International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated globally every year on 8th March to mark the achievements of women throughout history and their contributions to society. Throughout history, many women’s stories have been left untold and their contributions unacknowledged. IWD helps us create awareness of these inspirational women and their impact on every part of society.
If you are reading this blog, you may already know who Victoria Miloschewsky is. If not you’re about to find out. I read a quote recently by poet and feminist Ntozake Shange “Where there is a woman, there is magic”. Upon reading this one person sprang to mind and this person is none other than Victoria (Vic) Miloschewsky.
Vic is the Founder and CEO of the charity PeopleStories. PeopleStories aims to transform lives through education, one story at a time. Its mission is to provide greater access to education to the communities in need in Cambodia. PeopleStories are now actively working with more than eight schools in rural Cambodia looking after some 3,000 students and teachers. Through providing greater access to education Vic and her team are creating opportunities for young children and changing the course of their lives.
Vic knows all too well just how life-changing access to education can be. Born and raised in Hong Kong to a working-class family Vic watched two of her sisters drop out of school at an early age as they had to support their family. Vic was lucky enough to receive a scholarship and completed her tertiary education in Melbourne, Australia. By being given this opportunity Vic was able to get a solid education and therefore have a long and successful career in HR.
I was first introduced to Vic when the company I work for Concirrus were raising money for her charity through an exercise challenge. I was lucky enough to get to know Vic, her team, and learn about all the hard work that goes into running a nonprofit organization. Vic is an extremely open individual and she spoke candidly about some of the challenges she had overcome in her life.
Speaking to Vic recently I asked her what her thoughts were on this year’s theme of IWD #BreakTheBias. “Like most people I have experienced bias in different situations whether that be in my personal life or work life. One experience that stands out however is being a young Asian woman applying for jobs in Australia. I noticed when I would apply for jobs I would often not hear back and rarely would I get an opportunity for an interview. As soon as I got married and my maiden name changed, I was suddenly inundated with responses and interviews. This subtle change to my name made a big impact on the sort of opportunities I was getting. This experience of bias is something that is still unfortunately all too common.” , Vic reflected her deep experiences.
Throughout her career, Vic has always been passionate about using her voice and creating inclusion where possible. This is why this year’s IWD theme #BreakTheBias resonates with her. In Cambodia, there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve gender equality. “Women and girls aged 15+ spend 12.5% of their time on unpaid care and domestic work, compared to 1.3% spent by men.”
One initiative that Vic is helping make real and concrete changes to the women of Cambodia is the Women Empowerment Project. In one of the local villages, women get together to design and produce upcycle bags.
“As a start, we went to local markets and construction sites to collect canvas wastes such as rice or cement bags, later we designed and repurposed the seemingly useless materials into fashionable bags. It sounds like a small thing to do but the boost in confidence, the appreciation and the ability to generate income for the family is incredible.”, Vic spoke whole heartedly and continued.
“I don’t see the importance of personal recognition all I want to do is bring wider awareness to PeopleStories. The more people who know about me will hear about the great work we are doing and therefore we can support more children in Cambodia.”
On this IWD I wanted to recognize Vic and the work she does which empowers and inspires everyone she meets. Even though Vic herself has experienced bias and struggles she has not let this define her and stop her from chasing her dreams. Going back to the previous quote from Ntozake Shange “Where there is a woman, there is magic” if we all had some of Vic’s magic then the world would be a much better place. I am grateful to Vic for her sharing some of her magic with me.
Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias. Share with us your #BreakTheBias stories by commenting below.
Donate now to PeopleStories and see how you can help.
Story written by: volunteer Hanah Freeman
Have you ever wanted to shout at the top of your lungs and say, “Can someone please help?!” Well, I have plenty of that experience especially during my single parenting years of looking after Edward.
Sometimes I get a response, and other times I don’t.
PeopleStories is no exception and delightfully having a team of 30 virtual volunteers around the world to help empower children to complete school. Our team brings their unique skills to the family ranging from strategic planning, marketing and communications, fundraising, teaching… to book keeping and you name it! When chatting with Roberta Thomson, one of our youngest service PeopleStories family members, about her motivation to serve our purpose and she shared, “I believe in PeopleStories purpose in so many ways. It is about empowering students in rural Cambodia to have opportunities to pursue their dreams. It is also about providing greater equity and access to quality education through the use of technologies which support their learning both online and offline.”
