Meet Lai Theam: Women empowerment advocate & social entrepreneur.

Deeply passionate about empowering women, Laitheam co-founded and ran a series of workshops for high school girls in the rural area right after her first year at GSSE. This phenomenal experience proved her, once doubted capability, that: “if I want to do it, I will do it”.

1/ Can you briefly introduce yourself? What was your journey to GSSE?

My name is Laitheam Eang, and I’m a sophomore at GSSE (Global Studies & Social Entrepreneurship, School of Global Studies, Thammasat University)

I’m here at GSSE because I want to explore [the] outside world, apart from Cambodia. I like the major, Social Entrepreneurship because I have a passion for women’s empowerment. I want to make this passion alive by running a social enterprise while studying here. So I co-founded a social enterprise, Dare & Dream, which is an online/offline consulting platform working with rural girls from low-income families. The aims are to empower girls to pursue higher education, to inspire them to chase their dreams and to build a network for girls to help them go into further education. We hope to establish Dare & Dream in the beginning of 2018.

2/ What did you do last summer in Cambodia?

I conducted four workshops, called “Dare & Dream workshops” in the theme of goal setting, volunteerism and higher education preparation in high schools of 3 remote provinces in Cambodia. The total participants were about 200, most of whom were women.

I had [a wide] network to support organizing, from school principals, Peace Corps volunteers to other interested youth in high schools.

3/ How long did it take you to plan these workshops?

It was around 2 weeks for planning, and 2 weeks to run all the workshops. I worked almost full time during the break.

4/ What was the impact you hoped to make?

The goal setting workshop was about how to define, narrow down and set up a goal. After the workshop, most of the girls shared that they found the inner potential to keep their dreams alive. They knew who they were and pursued their goals.

To be successful in life, besides studying they should volunteer. I mean, volunteering is powerful and important to us. Volunteering helps grow our own capacity and network. We empower ourselves. Volunteering can bring us to higher education, job market, and other opportunities. At the workshop I invited my friends, with numerous volunteer experience, to share this message.

5/ How did you get started on the project?

Because I had the passion for women empowerment, and I saw the problem. In public schools in Cambodia, the curriculum lacks leadership, volunteerism, and soft skills training. I think it’s important to send the message that women can go further, beyond learning at school.

Besides, there are two people who helped me a lot at the earliest stage:

Gabriella. She asked me to list everything down in my head, from which I saw the gap and connected the dots together. I’m so grateful for her advice and connection to other potential people.

Originally I planned to have the theme of “Dare to dream”, which sounds a bit presumptuous. P’Kah Wei advised me it would sound better with “Dare and Dream”. She also gave me feedback on the agenda and workshop content.  

[Gabriella, from Brandeis University, did her internship at GSSE in the summer of 2017. Kah Wei is an External Relations and Partnership Lead staff at GSSE]

6/ Did you face any challenges in the planning process?

I got a $500 fund from a past program I joined, YSEALI (Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative), to cover the workshop expenses. However, I wanted to have more donors, but it was short notice. Instead, I received merchandise such as T-shirt and books and distributed them to the participants.  

As for [personal] factor, sometimes I was too tired after working long hours. I had so many roles at once: communicator, lesson designer, and negotiator. It would be great if I had a team to work with, but at that time I was in Thailand and the one to initiate the project, so I had to get everything done by myself.

7/ Despite the above difficulties, what is the personal motivation to keep working? How did you grow personally with this project?

In my community, there are a lot of girls dropping out of school at secondary education level. As a result, there’s a gap between the potential women can reach to and what they actually have.

My vision is to have more girls pursuing higher education. The model now is this: Stop studying, get married or migrate to other countries to work. I think this is bad. I want to be their role model and create more role models for the community.

I see myself a little bit older in terms of maturity. I learned how to make a concrete plan, engage more people, and send the proposal to donors.

I feel braver and more independent of myself. If I have a plan or project, now I do not hesitate any longer. Just do it. Once you do something, others will get attracted and join you. If it was last year, I would tell myself: “Maybe I can not do it”. But here right now, if I want to do it, I will do it.

8/ What do you hope to do next? Will it be a continuation of this project?

Launch my business, along with another 2 co-founders, in the beginning of 2018. We had a partnership with an organization in China, Development Innovation Insider. They are providing financial and logistics support.

9/ Who should I talk to next?

Limon for her experience at Mae Sot, Thailand or B, who taught English to students in India


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