A Voice for Women's Rights

Posted April 15, 2009 from Cambodia

My name is Arun Reaksmey. I am 26 years old. I was born in Phnom Penh City, Cambodia on January 21, 1983. I’ve got a lot of friends because I am an honest person and feel sympathy for others. I have a natural talent in helping others. I enjoy touching others’ lives, especially knowing that I have influenced or impacted somebody.

I am the only child in my family but I’m not a spoiled child. I do not know my father because my parents got divorced when I was three months old. Up to today I still do not know what my father looks like. My mother is the head of the family. She struggled to raise me until I grew up. She was a teacher, a broker and a sales woman. Now she is an officer at the National Assembly. She did not only give me birth but also gave me more than life.

My mother has taught me so very many things, large and small, but the basics are as follows:

I’ve learned that life is so much easier if I just am myself. This is living life openly and honestly, and save times, energy, heartache, and misunderstanding in any situation, or in any relationship. I’ve learned that martyrs do not make good life, and sometimes the best things I can do for my family is to be good to me. In addition, any attempts by me to live my life through my family mean it’s time for me to get a life. I’ve learned that sparing someone’s feeling about small things is polite, but that with life-impacting situations, it’s depriving them of essential information that they may need to make decisions about their life. I’ve learned that I have the answers that I need to live my life within me, if I am calm enough and take the time to understand deeply. I’ve learned that a sense of humor is essential for survival, because to laugh at life and at myself allows me to maintain my perspective in life. I haven’t always made the best decisions for my life, and like all of us, I make mistakes.

My mother always seems to know what I think. Everything that I have to say about this decision is already in her head. She knows. Of course, I learned from her my entire life, but this bonding experience has been a special one. Not only has it made us closer as mother and daughter, but also as friends. I believe my mother is a super model. I believe that she is the most beautiful woman in the world. I love my mother unconditionally. I learned independence from her experiences and good judgments.

We are eight in our family: my mother, grandparents, an aunt, an uncle, two cousins and myself. The entire family is supported by my mother alone because my uncle is an illiterate person, my aunt is a housewife, and my grandparents are elderly. My two cousins are students.

I attended a local primary school, Baktouk, in 1989. I remained at the same school till the final year and graduated with honors from 12th grade in 1999. My family could not assist me to continue my education in college but I was fortunate enough to find a job as an assistant at the women’s movement of a political party. Sometimes I walked to work, but sometimes, when I could spare some extra money, I took a motor taxi because I was only making US$25 a month. It’s a very small amount that could not even pay for school supplies and living expenses at the same time. I was desperate to get a good education and I asked the director of the Institute of Human Resources Development for free tuition, as a poor student in the field of accounting. He agreed, but for only the first year. I was much excited but also was concerned about getting the same financial aid for the second year. Unfortunately, my mother had a broken leg due to an accident in 2001. She could not work for two years. During that time, our living-expenses suffered a great deal. I felt hopeless. It seemed to be emptiness in my life. But my mother encouraged me to struggle, to be patient and to study hard for my bright future.

I studied hard for the first year and graduated with honors, the first in the class. So the director allowed me to continue my study to the final year, free of charge. I received an associate’s degree in accounting in 2003, and then served as a volunteer in the Cabinet of the Minister for Women’s Affairs, H.E. Mrs. Mu Sochua. As a volunteer for the minister I had to do many jobs that earned me $70 per month.

I learned many things from the Ministry, as I performed a wide range of administrative tasks including answering the telephone, writing emails, making appointments, organizing travels, filing documents, obtaining relevant information for reports, preparing agendas and taking minutes as well as preparing power point presentations for the Minister. I learned about implementing programs in a variety of areas, including domestic violence, trafficking, HIV/Aids, economic empowerment, micro-enterprises, and education and legal protection for women and girls. Moreover, the Ministry is particularly concerned with eliminating trafficking in women and children and preventing domestic violence.

While I was working at the ministry, the director of cabinet and a foreigner, who works as an assistant to the Minister always gave me good advice and shared some experiences with me for implementing good work. Especially I was most given attention and support by the Minister. All duties that she suggested me to do were very important for me because they improved my knowledge in self-development for the future. As for my colleagues, they were very friendly and helpful. I really like the ministry very much and thanks to the Minister, who kindly supported and allowed me to achieve these events with positive outcomes.

After the national election in 2003, H.E. Mu Sochua decided to leave the government and to join the opposition party, the Sam Rainsy Party. I asked her to give me the opportunity to join her new office, as the cabinet member of the opposition leader. By joining her, I have gained new knowledge that now expands to environmental issues, land rights and the struggle of the workers in their movement. She always gives me some advice; allow me to gain experiences, to attend training courses. What I value most by working with her is my new exposure to the youth movement. Watching her motivate the youth to engage in democracy and to fight for justice inspires me most. Moreover, she assisted me to complete my studies and to complete my accounting studies at the Institute, in March 2006. I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree but I do not believe that a U.S. university will recognize my work as the Institute is not accredited or affiliated with an American university.