Carrie Lim, founder of Happy Hypno, is another outstanding role model of giving. Besides volunteering as part of our family for more than a year, she recently created her own “business giving” concept by asking her first-time customer to make a voluntary donation to PeopleStories for her service instead of charging them a fee. Carrie said, “Part of the purpose of running a hypnotherapy practice is to bring more enlightenment to life. By encouraging my customers to look beyond themselves and give to the others speaks to my value enormously. I believe that education is the way out of poverty and have seen the dedication that the PeopleStories team has put in for the children during these dire times.”
I am glad to collaborate with people and organisations who share my values. Catherine further echoed, "I remember I was browsing PeopleStories' website to find out more about the organization and what Victoria wrote really hit me - "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."
I cannot agree more with Victoria, and this is the moment I knew we'd like to support People Stories. I believe getting to the root of the cause, empowering the community with the knowledge and skills are far more important and sustainable than just giving them pure financial or material support. We believe the upcoming Smart School Anywhere program will empower even more children through Digital Learning, and we look forward to the launch in 2022."
Since 2017, I have been donating my time, skills, wealth and more preciously my heart to PeopleStories. My happiness meter is rising day by day. Why? Because I am clear on my purpose and willingly to serve the children in rural Cambodia with greater access to quality education. My sincere invitation to YOU to join our giving… give the way it means the most to you and the community.
Check out our “Wellness for Good” workshop and get in touch with your teams for greater wellbeing and serving a social impact at the same time.
Story written by: Founder Victoria Miloschewsky
Victoria was diagnosed with liposarcoma in 2010. She received treatment but the cancer returned in 2012. That was a very dark period for her. She was depressed and couldn’t even bring herself to reach out to her friends. She recalled, “Initially, I was shocked as I did not think cancer would be something that could happen to me, especially at such a young age. When the cancer returned, I was even more horrified as I didn’t expect it to return so quickly.”
How then did she pull herself out of this difficult period? She has a resilience bank where she has been depositing since young. She recounted, “Environment for my childhood was challenging and our family didn’t have enough for everyone. My sisters had to quit school after primary school to start earning money for the rest of us. I learned to be resourceful and treasure what I have.” She felt that her sisters would have a more fulfilling life had they been given the opportunity to continue their education. That’s why helping children to complete school is something close to her heart.
Another significant deposit for her is the influence of her father, who succumbed to cancer in 2000. She reminisced, “My father is my idol because of his values especially in helping others. He started a social club with his friends when I was a teenager. Everyone used to call him ‘Big Brother’. There are endless stories about his giving nature.” During her father’s wake, one of her father’s ex-colleagues came forward to share, “Your father is a good man. When our boss had to retrench one of us, your father chose to retire early so that I could keep the job.”
She felt overflowing happiness from starting PeopleStories and roping in like-minded people along the way. She rejoiced in each and every improvement the students and the villagers made over the years. The positive energy generated from helping unexpectedly boosted her resilience bank. In fact, her fridge is filled with photographs of the students and people she met in PeopleStories. These photographs energise her with the memories they evoked.
Here’s what she shared with other cancer patients, “We don’t have control over everything that happens to us in life, but we can choose how to face and handle everything. I think “life really is a celebration” even though I don’t follow any religion, I am still grateful for life.”
If today’s her last day, does she have any regrets? She shared frankly, “No, I feel my life is complete and abundant. For the past decade, there were both tears and laughter. There were fears as a single mother and feeling of helplessness when I was sick. But when I focused on my work in PeopleStories, I felt complete happiness and satisfaction.”
She added, “When I think about my life now, I don’t merely focus on the suffering, I think of how I can use the rest of my life, the next 20 years or even 30 years; to help more people and to complete the purpose of my life.”
Do you wish to boost your resilience bank? Vic is hosting an online book reading session to share her story as part of the “Amazing Resilience” book. Email her directly if you would like to attend: victoria@PeopleStoriesCharity.org
Story written by: Volunteer Bok Hoon Ong
I was delighted to learn about how the younger generations are putting more focus on sustainability and spending more effort to protect our environment. Did you know that more Gen Z (now age between 6 and 24) prefer to buy from sustainable brands as compared to all other generations? According to this study in the US, Gen Z is also the most willing to pay more for sustainable products!
With that in mind, I was also interested to know the kind of opinion from the Cambodian Gen Z about sustainability. So, I caught up with students KongNov, SreyMey and Somphois about ‘saving our planet’. Their response was immediate, and with a very passionate tone!
There is no doubt that they have been exposed to a level of environmental education. KongNov shared, “Back in the village, people take many plastic bags when they are shopping at the wet market. Once they are home, these plastic bags become waste.”
SreyMey could not wait but jumped in to share, “It is really bad that people burn their plastic bags at home because there is no waste collection in the rural villages.”
