Continuing a family commitment to helping develop Cambodia
2013 Australian Award graduate of the Carnegie Melon University, Reaksmey Hong grew up in a poor village in Kandal province where social justice issues were paramount. Reaksmey and his family believe in education as the key to economic growth and to end poverty; and foreign language is key to further education.
In 1994, when his mother took up a job with an NGO, he had a chance to go to secondary school in Phnom Penh, and it was then that he started learning English about five hours a week with private tutorial classes.
Reaksmey held two Bachelor’s degrees and a Master’s degree in Cambodia before pursuing his study in Australia.
“The quality of education in Cambodia at the time I was studying was very limited, so I chose to study in different fields to gain more knowledge.”
“As I had the opportunity, I did computer science and engineering and law simultaneously in 1999-2004, and a Master in Development Management between 2006 and 2010”, he said.
Reaksmey was inspired by his mother’s vision to help developing Cambodia through working in the civil society sector.
He learnt that volunteering work is a key to opening the career doorway to a good job, following education. So he started working in a volunteering job with a Cambodian NGO - the Youth Resources and Development Program - from the first year of his university.
He started his first full-time, paid job in 2003 as an IT and Program Assistant, and gradually developed skills and interests in social development work with an American NGO - Church World Service Cambodia.
In that organisation, he started as a Project Assistant for integrated rural development program in Svay Rieng in 2004, and gradually gained a senior managerial role in the same organisation in 2008. He told “It was my social development and leadership experience at the field with people in poverty that build foundation to the Australia Award.”
Before applying for an Award he had only heard or read about Australia – and that its universities offered international standard and quality education, and a “European” lifestyle. “That inspired me, and I soon found that universities in Australia were very multicultural”, he said.
Even the people and communities in Adelaide represented a wide range of cultures; before he went he was worried about how different things would be but he soon found that he could blend easily –“even Asian foods were easy to find”, he said.
However, Reaksmey was surprised – and a little disappointed – at the small number of Australians in his course: “only two of about 50 people enrolled in my degree”.
His wife and young daughter joined him in Australia, and Reaksmey made the most of his study opportunity.
“I was amazed by child care services in Australia, my daughter started speaking English from her early childhood, with care and support from talented and professional career and teachers”, he explained.
“This service, subsidized for scholarship students give me not only the full opportunity to study, but a great start in education for my daughter; she still speaks English at home until now”, he added.
He also had a chance to work for World Vision Australia in Melbourne as part of his Master’s degree, which gave him a brand new experience within the same civil society sector.
On his return to Cambodia in 2013, Reaksmey worked with an NGO – KHANA – in policy advocacy, research and strategy development. KHANA, is the largest national NGO providing HIV prevention, care and support services at the community level in Cambodia, as well as integrated sexual and reproductive health, family planning, maternal child health, TB and livelihoods programming.
After a year with KHANA, Reaksmey was offered a position at DFAT in Phnom Penh, as the Program Manager for Law and Justice, Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVI), and Australia Awards Scholarships.
This job brought him to another spectrum of aid and development. “I used many of the skills I’d learned while on Award in Australia – such as policy brief writing, aid management, and policy development, etc – and how to write documents meaningfully and succinctly.”
In early 2017, Reaksmey joined ActionAid Cambodia, as a Head of Programme, because he wanted a career to let him contribute more directly to people in poverty. ActionAid is an INGO operating across 45 countries.
In ActionAid Cambodia, an organisation with more than 40 staff in Cambodia, he uses many of the leadership and management, policy analysis, and program development skills he learned while in Australia.
“Action Aid does a lot of policy-based research and policy advocacy,” he explained.
“My current project with them involves global justice and poverty eradication. This involves empowering community groups by ensuring they know their rights and how to advocate for themselves and their communities.”
Reaksmey believes that working with an NGO gives him a lot of engagement with his country - and the opportunity to influence social change and justice from the individual and grassroots level.
Reaksmey’s wife also works for an NGO and she loves her job for the same reasons. They have a daughter and a son, but Reaksmey’s plans do not end here….
In the future he sees the need to be focusing on one specific field, which is public policy development.
“I will do a PhD on that topic. I want to investigate in depth about structural causes of poverty for women and vulnerable groups - and to support social development and justice in my country”, he added.