Celebrating Khmer New Year: Removed Restrictions Providing our Community Hope for 2022
In early 2022, there was a lot of uncertainty in the air. COVID restrictions started to be lifted in many countries while many Cambodians were worried that Omicron, the new COVID variant, would mean more extended lockdowns and school closures in Cambodia.
Fortunately, over 84% of Cambodians are fully vaccinated as of April 5th, putting the country in a unique position of being able to manage the pandemic and return to some normalcy earlier than its neighbors. Even so, we were elated and surprised to learn that all COVID restrictions would be lifted for the Khmer New Year holiday on April 14-16th allowing people to hold large gatherings during the week with no expectations of masks, and the return of music concerts and water fights within the city.
For the PEPY team, this meant that we could hold our Annual Staff Party, which had been on hiatus since 2019. The event, held on the weekend before New Year’s, is an opportunity for our team, alumni, stakeholders, and former staff to come together and celebrate what we have accomplished as an organization and engage in traditional games. Having events centered on positivity and joy, and acknowledging our hard work, is very important for us to build connections with each other as a community and for our well-being.
The pandemic took a toll on our team’s mental health and impacted our ability to fundraise for the last two years. Seeing the country beginning to return to normal has had a profound impact on our team and the PEPY community’s morale and we are beginning to see the return of donors, volunteers, and visitors coming to our office since restrictions were lifted.
Beyond our organization, the celebration of Khmer New marked a historical moment for our country, solidifying Cambodia’s commitment to being the most accessible and deregulated region in South East Asia. As a result, the hotels in Siem Reap were entirely booked out for the first time in years, with many youths being called back into work and street vendors out in full force for the weekend. The holiday provided a ray of hope to many of our students, alumni, and the entire community who have been waiting for tourists to return to Cambodia.
While the town was only thriving for a weekend, the community believes that the tourists coming to Siem Reap now, who are also experiencing the new and improved roads will help lead to a more bustling tourist season in October/November and help restabilize or even strengthen the economy.
While we remain committed to diversifying and expanding the economy beyond the tourism and hospitality sector at PEPY, we recognize that we do not have the capacity to provide every young person with the necessary training to make a career shift, and they might not want to move away from the tourism sector. Therefore, we are thrilled to see people in our community filled with hope and that there are now jobs and opportunities again for our students who are studying hospitality and tourism management.
Case in point, PEPY scholar, Sreyry, who graduated from EHT Paul Dubrule Vocation School in Hospitality and Tourism with a certification in Front Office and Housekeeping on March 30th, received a job offer immediately after graduation! This would have been unheard of just a few months ago and we are thrilled to see our youth achieving financial security so quickly after years of needing extended support from us.
Like the rest of Cambodia, we hope to see these trends continuing and that more tourists will make the venture to Siem Reap! We thank the government for prioritizing the well-being of Cambodians throughout the crisis and for making bold and impactful decisions that will help move Cambodia forward.