Journeys Of Change is a project started by 13 young Cambodian students, giving tourists in Phnom Penh the chance to enjoy the authentic Khmer experience.
All of the students are from Liger Leadership Academy (LLA), and Journeys of Change hopes to provide positive employment, allow students to share the daily life of Cambodians, and hopefully make a positive impact on tourism in the country.
The young entrepreneurs have created a bicycle trail encompassing a visit to a pagoda, food stops to taste local delicacies, experiencing Cambodian culture and even biking through the countryside. Speaking English and with great knowledge of Cambodian and their communities, the young guides provide insight on the ever-changing country.
The students, aged 14 to 16, were taught how to create businesses that will support the local economy, and trained on responsible tourism and nurtured to provide cross-culture learning. The tours provide funding for their future education.
We had the opportunity to interview Sreypich, project manager of Journeys Of Change, and learnt more about their future plans and some challenges they faced.
The following interview has been edited for clarity, length and flow.
What was the idea behind Journeys of Change?
Sreypich (S): It was created by 13 Liger Leadership Academy students. We had 7 weeks to develop the business. The 13 students were divided into three different teams – business, tour developing, and marketing. After the 7 weeks, 4 of the 13 students took on leadership roles to maintain the business.
Why did your team decide to focus on sustainable tourism and not some of the other sectors?
S: We decided to go into the sustainable tourism business because we observed an increase in the number of tourists and felt like there was a need to allow travelers to experience a different side of Cambodian life. With the lack of guides promoting the authentic Cambodian life, we felt that this was an area of business for Cambodia.
Also, we wanted to share the past, present, and future of our country. The tourists in Cambodia often visit famous tourists’ spots and do not have a good understanding of our country and Khmer people.
Why are bicycles the chosen mode of transport for this project?
S: We want to be an environmentally conscious business hence we chose bicycles as our mode of transport. Tourists can enjoy the fresh air, observe the authentic Cambodian lifestyle, all while exercising and reducing the level of CO2 emission. We love our country and we love the environment so bike tourism seemed to be a logical choice.
What is your favourite spot to take tourists to?
S: It is difficult to decide on one because I like all of them equally. But if I had to choose one, it will be Sarika Keo pagoda. There, we tell the story of Cambodians going through the Khmer Rouge and explain the education system in Cambodia. It is also at that stop where we take a break and get to better know our clients!
How has this project better develop your skills?
S: Participating in Journeys of Changes has taught me a lot – leadership, problem-solving, and communication are three of the major skills I have developed. Since I am one of the business managers, I work really hard to improve my business knowledge and also improve my leadership skills to lead my crew. Also, I am one of the tour guides, so I have a lot of responsibilities during the tour and have to be flexible. For example, seeing monks at the pagoda is not a guarantee. However, last week, we saw four monks and had an opportunity to talk with them and we translated the conversation for our guests!
How has the project prepare you for the future?
S: This project has really helped me for my future. When I want to create my own business in the future, I know the steps needed and how I should deal with a problem when happens.
Lastly, what are some plans for Journeys of Change?
S: We hope to get more clients and make more profit. As a business, we would like to build our brand and even expand the tours to have a variety of activities such as hiking and discovering new routes. In addition, we want to purchase more bikes, helmets, jerseys and name tags. We might even give opportunities to college students to be the weekday tour guides. Similarly, Journeys of Change would like to provide training programmes for guides who are interested in this project.
Lastly, the business will continue to be guided by the Journeys of Change Board of Directors that is composed by of Liger Leadership Academy facilitators and senior students.
LLA is a residential academic programme that provides a full scholarship for economically-disadvantaged Cambodians. Through projects like Journeys Of Change, Liger students hope to empower young Cambodians to be the young entrepreneurs of tomorrow.