After graduation I worked as a project officer of Khmer Democratic Youth Association (KDYA). KDYA, a Cambodian non-governmental organization works for the empowerment and development of youths in Cambodia toward promoting real democracy in the country. KDYA completed a project called “Women and Jobs” that provided the female youth in Cambodia the opportunity to take advantage of economic development without discrimination as well as provided them the professional training to secure future employment. KDYA conducted a free professional training course for one year program in January 2005. The students learned in General English, Computer (Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel), and Marketing skills. This program is designed specifically for the 30 students in each class, as a model program that provides special attention to gender needs. My responsibilities as a project officer included:

Contact with persons, institutes, organizations and companies to expose students who completed the course for training or internship; Research information for updating new program for students; Promote KDYA’s program to other NGOs, Institutes, and private schools Supervise staff, cover on administrative affairs, receptionist and all teachers; Review and evaluate all staff performance; Coordinate staff’s conflicts; Organize provincial forum with related NGOs; Join in the meeting, training courses, or workshop with other NGOs; Do the proposal to find more fund to KDYA; Prepare weekly reports to the president; Prepare quarterly reports to donors; Perform other duties as required.

At the same time I worked as a general assistant of STREY KHMER organization, Cambodian Women for Peace and Development. STREY KHMER has many programs to contribute to the development and protection of the Cambodian women and children in rural area. Assisting rural women in Cambodia is to empower them to fight poverty and freeing them from being victims of gender based violence. Main activities of Strey Khmer are: Providing Health service, Training on organic farming integrated-agriculture, and providing micro credit for poor women. Amongst many issues related to women and children, Health Care is a top priorities to address in order to provide and improve their knowledge on how to take care and provide good health for themselves, their families and their community. My tasks as general assistant include:

Coordinate with the donors and show them about the Strey Khmer’s program; Assist the mobile team to provide health service to women and children in community; Organize training and workshops; Contact with local NGOs for staff training; Share experience with staff on administrative and social affairs; Provide some idea to build the capacity and strengthen the structure of the organization; Prepare quarterly reports to donors.

Currently I am attending the Australian Center for Education (ACE), pursuing a certificate of English.

I am now Executive Director of Mekea Strey, a non-profit NGO based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Mekea Strey works with women on the grassroots level to access basic services and to identify and remedy pressing issues related to development and the empowerment of women.

In my capacity as Executive Director, I direct routine organizational management, prepare proposals and budgets and monitor programs. I also prepare activity narratives and financial reports. In addition, I lead the team in conducting assessment of capacity-building needs, organizing and conducting training courses for women and providing legal and technical assistance to local communities. Finally, I raise funds; build relationships with donors and network with other relevant NGOs.

I always knew I wanted to help people. I want to make a difference in the world. I am especially interested in helping women because I think that they are often faced with many problems in their lives. I’ve learned that women can be strong and feminine, that it’s our femininity that is our strength. Essential characteristics that nurture, support, protect, and love are what make women unique. So I want to be a great woman, and I wish to attend a U.S. university in the field of Women’s Studies or Human Development and Social Relations.

The reasons why I want to study in the USA are as follows:

The United States is a great power country amongst the five countries in the world. The United States leads the world in higher education, with many foreign elites choosing to educate their children there. The United States boasts more than 1,500 university, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning as well as has more modern programs for studying, especially women’s programs. Studying in the US would help me to improve my English An American diploma is most effective in the world. The United States is the largest English-speaking marketplace and allows firms to compete across the country and to enjoy economic scale. American culture has a large influence on the rest of the world, especially the Western world.

I have learned a great deal in life, although I am a young woman. What I learn from work, I apply to my life. I promise myself to always do my best. I have been fortunate to have found a role model in H.E. Mu Sochua, who I consider not just a role model but my second mother.

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Jennifer Parsons
Apr 28, 2009
Apr 28, 2009

Hi Arun.

What an amazing life story. How wonderful you have such a great bond with your mother as well. It was so nice to read. You have done so much and shared so much of yourself. I am very inspired!

I look forward to hearing more.


Apr 29, 2009
Apr 29, 2009

It is such a joy to have you as a member of our community. The lessons you learned from your mother are lessons we could all benefit from and I thank you for sharing these thoughts with us.

I so applaud the efforts of courageous women like you and Mu Sochua, who dare to speak out and in turn, educate us on the challenges and issues facing women in Cambodia every day. Your contributions are so vital and I know that you will be able to transform lives as you share your knowledge, dreams, ideas and hopes with the community. I encourage you to reach out to other members, or start a dialogue by commenting on another journal entry.

Welcome Arun, and please let me know if there is anything I can do to assist you. Best wishes in all your efforts. Janice PulseWire Community Director