Leaving a Legacy: Sarakk’s Journey At PEPY And Future Plans
The PEPY Empowering Youth team has had the good fortune of being directed by incredible leaders throughout the organization’s history. Since September of 2015, the Executive Director position was held by Sarakk Rith, a gifted teacher and motivator, who helped the organization stay strong through its localization and establishment of new programs. In February 2021, Sarakk, officially announced his 6-month transition out of the position to continue his education in the United States.
Sarakk has been selected for the Open Society Scholarship to pursue a 2-year Masters of Science in Human Ecology (studying human interaction through education) Degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Depending on the state of the pandemic, he expects to head to the United States in August! He hopes that in doing so, he can encourage others to dream BIG and he believes this is the greatest opportunity for him and his family that he could ever hope to receive. While he spends his final months preparing and supporting Bong Watd as she takes on the Executive Director position, we want to revisit his professional journey and explore how he became the admirable role model that the students, team, and local community look up to today.
Sarakk first started working with Protect the Earth Protect Yourself (the original name for PEPY when it was an international NGO) in 2008 as an English Teacher for students in Grades 4-6. Prior to working at PEPY, he had taught English in a private school. As a teacher, Sarakk loved working in remote communities with children. His upbringing and drive was very similar to the students and he could see how much they wanted to learn. He also remembers feeling frustrated and concerned because his English was so limited.
At that time, there was still foreign leadership in the organization and he admits that he initially struggled to understand them as well as translate for them. Fortunately, the foreign team members created a very encouraging environment where he found himself feeling less and less disappointed and more motivated to learn. He would study English at night and get support from the team during the day.
His situation at PEPY was not unique. The team members were very diverse, with some teachers who had yet to graduate high school and some who had worked in government schools. Sarakk admired the foreign staff’s focus on skills development to make sure everyone was working toward their potential. In fact, Sarakk’s former English Project colleague, Chim Seng, is now working as the Provincial Coordinator of the organization JVC- We World. Sarakk credits the training that they received at PEPY as a major reason for their professional success.
Sarakk played a key role in helping guide the organization through its many changes. In the beginning, there were English and Computer classes and critical thinking skill programs, that then ballooned into community wide soft skill and environmental initiatives. The programs also started to include older students with the mission of getting students through Grade 9. In 2011, there were approximately 50 team members and the management team began to think what should the future direction of the organization be. During a management retreat, the group decided that youth needed to be prioritized going forward to advance Cambodia’s future. Sarakk was assigned to conduct a major assessment to see what training youth needed in order for them to achieve their goals personally and professionally. The study considered feedback from teachers, parents, students, and local leadership.
They concluded that programs for youth through Grade 12 were necessary to ensure that younger generations would continue their education and help bring sustainable change in their communities. In 2012, the shift was made to start providing services at high school programs and has ultimately led to all the youth programs (Dream, Scholarship, Learning Center, and Incubator) that we have today.
In addition to the program shift, the transition to Cambodian leadership that started in 2013 was also a major change that Sarakk was a part of. At that time, Kimline Nuch was the Executive Director that championed the shift and implemented PEPY’s new name and vision. The local NGO, PEPY Empowering Youth, became official in January of 2015. Sarakk briefly left the organization from September 2014 to August 2015 to work with Planned International and Samaritan’s Purse in the education sector, but returned to PEPY for the opportunity to serve as the director in September 2015, when Bong Kimline announced she would be moving on to pursue her own business.
As PEPY’s Executive Director, Sarakk oversaw several former beneficiaries becoming part of the team for the first time with scholars being hired as program officers. In 2019, scholars Channa and Savoeng were promoted to be program managers, serving as role models for youth across our target communities. After localizing, Sarakk ensured that local team members were able to continue increasing their skills and built relationships with local partners and agencies to make the organization more sustainable with less international resources. As a result, Sarakk successfully expanded PEPY sustainably and responsibly through many challenges, including this current pandemic.
Some of Sarakk’s proudest work is his donor and partner development and engagement. Sarakk is in awe of the international and local partners who champion our vision and believe in the work that we do. The whole PEPY community is what keeps him motivated every day and are so essential to the organization. He will miss all of our partner’s acknowledgements and praise that helped him improve every week. He thanks everyone, especially the donors and partners who have worked with him, believed in PEPY, and allowed the programs to continue.
Even though he has done so much for the organization already, Sarakk says, “I will spiritually never leave PEPY.” He plans to remain a part of the team as a PEPY Ambassador in the United States. He will be an advisor, and work to identify and encourage stakeholders in the United States to continue supporting PEPY’s mission. He believes that without PEPY, he would not have the opportunity to be going to the United States in the first place, and he would like to gather more support for the organization with every opportunity that arises.
In his absence, Sarakk hopes to see PEPY to continue producing youth change makers in rural communities while spreading our skills and curriculums to other organizations to reach as many youths as possible.
After finishing his Masters, Sarakk would love to return to Cambodia to follow his passion of teaching at the University level. He says, “I have been in love with teaching since starting my first job at PEPY. Teaching is truly what I enjoy and I never feel tired when I teach.” While he is looking forward to his future, he will miss everything from PEPY. Besides his office, chair, and table, he said that he will miss the team and will remember all the challenges we worked through together. He will always admire that we had such a great team committed to our vision, mission, and values. After Sarakk returns, he plans to always support or work for PEPY in some capacity as the organization and team has given so much to him, he would never fully leave.
As we all prepare to give Sarakk our thanks for everything he has done, he also has a huge amount of gratitude to the team, community partners, students, Board members, and donors. As much as we admire him, he admires the PEPY community for consistently giving him support and advice, as well as standing behind the many changes he implemented in the organization. We cannot wait to see what other amazing things he will go on to accomplish and will never forget his service to our organization.
Thank you, Sarakk!!