Reflecting On PEPY’s Journey: Dream Management Project’s 10 Year Anniversary!

Posted on: September 18, 2022 Posted by: Kathryn McDaniel Comments: 0

Reflecting On PEPY’s Journey: Dream Management Project’s 10 Year Anniversary!

PEPY’s Dream Management Project is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this fall! Dream provides rural high school students in grades 10-12 with an elective goal-setting and planning course, mentoring and networking events, and the resources and motivation to stay in school and continue their education post-high school. Major events and project initiatives include:

1) Dream Talks, where youth and high school graduates from the high school share their stories to motivate the current students, 2) Sharing Events, where speakers and leaders of different industries visit the school to share how they overcame adversity and challenges, 3) Skill Fairs, where professionals and university representatives come to our partner high schools so students can network and engage with them directly to learn about potential opportunities, and 4) Study tours, where high school students are brought into Siem Reap (often for the first time) to visit universities, vocational schools, offices, and Angkor Wat so they can envision a future outside of their village while continuing their education.  

Since its inception, the project has helped over 4,000 youth and their families have a chance at a bright and positive future, reducing child marriage, illegal labor, and extreme poverty in our target communities. In the recent years, the Dream Officers started and expanded several new efforts, including providing training to our partner teachers, conducting home visits to guardians of at-risk students, and working with local leadership to help encourage youth and their families to prioritize education. We are so proud of the partnerships we have forged with these high schools so far and look forward to increasing the sustainability of the Dream project by having local teachers become a core part of the project’s implementation.  

For the project’s 10-year anniversary, we interviewed Program Manager, Savoeng Skut, to learn how the program was started, his background as a Dream Officer, and the impact we have made in our partner communities.  

1. How was Dream Project originally started?  

PEPY’s Dream Management Project started in 2012 in Kralanh High School. After our team conducted a needs assessment survey, we found there was a critical gap in the community. Students were dropping out of school in favor of working to support their family in unsafe and poor conditions or were accepting marriage proposals to not be a burden on their family. Overall, the communities we conducted research in had a general lack of awareness of the importance of higher education and the benefits of higher education. Second, students had no idea what they wanted to be in the future outside of becoming a teacher, doctor, or police officer. They did not have information on what to study to help them obtain a career, so, as a result, they had no motivation to continue their studies and pursue their dreams. 

We found the most critical years to help protect youth were in grades 10-12, as the pressure to drop out from the family gains momentum around age 15.  

In 2012, Sarakk Rith, who was PEPY’s Program Manager at the time (and later went on to become one of PEPY’s Executive Directors), led the research and the pilot project to initiate Dream. Originally, the goal of Dream was to help students identify their desired dreams and the necessary actions to pursue those dreams while building their confidence and increasing their access to necessary resources. The focus was to increase the percentage of students who complete high school and continue on to further education. While the goal and focus of Dream is still relevant today, the efforts of the Dream officers have expanded to building the capacity of teachers in our partner schools as well as engaging the entire family unit.  

2. How does the Dream team identify schools to partner with?  

The project team still identifies target schools using the same criteria. They must be rural high schools where the dropout rate of students is high AND the percentage of students continuing to higher education is lower than the national average. We also seek school partners with committed principals and teachers available to participate in the project.  

3. How did Dream lead to the start of the PEPY Scholarship? 

Even though we provide support to students they lacked opportunities after high school. They do not have much information about the scholarships available and where they can apply for them. We connect them to as many scholarships as we can find, but even with the available opportunities, they are not enough or do not provide enough funds. Dream and PEPY Scholarship are closely linked together. We give enough funding to cover all the needs of the scholar so they have a chance to join higher education or vocational programs no matter their family’s financial status.  

4. Tell us about your experience as a Dream Officer, what is one of your favorite memories?  

I have a lot of great memories! It was a positive experience working with high school students because I could support students who are like how I used to be. Seeing students change their behavior after joining Dream, really working hard in school, and realizing what they want to do and how they will achieve those goals is great for me. 

There is one particular student, from Snoul Commune, who did not work hard during her high school career. In Grade 10 she spent most of her time on her phone and was not engaged or interested in her future. In Grade 11, she decided to join Dream Class and she learned so much from the Goal Setting classes and identified what she wanted to do in the future. After we asked students to set up their daily schedule to improve their school work, and she followed her plan and worked very hard. By the end of the year, she passed the exam and then she decided to take the extremely difficult teacher exam. She passed the teacher’s exam for Chemistry which is very rare for rural students! Today, she is a teacher in secondary school helping to motivate the next generation to pursue their dreams.   

5. Why did you want to lead the Dream Project as the Outreach Manager? 

To be honest I was not so interested in working in Dream at first! When I first joined PEPY I wanted to be a Scholarship Officer but received the position as a Dream Officer instead. During the first month, I was unhappy with the job since it was in a remote area and I felt isolated with my only social time being in the classroom. But, from the second month, I got used to the new working environment and found I really liked being able to work so closely with students and have the opportunity to build relationships with them and interact with families in the community. Especially, I like supporting students who faced economic hardship to help them get opportunities for a scholarship. In the end, I was in the position from August 2015 to September 2019! Now, I feel fortunate to have had the experience of working with students who are a reflection of who I was.  

After working for four years as a Dream Officer, I wanted to do something new and improve my skills and ability. I wanted to take on a new role, and overseeing both Dream and the PEPY Scholarship Program was a great transition for me to continue helping more youth like me access higher education.  

6. What makes Dream Project special and unique?  

It is not just about providing soft skill lessons but about working with students and connecting with scholarship opportunities. We provide them with mentoring and counseling to keep them stay motivated so we are helping a person really grow and prepare for their lives.  

7. What are your future plans for Dream?  

I wish to see the Dream Management Project operating in more remote high schools and to be part of contributing to the success of thousands more youth. 

8. Why should potential donors and stakeholders support Dream? 

Having Dream is important for rural youth and their futures. With more support, we will be able to help students set their goals and take necessary actions to achieve them, helping communities develop and become stronger.  Without Dream, these youth do not have much opportunity or access to resources to continue their education and face many challenges financially which leads to early marriage, illegal work, etc. Your help will help put an end to that once and for all.  

Thank you to all the donors and partners who have helped Dream run successfully for over 10 years! We want to give a special thanks to Child’s Dream Foundation, we have been instrumental in Dream’s development and expansion since September 2017. If you would like to learn more about Dream and how you can support PEPY to help us continue this important initiative you can read our recent annual report here.