was first established in Cambodia in 2009 – four local units, more than 20 partner universities and more than 1000 alumni. The organisation has sent students to leadership conferences and internships across the region over the years, and continues to do so.
On Saturday’s Beyond Yourself talk, six young people – with stories that speak beyond leadership and inspiration – shared meaningful experiences on their international conferences, exchange programmes, charity involvements and competitions.
Kim Amnath, an International Relations graduate, talked about the learning he gained after joining the ASEAN-Korean Young Scholars Workshop in 2016. Mr Amnath believed that it was through his experiences in an international workshop that he built self-confidence and grown a more positive and mature attitude towards people and society.
“How do we define quality of life? We may have different answers to this. But I personally have my own ways to know if I am living the life that is good and right. Self-development, emotional mastery, attitude and behaviour – these are the factors to indicate the quality of life,” Mr Amnath emphasised, adding that the present young generation should always open themselves to opportunities that would lead them to discover the real purpose of their lives.
Mean Vibol Virak, meanwhile, shared how he has managed to overcome his fears on public speaking. Having an award for an international speech contest under his belt, Mr Virak is somebody students should look up to.
“Whatever we do in life, we should always think about ‘self’. We need to find ourselves first, our own voice so we can have something to share to others,” Mr Virak said. “Remember, it takes you to be you.”
Another youth volunteer, Pich Daravortey, couldn’t help but get emotional as she shared how teaching little children in Thailand has changed her life. Ms Daravortey stepped out of her comfort zone when she volunteered to teach. She emphasised that more than learning how to live independently, she has gained enormous self-discovery and understanding on cultures different from hers.”
“I learned that giving is far more important than taking,” she said, holding back tears as she watched a video of her and her Thai students crying when it was already time for her to come back to Cambodia.
Hingphith Vongrathayuth gave everyone a good laugh when he talked about “My 3 EXes”, which is, of course, not how we thought it was. Mr Vongrathayuth explained that he has learned ethical leadership through exposure, exert and expository. He added that it’s not enough for one to be smart and courageous in taking every chance possible. Kindness and understanding, he said, matter a lot, too.
Seng Sreynik, who is an AIESEC alumna, told participants how a girl liked her who thought volunteering for organisations and charities is a waste of time and effort, changed her heart after signing up for AIESEC. Ms Sreynik has travelled to another country and served at a children’s home where she understood how compassion can bridge gaps between cultures, races, languages.
Indonesian national Chyntia Zwastika, an English Literature major, was also generous enough to share her experiences in Cambodia. Ms Zwastika came to Cambodia for a volunteer job, and has travelled from province to province to teach English to little kids.
“I don’t really talk in front of so many people. But here I am, sharing what I learned here in Cambodia. I didn’t know anything about the country when I first stepped foot here. But I got to know the people and they were all very kind. Cambodian people have become my second family.”
To say that the speakers and the people behind AIESEC Cambodia are inspiring is an understatement. These Cambodians, young as they may be, are positive influencers to a generation that has seemingly become strangers to the meaning of compassion, empathy and volunteerism.
AIESEC Cambodia, along with the other chapters around the globe, will surely continue to open doors for the youth to be active players of huge and constructive changes the world needs.
Gathering high school students even for just one Saturday afternoon and opening their eyes to opportunities of developing themselves and helping their very own society is but one, big leap towards that goal.