Why Local Internships Matter: Oudom’s Case Study

Cecillia Bæk Hansen

In Cambodia, socio-economic challenges often hinder access to further education and employment, which means that many young people face difficult barriers on their path to a brighter future. With limited resources and opportunities available, they find themselves caught in a cycle of poverty, struggling to break free and pursue their aspirations. In this landscape, guidance and support are needed to help young people gain access, overcome obstacles, and unlock their full potential. At REACH, one way of doing this is through our REACH Youth Pathways Internships.  

An integrated part of the REACH Youth Pathways program is centred around providing real-life working experience and various educational courses through 6–12-month internships on-site at our centre. The REACH Internships target young people aged 14-18 who are not yet employed and have either finished high school or dropped out of public school. The aim is to provide them with the financial stability and support needed to grow and learn in a safe environment.  

The REACH Youth Pathways students during one of their monthly educational excursions.

For our younger interns who were unable to complete public school, our aim is to build their capacity until they are old enough to go onto Vocational Training placements or fair employment. Whereas for our older Post-High School interns, our aim is to provide them with practical work experience while also supporting them with their job applications or scholarships for further education.  

We first commenced our internship placements back in 2022, hosting 4 young adults from Journeys Within Our Community’s (JWOC) ‘Better Futures Programs’. Since then, we have proudly facilitated 18 internships in total, with 11 graduates who are now in either fair employment, studying further education, or both. 

In this blog post, we dive into the transformative impact of REACH internships by highlighting the case study of Oudom, a past intern at REACH. Oudom’s experiences exemplify how an internship can serve as a life-changing opportunity for Cambodian youth.  

JWOC student during her 6-month internship at REACH Siem Reap.

The Risk of Falling Through the Gaps 

Throughout their education in Cambodia, students are not provided with much guidance about future career opportunities, and many young people feel unprepared and lost when they finish High School.    

Additionally, the drop-out risk and drop-out rate in public schools in Cambodia increase drastically when students enter Secondary School – and is exacerbated further when they reach High School. According to UNICEF, this is because ‘Early Warning Drop-out Systems’ mainly intervene at a Primary or Lower Secondary School level, only focusing on younger children and not pre-teens or youth. Drop-out students often end up doing illegal labour under dangerous and harmful conditions in order to earn an income for their families, leaving them vulnerable to diseases, injuries, and trafficking. 

The minimum age for legal employment in Cambodia is 15 years old, according to the Cambodian Labour Law, minors (under 18) cannot sign an employment contract without the consent of their parents or a guardian, and they cannot be employed to perform night work either. According to UNICEF, most Vocational Training Centers in Cambodia do not take on students before they are 16-17, and re-enrolment in public schools is often halted by students’ families due to a general perception that schooling does not increase the chances of youth gaining more profitable employment.   

Therefore, drop-out students and students who are behind in public school are at risk of falling through the gaps—especially the students not yet old enough for legal employment or schooling alternatives like Vocational Training. Initiatives like Internships can, therefore, help to fill some of these gaps. 

The REACH Youth Pathways program offers tailored counselling and complementary education opportunities to impoverished youth so they can have a brighter future.

Oudom’s Experience as a REACH Intern 

Before Oudom’s journey with REACH began, he was a shy and quiet child from a farming family living in the Kampot Province in Southern Cambodia. With limited resources and opportunities, as well as an upbringing marked by financial struggles and familial responsibilities, his path seemed predetermined. 

However, his life took a transformative turn when he discovered JWOC NGO and got accepted into their ‘Better Futures Program’, moving to Siem Reap. During his time at JWOC, Oudom got the opportunity to become an Intern at REACH. REACH has partnered with JWOC since 2022 and regularly welcomes cohorts of JWOC students as interns. 

During Oudom’s 6 months internship at REACH, he immersed himself in various roles, including teaching assistance and classroom support. He helped our REACH teachers teach the daily English and Elective Lessons, which helped him develop his English speaking and computer skills.  

Udom while assisting the Education program at REACH Siem Reap as part of his internship placement.

His internship at REACH became a pivotal moment, where he not only learned practical skills but also discovered his passion for teaching and knowledge sharing. When asked about what the most important thing he learned as an intern at REACH was, Oudom mentioned that he “learned about teaching methodology and how to interact with the students in the best way possible. Even the students who had difficulties.”  
Oudom emerged from the Internship Program with newfound confidence, but he was also worried about his future. While he got support to finish High School from JWOC and REACH, he was also volunteering in a local library called Bannalay Siem Reap. He loved supporting the young people who came to the library to learn music, art, or reading, but he also knew that he needed to be able to earn an income after High School.  

With the help from our REACH Youth Pathways Leader, Oudom therefore started to apply for jobs and scholarships, which landed him a job as an English Teacher at Teach Smart International School in Siem Reap. Additionally, Oudom was one of the lucky recipients of a fully funded university scholarship from JWOC, and he has been attending the University of Southeast Asia (USEA) since the beginning of the year.    

As a result of the holistic career guidance and work experience provided to Oudom through our NGO in collaboration with JWOC, his future goals are now clear to him: “I have that vision of seeing young kids receive scholarships and opportunities. My career aspirations are to see myself improve and develop into a great teacher and person.” His advice to younger students is to become more involved in their community. Before he founded JWOC and REACH, he mentioned, “It was too much for me to finish High School. I was all alone. But now I have found my interest and people with the same interest.”   

Udom learning how to fix a city bike at the REACH Repair Shop program.

Collaboration Is Key 

Oudom’s story serves as an example of what can happen when youth in Cambodia receive holistic support. Through REACH’s partnership with JWOC and other organizations, we hope to continue to empower youth across Cambodia, providing them with opportunities for personal and professional growth.  

As of April 2024, we have had 9 of our intern graduates go on to both enrol in university and acquire full-time employment. 4 of them have stayed at the REACH as staff, while the others have found fair employment in Siem Reap as either Teachers, Accountants, Waiters/Waitresses, or Shop Sellers. The remaining 2 intern graduates are currently only in university or only working, leaving us with a very even distribution between education and employment among our intern graduates.

We are incredibly proud of all our youth and are delighted to see the tangible outcomes of our programs and the commitment of our team at REACH.  

As we celebrate the achievements of individuals like Oudom, we also recognize the importance of collaboration and partnerships in driving sustainable change. Our continued partnership with JWOC has not only facilitated access to internships but has also paved the way for our REACH youth to enrol in JWOC’s programs in return, further expanding their education and career prospects. 
Another very important partnership to mention here is the South-East Asia Foundation (SE Asia Foundation), which has played a significant role in our achievements, awarding a total of 3 fully funded University Scholarships to our interns, 2 of whom are now full-time employees our organisation, and 1 who is one of our current interns. 

Collaborations with like-minded organisations are crucial to reach the ultimate goal: helping more young Cambodians have a prosperous future.
As we look towards many more positive outcomes, we will continue to strengthen our strategic partnerships with Universities, Vocational Training Centers, NGOs and the private sector to ensure that each of our students from REACH can access scholarships and go on to pursue their dreams. 

In conclusion, REACH internships serve as a catalyst for empowerment, equipping Cambodian youth with the skills and opportunities they need to thrive in a rapidly evolving world. As we look towards the future, we remain committed to our mission of helping our students stay in school and break the cycle of poverty.   


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