The three girls continued our conversation beyond… without me knowing it, they have already casted the same question to their friends and friends of friends. They asked, “What is the one thing you will do to protect our environment?”
With little encouragement, they have recorded all the messages in videos and here it is to share….
How about you? What would be the one thing you can do to save our environment?
I met local teacher Socheata from Phum Ou Primary school in 2017 where we worked together to deliver our first ever project – Bike for Life. It was a happy and fulfilling day when we gave out the 94 bikes to the children in need. A year later, we also built a football ground at her school and hosted an inter-school football tournament. Socheata witnessed the growth of PeopleStories and we have been close friends ever since.
It has been a long while since I was back in the villages and I certainly miss seeing all my friends, families, students and teachers. In fact, this is the longest 14 months that I have been away from the community I serve and the people I care deeply about.
I like April as it is one of the most festive months of the year where the Cambodians celebrate their New Year. I was fortunate enough to share a few New Year celebrations in the past hence the curiosity to dig a bit deeper to understand the customs behind and how things have evolved over the years.
This year, the Khmer New Year is from 14th to 16th April and in the middle of a 2-week school holiday. Khmer people form the dominant ethnic group in Cambodia with 97% presentation of the country’s 15.9 million population, hence it is commonly called Khmer New Year. In the Khmer language (the second most widely spoken Austroasiatic language), it is called 'Chaul Chnam Thmey' (ចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី) and that means 'Entering the New Year'.
Majority of the Khmer People follow Theravada (Hinayana) Buddhism, which is also the country official religion. Khmer New Year is based on the traditional solar new year, that was observed in parts of India and Asia. It falls on either April 13th or April 14th each year depending on the dictates of an ancient horoscope reading. In Cambodia, it also marks the end of the harvest before the beginning of the rainy season.
Khmer New Year is full of traditions and rituals and it is commonly celebrated over 3 days and interestingly, each day of the festivity has a special significance:
As a senior (not by age but by status 😉) in the village, I was offered to be bathed by a group of my students and children. For sure, I was embarrassed at first as I haven’t had a public shower before nor being bathed by anyone but my own parents! But I felt very at ease quickly as I absolutely can feel the well wishes and intent, not to mention the fun of splashing water at one another.
In addition to these traditions during the 3 days of the New Year celebrations, there are also some very special customs. For example, there are sand hillocks mounded on the grounds of the pagoda which represent the stupas of the Buddha's favourite disciples.
Nowadays, the most common game is anything to do with water! Without any exceptions, you get completely soaked if you happen to be in Siem Reap city during the New Year. As many of the Khmer people love to line up on the streets with their blessing (WATER) ready to throw at anyone passing by with their water pistols or even just buckets!
Khmer New Year is also a time to prepare special dishes and one of the typical food eaten at New Year is ‘Kralan’, a cake made from sticky rice, beans, and coconut milk. When it comes to Khmer dishes, my favourites are Beef Lok Lak with Kampot Pepper Dipping Sauce and Banh Chev (Khmer Savoury Pancake).
I long to return to the village and experience the authentic beautiful Khmer culture again. Let me know if you have that desire too?
This is now the 4th year that we welcome new scholarships students to our core program, School for Life. From a very humble beginning of 21 students in 2017, we have now grown to directly supporting 120 students this school year. Despite the size, we never lose the personal touch and I am proud that we know all the children we support! This is why the School for Life ceremony has always been a very emotional day for me as it symbolizes the hope and growth that comes with 120 beautiful children embarking on a new school year.
I was obviously sad that I was unable to attend in person but my loss is the gain of the amazing team of local volunteers we have in Cambodia. This was one of many firsts that made the ceremony even more special this year!
We are now working with 10 schools in the Bakong district and supporting 3,000 students and teachers. Instead of having the separate ceremonies (which we used to do), we had just one ceremony with all the students, staying true to one of our core values, which is 'United by Compassion'. These children may be born in poverty but that’s only the beginning of their story. With some support, they are empowered to pursue their dreams and write a better ending!
The other aspect I love about the student play is that the conversation and message is conveyed by their friends and peers instead of another adult trying to convince students. Even better, this year we had 2 of our students come back for the ceremony from Phnom Penh where they attend one of the leading STEM schools. The power of KongNov and SreyMey, two 14-year-old girls, sharing their journey and what they dream of. All of a sudden, the possibility of going beyond their village schools becomes so real for everyone! I’m incredibly proud of them!
I am also very grateful that we continue to enjoy the support of the Department of Education and we had all the local village chiefs and elders attend the ceremony. That sense of community and endorsement is incredibly powerful when we are looking to make real and sustainable change.
