"It's not a matter of who you were, but who you are now,” said Vannak Soriya, 17, who is well-known as a young anti-violence role model in her community.
Vannak Soriya is familiar with being an outsider. A reformed adolescent gangster, she would fight in school – when she decided to attend – and she associated with the drug users and thugs in her town. But over the last two years she has changed, for the better.
Her personal transformation started when friends, teachers and parents pushed her to join the Koma Punlork Thmey Club of Legal Aid of Cambodia. The club changed her from local gangster to community role model.
She said that to be a member is a once in a lifetime experience. The group trained her in dealing with aggression and violence.
“Every three months, we meet in Phnom Penh to train and learn how to help our community to prevent violence. We role-play, hold group teaching sessions and individual problem solving tasks, create campaigns and so on.”
Vannak Soriya then applies these skills to her own community.
“My group and I reach out to particular villages. We perform and teach in order to foster a culture against violence, drug abuse and stuff related to that.”
But sometimes Vannak Soriya is ignored, especially by adults and older people when she tries to teach them about domestic violence and the law.
“It’s hard to teach them because they think I’m young and I used to be a gangster,” she reflected.
Despite these critics, she holds strong to her cause.
“I must be tolerant with those people because they don’t really know who I am now. They just think I was a gangster.”
She remains committed to her work, and keeps approaching these communities until they commit to non-violence.
“What satisfies me the most is that I can convince my former fellow gangsters to join the club and change. Now more of us are able to help the community.”
Vannak Soriya has becomea role model for children and youth. She calls herself “a good child, a good student and a good friend” who can improve the community.
She proudly uses herself as an example of how much someone can change.
“Look at how much I could change myself and shape my future. If I can do it, I’m sure all of them can too.”
In the future, Vannak Soriya aims to have a career as a lawyer and help the poor. She hopes to develop a positive and bright future for children and young teens in need of guidance.