I am very excited to share great news with you. PeopleStories has finally been assessed and recognised with full charity status! Yay!!
After a lengthy and thorough assessment process (close to 2 years) and a few 50-pages evidence reports to support, this review has finally concluded and authority in Hong Kong has formally granted charity status. What a milestone!
We are so excited! We have to start straight away with the punch line: PeopleStories has been chosen by the employees of Oliver Wyman (Singapore) as their charity to support! Woohoo! We are so incredibly humbled and proud to announce this achievement.
Let me give you a bit of background and share with you the story how we got there…
One of our ongoing volunteers, Mike Kershner, has kindly been supporting PeopleStories over several years with his donation of time and skills. We were also fortunate enough to have Mike and his wife over in Cambodia working on a school project. For us at PeopleStories, we truly value this mutually valuable and powerful experience that not only delivers results to our local schools and communities but creates impactful life experiences for our volunteers too.
PeopleStories is very proud to share that Victoria Miloschewsky, the Founder and CEO of this charity, was recognised as one of 100 Iconic Influencers Singapore by Aesthetics International Council for Progressive Women, AICPW SG.
This is Vic's story and how she is serving a purpose in life.
Real charity work has nothing to do with feeling-good tourism. I have witnessed sewing machines being dropped off in a deserving community only to gather dust for years after. Why? Because there is no one who thought about teaching them how to sew! That is why we focus on empowering skills, influencing behavior and mind set for sustainable and responsible change.
Some time ago, one of our schoosl was ready to learn about IT and 190 students encountered technology for the first time. Instead of “air-dropping” a bunch of laptops, we chose to work hard with the willing teachers as champions to embrace the new skills first. This active partnership amplifies the importance of education and change in their communities. This is real and lasting change.
Our work at PeopleStories has given us plenty of opportunity to pay tribute to ‘Gratitude’. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, most of us are homebound and we didn’t think continuous support to those vulnerable students and their families was possible. Ohhh, were we totally wrong or what?!
Behind every successful team, there is always an everyday hero! bong (Khmer for brother) Veasna joined our movement in 2017 and continues to be the master in spreading positivity (not the virus)!
To put his efforts into context consider this. Veasna has been suspended from his job at a hotel in Siem Reap due to COVID19. He is the sole supporter for a family of 5 including his mother who has been in and out of hospital a few times. At the same time he is building a house for his family. Talk about pressure and, more importantly, resilience and staying positive to help others!
I feel so sad because I am the only income earner for my family. Having said that, I will stay strong and overcome this horrible situation. I hope COVID-19 will be gone soon and our lives can go back to normal.”
Q: PeopleStories is providing Relief Packages to the students and their families in need. What does that mean to you?
A: "I truly believe that these packages are very important, not only to those poor families but to the community overall. I personally know many families who have many young children and their parents are unable to provide them with sufficient food to eat. These packages give them the much needed emergency help and I also think it gives everyone some hope and a bit of good news!
Although I don’t have money or much material to share, but I have time and I am strong. I am happy to be able to enable PeopleStories to help my communities. I remember Victoria asked me, “Would you be able to help us to support those families who are in great need?” and I immediately said, ’Yes!’."
All of us have to adjust to the new (and hopefully only temporary) reality of staying at home or working from home in times of COVID19. Since there are more than enough blogs, articles, books and videos to show you how to manage this challenging time, we are going to 'spice it up' and add some 'flavours' to your home time (literally)! It is time to work on your cooking skills and try some amazing Cambodian dishes!
Here are our pick of the 3 amazing and authentic recipes for Cambodian dishes. Give it a try. You will not be disappointed! (Don't forget to click on the images for the recipes)
Yum Bai (Khmer style of Bon Appetite)!
Seeing all the challenges the world is facing right now, it’s a bit of a mental juggling act to associate positivity with COVID19. However, I truly believe that every challenge provides an opportunity to step up and have a positively respond. This is exactly the same for the PeopleStories team and the schools in Cambodia.
We have also seen a range of different responses globally when it comes to schools and COVID19. Singapore and Australia schools still remain largely open whilst Cambodia including all our 8 partner schools in the Bakong district have been closed since March 16, 2020 in order to control the spread of the virus.
