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Chhem Pe is only a first-year sociology student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), but the 20-year-old has already done many of the things that his peers only dream of. As a senior in high school he beat thousands of other candidates, aged between 18 and 27, to receive a trip to study for two weeks with the Best Youth Programme in the US. The competition was organised by the Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC) and was sponsored by the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), along with the International Republican Institute (IRI). The programme focuses on rewarding students who have established themselves as capable young leaders.
As a high-school student, Chhem Pe was not sure if he would stand out among his older and more experienced competitors for the trip. “It was very difficult for me because I was a student in high school at that time,” he said, adding, “I had to compete with university students who were better educated than me.” However, he used his intellectual ability and work ethic to show that he was deserving. “I am attentive and patient in all situations,” he said. “I trust my motivation and abilities.”
Tieng Sophal, an IRI volunteer who worked with Chhem Pe, said: “Chhem Pe received the laureate from Best Youth Programme because he is eloquent and talented in his communications with others.” He added that “Chhem Pe is a brilliant person who is able to express his ideas in a way that is attractive to an audience”, and that his oratory skills won him the trip.
Chhem Hean, Chhem Pe’s father, said, “Chem Pe is smart and follows the way of dharma. My child doesn’t want anyone to lead him. He wants to lead. He is diligent and able to overcome any obstacle in his path.”
Chhem Pe talked about some factors that have led him to success thus far. “Spending time talking to people who are older and more experienced than me has given me great insights into how to face the challenges that are bound to arise in one’s life,” he said.
In his time in the US, Chhem Pe went to four states – Maryland, Virginia, California and New York – and also visited the county’s capital, Washington. He visited the White House and the radio stations Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), while sharing his experiences with students at some of America’s universities. “The Best Youth Programme gave me a lot of experience. I got new life lessons in time management and responsibility. I can analyse my country’s development and recognise the best ways to help other people,” he said.