Youth Week: They Vireak

Youth Week: They Vireak

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They Vireak says it's about education; not money. Photograph: Phnom Penh Post

“Only studying can bring people from one side to the other side in a successful way” is the advice Vireak used to hear from his father. It’s a way of teaching that even the disadvantaged can become successful.

They Vireak, 18, ways keeps these words in mind. He’s one of Cambodia’s million youngsters who competed for and won a scholarship in Singapore.

The eldest child in a family of five, his life has been an uneven struggle against poverty for as long as he remembers. The family left their hometown in Kampong Cham Province to Ratanakiri, back in 2006. “My new life was not easy; we arrived in Ratanankiri with only $20 in the pocket, which was just enough to rent a small house,” recalls Vireak.

Despite difficulties, he wasn’t about to give up.

When he was a 6th grader at Samdech Ov Samdech Mer High School in Ratanakiri he found his first job as a scavenger. It helped sustain his family but his efforts were often met with disgusted looks. That only encouraged him to work harder.

He spent time studying with his father, a math teacher, and looked for knowledge in books. Tough life has made him into a real achiever.

“In grade 9, I was the best student in maths in Ratanakiri province” he says proudly. He regrets not making it to the national level but finds no reasons for despair. “There are many opportunities waiting for me, but I need to keep my eyes open so that I don’t miss a chance”.

In 2009 Vireak was awarded a scholarship at United World college of South East Asia (UWCSEA) in Singapore. “There are 7 stages to go through in order to win. Since the beginning of the competition I was ranked the second on the list. Only two top students obtain the scholarship” , he explains.

Studying in Singapore was a new challenge as lectures were taught in English “For the first three months, it was really difficult for me to catch up since I was not yet used to English language. But it’s no longer a problem,” he says.

Even though Vireak stays far away from his family, he never forgets the advice of his parents: he can stay up all night to ensure good results. Friends and teachers admire such dedication to achievemnt; he received much positive feedback from his school in Singapore.

After finishing his last semester in Singapore, Vireak returned to his homeland in June and is now waiting anxiously for the final results.

“If I earn between 42 and 45 GPA, I will have a chance to continue my studies in the USA.” He dreams on having already chosen architecture as his future major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “ I am very confident that I will get high grades”, he adds.

“Looking at a flower or someone’s eyes, I can create a painting or design.” says Vireak showing an apparent knack for this field of study.

A very confident young man, Vireak has many plans and aspirations. Writing a book about architectural aspects of Angkor Wat temple is on his agenda. He’s persuaded such a literary contribution would be a very useful resource for MIT’s students.

As of now, his future remains under a question mark but never looks bleak. If not an architect, he says he’d take his chances in politics. And if America fails to appreciate his talent, England, Australia or Singapore might open their doors to Vireak.

“Only hard work earned me the life I having right now. It promises bright future,” They Vireak says and hopes that younger generations as well as parents will understand the importance of education.

“It’s not money but parental love that serves as real encouragement,” says Vireak.

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