I’m incredibly proud and also grateful for what we have achieved together. This includes you, the kind donors supporting the students, and also the team of volunteers who make all of the good work possible! A very big Thank You to all of you and I hope that sharing some of the photos and stories from the ceremony gives all of you a sense of the difference we all can make.
Le Nevez comments: “As the first country I ever visited, Cambodia had a profound effect on me and I have felt a connection with the people ever since. I am extremely excited to join the team at PeopleStories and have the opportunity to contribute to this inspiring cause and, ultimately, change lives. As a father of young children, I understand the importance of education. I look forward to raising awareness, bringing positive change and helping PeopleStories in their mission to make young dreams come true.”
“The support of Matt as an ambassador will strengthen our mission to break the cycle of poverty through empowering children with greater access to quality education. We believe his unique skills and experiences will bring new perspectives and opportunities to PeopleStories, starting with the creation of 120 school scholarships for this year ahead.”
PeopleStories Charity has been providing scholarships, school buildings and facilities, bicycles, learning programs and teacher’s training to schools and students in rural Cambodia since 2017. To find out more and donate to this most worthy cause, visit www.PeopleStories.net.
PRESS RELEASE issued by PeopleStories Charity
Contact: Victoria Miloschewsky
Phone: +65 8272 1180
Our Purpose: http://bit.ly/Purpose_of_PeopleStories
School started again! Yay!!
So, focusing on the positives, what are we doing to support the families?
Firstly, we are continuing and expanding our core program, School For Life! This program remains imperative to everything we do by supporting individual students in a meaningful way.
Specifically, this means that we remove barriers that would prevent children to attend school by providing bicycles for basic mobility and also the provision of school supplies such as text books and uniforms. It may not seem much to us but for a poor family the cost associated with attending school can be a real deterrent.
Once we get students to attend school it’s all about keeping them in there. What this comes down to is really the quality of education but also the ongoing support of the parents and the community. Whilst the latter is obvious, the quality of education can have a huge impact, in particular if students can’t afford the after school coaching classes which often causes them to fall behind academically and become very demotivated and frustrated.
All of this we achieve for less than a $1 a day for a child to receive their scholarship!
Of course, we don’t want to just select any student and family. The key principles are that the family can’t afford to send their children to school and both family and students have to be fully committed to education.
Of course, we are also mindful of the necessary work at a macro level and the impact we are making. A great example is Chea Smonn Secondary school. We have been working with them for four years now on teacher training, facility improvements and of course the student sponsorships. The school initially struggled to attract enrolments but slowly and surely this is changing and we are seeing a significant uptick in students wanting to join this school. Enrolments 2021 compared to 2017 are up an incredible 70%! This is an amazing result which comes down to team work where donations are spent in a frugal but targeted way to improve schools but also teachers stepping up and actively working with us to push and influence as much as they can to motivate students.
Positive and enduring change requires trust, providing real support and consistently building on success stories. Unlike a freshly painted classroom, it takes some time and patience to see the real impact but it is extremely satisfying and powerful once you set it in motion and for us to see how these beautiful students develop.
We are therefore very pleased to see the continued growth of our School For Life program. For 2021 we aim to support 120 students and look forward to seeing more dreams come true!
Check out how you can be part of the success of School For Life here: https://bit.ly/PS100Dreams202021
We started just over 3 years ago to support underprivileged students and schools in rural Cambodia. It has been an incredibly rewarding journey as we have seen the many students growing up from children to beautiful teenagers. Talking to some of them feels just like family nowadays.
Just more than a year ago, we started exploring collaboration opportunities outside of rural Siem Reap and we are absolutely grateful to have formed meaningful partnerships with some of the leading schools and organisations supporting education in the capital city of Phnom Penh.
Seeing this school we started immediately to dream and think … “what if some of our rural students could attend this school?”, “How would their lives be and that of their families change if they attend one of these leading schools in the capital city?” Oh, we were so excited about the possibilities!
Just a few weeks ago, teacher Sarith took 4 of our students to participate at the entry exams in the capital city. We were over the moon when news came for the 2 students who had passed the exams! When their families were notified about the results, no words could describe their joy, excitement, proudness, and more importantly the hope for a brighter future!
Sometimes we all wonder if the effort we put in is really going to pay off? Sometimes it will and sometime it won’t. Nevertheless, that should never stop us from trying as the times when we succeed make it definitely worth it!
Please join me to wish these 2 girls ever success with their upcoming life changing experiences.
Together, we can transform lives. Please give us your helping hand and make a contribution to 100Dreams today.