Over thirteen years ago, Mr. Chea Thong, the founder of Vana Adventure Travel was struggling his life make his living in a slum in Phnom Penh. Now he is running bicycle tour business to expose the visitors about environmental protection and tour destination.
Ride a bike is a unique way to see the world and enjoy with fresh air in countryside as much as see the real life of local people in rural area. Moreover, bicycle is the best transport can help you to lost your weight, improve your health, economic instability and contributed in climate change protection. We must using bicycle everywhere which most important to protect environment, no pollution, the excellent elements for climate change solution, as much as we can create more jobs and more income from bikers and share the benefit to all relevant level at their tours destinations.
Because of poor standard of living, Thong’s parents couldn’t afford him for his study at university. After finished high school, Thong decided to leave his hometown moved to Phnom Penh. He finally managed to live in a slum in Borey Keyla community during 2003. He was staying in a small and oldest room in front of a big garbage site with several youths who are mostly drug addicts.
Poverty is the biggest challenge for him. There is also no clean water and electricity. Thong must be careful with his personal stuff such as clothes, shoes, bicycles and books. At the first three months, he was lured to test the drug but he used many ways to talk and reject it. After studying, he spent several hours at night to collect the garbage and earned around 2500 Riels per hour. It was too small for meals, books, Internet usage, bicycle parking fee at various libraries and universities.
Most of the time, Thong was in his high school uniform to visit Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP). He really wanted to study there but he didn’t have a chance because of the school fee. Sometimes he just came to sit on the grass at the university for reading and look at the luckier students there.
RUPP library— Hun Sen Library is free for students there. Because he had to pay 7,000 Riels for a visitor card, he also didn’t have a chance for reading books there. Luckily, the National Library is free entrance for every student so he spent most of his time there.
Thong started to know other schools and places providing short courses for free. US Embassy also provided Internet and 14 pieces of paper for free printing and also lab room that provided some books and newspapers for reading.
One year later, he had more chance since NGO built a center in Borey Keyla slum and collected all children and youths to get educated about harm of drug and Reproductive health. The NGO invited some youths from Mith Samlanh Center (Friend International) for vocational trainings.
After participating in the vocational trainings for six months, Thong was selected to be the peer educator in Borey Keyla Center. He has never given up his reading at the library and searching document from the Internet, which are the best sources for him to absorb the knowledge and English language.
Thong applied about 100 jobs for many positions such as security guard, waiter, cleaners, volunteer etc. But all result was failing because most of the positions required university students who own motorbike and mobile phone. He submitted his resume by e-mail and hard copies that made him spent a lot for prepare his resume and need to find the ways to go to apply directly at the NGOs, companies, hotels, and restaurants. However, it was good for him to know most of the roads in Phnom Penh. Some of his friends called him ‘Phnom Penh GPS’.
In the earlier of 2006, he got a full time volunteering job with local youths in Phnom Penh called “Child for Mobilization and Participation (CAMP)” that could gave him a small amount of allowance after three- month-probation. It was just 3$ per month but the job provided him a lot of knowledge and experience.
During his volunteer with CAMP, Thong got much opportunity to join the training courses with NGOs that invited CAMP’s members to join in their workshop. But most of CAMP’s members don’t have enough time because they need to study at the university. There was a big chance for him to join Peace Studies and Conflict Transformation organized by Asian Muslim Action Network. And it was his first experience to fly and travel by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai city in Thailand.
“I was among 16 youth candidates for Youth Leadership Challenge in Session 2 organized by Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC) and cooperated with US Embassy in Cambodia,” Thong added. The program was broadcasting on Cambodia Television Network (CTN). Thong had the chance to get the voice from the poor and especially his villagers and high school friends.
Thong used to summit his essay titled “City of your dream” to World Bank in Norway. He got a top ten writers for this competition. And after that he was the 2nd winner of essay writing competition for Wetland Conservation in Cambodia organized by Wildlife Organization and Panhasasstra University. He received 200USD cash as the 2nd winner that could make him to afford to change his bicycle.
In 2008, he could afford to pay to study at Royal University of Law & Economics Science (RULES) in the faculty of Law. After involving in social work for over 10 years, he started to run his small business on bicycle tours and founded Vana Adventure Travel. Now on, this company is offering such as the great adventure tours like cycling, hiking, camping, birding and photographic tours in Cambodia.
Thong said his business is not only just for income but also for environmental protection, green business, sustainable development as much as promote the local tourism sector in Cambodia. “Tourism sector is the vein of the economy of the Kingdom. It creates for jobs for the local and the excitement of the tourists,” he said.
Looking back, slum is the paradise for people who don’t have anything and need to live to earn for their basic needs in Phnom Penh. Therefore if government should be find better place for them for living if they really want to help them, Thong continued.
“Better place for slum people is not living in a villa or apartment. They just need to access to the school, small business, clean water and electricity supply, food safety, security, health service and so on”, he added.
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Cheer up! With our beautiful life and join together for the green planet.