Working very closely with the schools and also the Ministry of Education, the PeopleStories team has decided to also suspend all after school activities such as coaching, the 2020 Football Tournament that was meant to be held in March and the Khmer for Success literacy program.
What is more interesting though is how the current health threat drives behaviour and how schools and teachers constructively and positively respond in an environment that is certainly less supportive and structured compared to many other countries.
At Chea Smonn Secondary School, the teachers and local community responded immediately by ensuring that basic hand wash infrastructure is in place. What we take for granted, for example the access to hand sanitizer and hand wash facilities, is not a given for every school in Cambodia. It is therefore even more pleasing to see the constructive (literally!) community response in installing a water tank in order to enable best possible hand washing hygiene!
Have a look at some of the photos from Chea Smonn Secondary School and the progress of installing the water tank.
Teachers and students at AhrangRengSey Secondary School were equally proactive and positive responding to the COVID19 challenge. Collectively they took it upon them to thoroughly clean all school desks and chairs which, for a school with more than 500 students, is no small feat!
One of the most important lessons out of COVID19 will undoubtedly be greater awareness of viruses and diseases spreading and how this can be controlled. What now starts out as a response to an individual event is an opportunity to positively change the mindset of students and communities with regards to personal hygiene. Education around this becomes an opportunity for schools to teach more than only academic skills and add life and social skills as well to create stronger and more resilient communities.
I wish everyone stay safe and healthy. I look forwarding to retrurning to the villages and schools in order to support the communities in need.
We constantly challenge ourselves in trying to assess how successful our programs are and where we can do better. One of those measures is the 'Student Drop Out Rate' which is the prime educational / social issue we have been tackling. In that regard we are very pleased to report that our current dropout rate remains very low at 1% (national average is 20%)!
Equally, if not more rewarding are the success stories we come across seeing how well the sponsored students are doing. Whilst this is a bit hard to measure in a meaningful way, these success story are really the evidence how you as the valuable donors and our passionate team of volunteers collectively supporting our students to pursue and fulfil their dreams!
It is our absolute pleasure to share that two of our sponsored students, KongHov and Sreymey, have just been awarded as the top students in the district school competition, KongNov in Mathematics and Sreymey in Khmer! This is an amazing achievement and congratulations to the girls!
Out of the 7 secondary schools in the district and approx. 1,000 students in the same grade, these 2 girls have done so well to take the 2 out of 4 top student awards. It tells you something about their dedication and focus on doing very well in school despite the limited resources they have at home.
Coming back to our success measure, there is no doubt in our mind that the combination of support for after school coaching, school supplies and bicycles together with an improved learning environment have a strong and direct impact to these girls. Without the sponsorships, this may not be possible (sadly).
We are obviously never standing still and stories such as these inspire us to think what else we can do. Imagine how well the students could do with access to computers and the internet (which they don't have today)! There is definitely no shortage of new ideas and projects but what all of this is ultimately really about, are their dreams and us giving them a helping hand to build better futures and communities.
PeopleStories is very fortunate to have such an amazing team including a very capable advisory council. Our Council is like a compass and helps connecting us to achieve the shared vision and purpose. While the role of the Council may sound easy in theory, it is challenging in reality. Therefore, finding those likeminded, professional and passionate people who are willing to share some of their precious time, skill, experience and even wealth can be tricky.
After months of searching and a stringent selection process, we are incredibly proud and humbled that the advisory council is established and it comprises 6 members across Asia Pacific. Like many other change makers, our council members do not necessarily seek the lime light for their contribution and it is only appropriate that we take the time to shine a light on them and how they manage to pursue their dreams whilst juggling their busy life.
It is our honour to introduce Donna Worthington, our longest serving council member of PeopleStories.
The spotlight is now on Donna as we ask her the 5 quick fire questions. Here is what she has to share:
Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and your job
“About me… I’m a busy person who loves to be involved in things that make a difference, in particular to those in vulnerable situations. I’m married with three beautiful children. Professionally I’m a Partner in Australia’s largest legal and consulting firm. I help clients to navigate through their complex risk and regulatory requirements. I’m a huge advocate for diversity and the benefits it provides in any environment or context.”
