An entrepreneur draws from passion to revitalise the city she lives in and everyone around her, Poovenraj Kanagaraj writes.
Fleeing the horrors of war caused by the Khmer Rouge, Elain Younn left with the company of her family at the mere age of 12 from a Thai refugee camp and arrived in Sydney. Barriers in language put up quite a challenge for her parents to maintain a sustainable living in their new country.
While many at 17 are presented with choices of the next college to apply for, Younn made the decision to leave school to support her family by running their garment business. The skills she attained here would eventually open more doors, leading her out of Australia and into newer territories.
Self-taught, Younn’s uncanny ability to negotiate with major retailers eventually led her to work in Hong Kong. Here, she turned her family business into her own and sold fabric and garments to international buying houses in Europe and the United States.
In October 1991, the Paris Peace Agreements were signed in Cambodia.
Three years later, Elain found herself back in her homeland to set up her garment enterprise. One business led to another, and she then began to invest in land and property development.
Elain’s entrepreneurial interest diversified and she is currently involved in a range of businesses in Cambodia, including Living IChing Décor, the iCAN British International School, Bliss Spa, The 240 Phnom Penh Apartments which houses Enso and Enso Healing Space along with restaurants Luna and Mama Wong’s, as well as charities, Bravehearts and Cambodia Sings.
“Honestly the diversity in my businesses came about naturally, it wasn’t planned at all,” Younn recalled.
Healing the world around her one step at a time
One particular passion Elain divulges in is her passion for ‘Wellness’. “I come from a country which is in great need of healing. After the war I found I, myself, needed to heal too,” Younn tells me. “As a nation, we had lost our voice and I felt my voice was suppressed deep down inside me,” she goes on to say.
Wellness has always been part of Younn’s life and travels. While she still has her family in Australia, the entrepreneur is no stranger to travelling. Her daughters each reside in the UK and US leading her to a self-realisation that home could just about be… anywhere.
“I make it a point to try some treatments throughout my travels and to get to know other wonderful practitioners out there,” Younn says. Plucking inspiration from her travels across the globe had her inviting skilled practitioners in the field of Wellness to hold workshops in the Kingdom.
Younn’s first healing experience was when she sang in a women’s choir years ago, in which it had led to her wanting to discover more ways to heal. Her attempt to for new discovery translated into sound healing therapy using crystals singing bowls, Reiki, Yoga and meditation.
Benefitting from the therapies, Younn ventured out to share, support and nurture those who were struggling with their own wellbeing journey, living in a country that was once torn apart by war and still reeling in some ways from trauma and chaos.
“I believe we heal best as a community,” Younn says, of her resolution to heal together with her people led her to opening Enso Healing Space. To provide a safe and nurturing place to help care for oneself was what Younn had aimed for and it is what she has achieved.
Younn believed as the country rebuilt itself, with hard work came along pressure and she wanted to help those who were helping Cambodia.
“I was really happy to see the number of people coming to Enso Healing Space, experiencing joy, care and leaving feeling nourished to continue doing their work in rebuilding Cambodia.”
Younn’s motivation behind ‘Enso Healing Space’, located within her St 240 Apartments, came out of her love for the street itself and she is committed to maintaining the beauty the street came with.
An upcoming development in Younn’s future project, while still in its initial stage, she envisions a ‘Wellness Sanctuary’ that will draw people from various continents to Siem Reap allowing them to experiencing traditional and complementary therapies.
“I believe Siem Reap to be a wellness destination and this can be achieved when we work together as a community.
“Our ancestors left us a legacy and it is an honour to personally contribute to extend the Khmer heritage and hospitality and welcome those who have travelled from far and close to experience that very same legacy,” Younn expressed. She goes on to say, “I believe that each one us has the right to be well and that could translate into a ripple effect that will affect the environment and greater world.”
Shaping the lives to come
“I wanted to give every child in Cambodia a chance and a safe place to find their voice,” Younn says. The Khmer Rouge that tore through Cambodia had cost the arts a lot and as Younn points out, singing became one of the least valued of all the arts. Schools had no intention to sing and parents hardly sung lullabies to their children at night.
Wanting to find a way to revitalise the art of singing, Younn along with friend, Trish Watts set up an NGO called ‘Cambodia Sings’. Watts who was at the time in Sydney was initially not convinced by Younn but eventually was moved by the vision herself along with a strong desire to repair the song lines that had been suppressed during the war.
‘Bravehearts’, yet another of Younn’s charity body came about during a visit to sing at a centre. What was planned as a simple visit on that day soon turned into Younn being handed the centre that housed over 130 children with special needs. Younn had initially offered to help the mothers involved with the center with their salaries — who in return saw Younn and her close friend as their new caretakers.
Eventually, Younn had decided to help with the centre’s management and growth, and as of 2014 with the aid of different volunteers and supporters, the centre had continued to flourish.
Younn’s passion in spreading Wellness to the city she once left and had since returned has kept her going to give back to those around her. She and her team continue to revitalise the city, the country, and the people she now shares her aspirations with.