An Artisan’s Story: Investing in Our Local Staff

Seang Lai joined Senhoa in 2012. She is one of our top artisans and is currently in training to become a Junior Production Coordinator. Seang Lai has elected to use her real name, and this is her story.

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Due to financial hardships, Seang Lai ceased going to school in the middle of 7th grade to work with her family selling Khmer cakes and later being a tailor. While she was working and honing her skills as a tailor, she saw that one of her friends was studying English at Khmer Help Khmer English School and wanted so badly to learn herself.

One day she tagged along with her friend to the school, and the school director offered her free lessons as long as she helped tidy up the facility. Seang Lai happily went to the school to clean and learn English, while still working as a tailor, for 2 years. One day she met Senhoa’s Outreach Coordinator Kimang, who was also studying English at KHKES. Kimang was looking for a cook and cleaner for Senhoa’s office and asked Seang Lai if she would like the position. Seang Lai didn’t know how to cook but Kimang taught her, and she became skilled at the craft and enjoyed cooking for the Senhoa girls.

While she was cleaning the office, Seang Lai would always peek inside the jewelry room, and she daydreamed about working in there with the artisans. One day Kimang asked if she would like to make jewelry in the OOH program. Seang Lai gratefully accepted and has now been with Senhoa for 3 years.

She started as a trainee, became an artisan after one year, became a supervisor the next year, and is now in training to become our Junior Production Coordinator. Seang Lai has grown immensely in the past few years. When once she barely spoke English, she now speaks nearly perfectly and her writing is excellent (she keeps a daily journal in English). Seang Lai is responsible, always eager to learn and always helpful. During her work with us, Seang Lai was able to go back to school, advancing into 9th grade when she re-entered.

Senhoa has provided her with a scholarship to attend New York School, a private high school. She will be graduating from 12th grade next year and wants to pursue university studies. Seang Lai is our most talented artisan and would love to become a jewelry designer one day.

Senhoa would be honored to help her achieve her dream of attending college and reach her career goals. While jewelry is not for everyone in our program (many go on to become teachers, beauticians or hospitality workers with the skills and confidence they’ve acquired in OOH), we are happy that it is something SL has grown in and wants to continue to practice.

In August, some children were playing around Seang Lai’s family home and accidentally set it on fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but her family lost everything: all of their belongings, their beds, food, and the entire house structure. The Senhoa team quickly mobilized (in Cambodia and in the US) and collected clothing and supplies and money to rebuild their home. Volunteer Building Cambodia, a non-profit organization that builds homes, toilets and wells for Cambodian families in need, reconstructed the house at a discount for us. It was heartwarming to see everyone galvanize to help one of our team members. Because of the help she received, Seang Lai was able to continue her studies and go forth with pursuing her dreams.

The awesome team at VBC rebuilding Seang Lai's house that was burned down

September 25, 2015 by Lisa T.D. Nguyen
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