How did you get to know PS and how did you become involved?
“I have known Victoria in a previous context so when I found out about what she was doing with PeopleStories I jumped at the chance of getting involved!”
“I support PS because our vision, mission and values aligns to my own personal mission and values. I believe we can change the world through empowering people through education. And my life is a lived experience of that…”
Want to be part of this incredible team? Click here to learn about the opportunities.
There has been a positive and happy trend happening with our local Khmer volunteers and teachers in rural Siem Reap… having babies! This joyful event certainly has the ability to cheer everyone up. One glance into the gorgeous baby’s smile, our worries seem to fade away.
There is no doubt that 2019 was a busy and productive year for Chea Smonn school which is similar to the role of a new mother looking after her baby. All effort is spent to provide the best environment for growth. I was keen to learn from Nika about the priorities this year and she thought about it for a moment then said, “ Besides the current school ground project, I would like to see improvement to the teacher’s skills. I believe quality of learning is very important for the students and education overall. So teachers are the critical factor to successful education.”
Nika is a huge believer in education (you can read her earlier story here: http://bit.ly/NikaStory ) and she already has plans to get Phi Run educated once he is ready. On the other hand, I was interested to learn about her perspectives on education across different generations. She shared, “Before Pol Pot, teachers were powerful and earned good salary. My mother also went to school!” A huge spark in her eyes when Nika was looking at her mother who is in her 70’s. Growing up as a single parent and being the only child, I can feel their strong bond.
Nika continued, “The period after Pol Pot, which was my generation, education became very hard. There were schools and teachers but the quality of education was very low. Families were so poor and they could not afford to send their children to schools.” Personally, I absolutely could relate to her comments as I have seen first-hand so many families are still living in poverty today in rural Cambodia.
The conversation with Nika made me think … how can PeopleStories and I add more value to education in rural Siem Reap? How do we need to evolve to ensure that everyone is working towards a shared and positive vision?
Our work is constantly changing and improving and I am looking forward to an exciting 2020!
What is your vision for your children? Would you like to give Nika and PeopleStories a helping hand to advance education?
Click here to learn about our work: http://bit.ly/OurWorkPSF
Not long ago, fellow changemaker Vipin joined us on one of our Voluntour programs. The mission was to bring out the artistic talent in local primary students.
Vipin came together with his wife and 2 sons and it was his first time in Siem Reap. Our initial encounter was somewhat distant and I could not make out Vipin’s motivation for the Voluntour. However, I (try to!) ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ and I am glad that I did just that! On the 2nd day, Vipin was literally a changed person. From ‘trying to be invisible’ to ‘taking the lead’ with the kids! Amazing!
After spending a few days at the school, Vipin was determined to take one more step! He wanted to donate some whiteboards to the school. Not only 1 or 2, but 13 whiteboards for the entire school!
What was his motivation? Have a listen to his sharing, “One of the activities required me to write song lyrics on the blackboard for the students to copy. The light was reflecting on the board and there was lots of paint scattered on them. The students simply could not see the writing on the board.”
“I told myself, that if I can’t see what's on the board, how can these kids see it? I felt for the kids , thinking of my own children being in the same situation. I knew it wouldn't take much to make a difference so I did what my heart said.”
And what a difference has Vipin make! The kids were so excited when the new whiteboards arrived at the school and now teachers are using them for their better teaching. Clearly the kids and teachers were positively impacted and that got me thinking… I wonder if this trip to Siem Reap has also impacted Vipin’s perspective?
He said, “It tremendously affected me. Education is power. Enabling schools with right means, we empower them to build the future of their families. With education these kids can move out to work in the city and break out from the cycle of hardship.”
It is incredibly rewarding to witness these stories first hand and what stands out for me is meaningful change does not always require huge sums of money but in equal parts the openness to engage with local students and communities to find out what their needs really are.
The benefits for them are obvious. However I also love seeing the joy our Voluntour programs bring to those attending. The genuine and positive nature is absolutely incredible and it touches my heart every time I go back to Siem Reap.
I am so glad to learn from Vipin’s story and hope you are too. Why not join us at one of the ChangeMaker Voluntour programs?
Come and be visible... make the change yourself!