Situated along the banks of the Mekong River in the Cambodian village of Chiro is the Organization for Basic Training. Because most of the local households here earn less than $300 USD per year through fishing and agriculture – that’s less than $1 a day for an entire family – the OBT strives to provide a supplemental education to the children of this impoverished region.

Founded in 2007, the school currently hosts 300 students, many of whom walk several kilometers to attend class, along with a variety of projects and initiatives including recycling, providing clean water to nearby villages, organic farming, and beekeeping. But most notably, the OBT educates its schoolchildren in English, mathematics, computing and service skills essential to Cambodia’s growing tourism and hospitality sectors.

Every year, a handful of graduates are fortunate enough to be placed either into further training at an established vocational school or direct employment in the service industry.

One of those lucky individuals, Mr. Chhai Eang, was OBT’s first graduate to be offered the chance to attend the distinguished Sala Bai Hotel and Restaurant School in Siem Reap. Although most would have jumped at the opportunity, it was not an easy decision for him to make. His parents pleaded with him to stay behind in the village to help provide for them and his five siblings rather than chasing “hopeless dreams.”

Fortunately, going against his family’s wishes was probably one of Eang’s best decisions. After graduating from Sala Bai in 2009, he was offered a housekeeping job at a nearby Siem Reap hotel, which he eagerly accepted in order to help support his household back home. But it wasn’t until 2013 that a friend would reach out to him regarding a position on an illustrious lower Mekong River cruise ship – Heritage Line Jayavarman.

“Chhai Eang was an immediate fit to our team,” recalls Sentot Sutrisnadi, General Manager of Jayavarman. “It is rare to find such a kind-hearted individual, and his willingness to cooperate with his peers make him one of our most valued team members.”

When asked about his most memorable experience aboard Jayavarman, a smile suddenly appears on Eang’s face as he replies, “My happiest moment was when I won Employee of the Year in 2017. It was a complete shock, as I didn’t even know I was being considered for the award. And I think there are others on board more deserving of it than myself.”

Humble as he is, Eang was overjoyed to accept the prestigious honor. In addition to the certificate, which is framed and hanging next to his bed, was a monetary reward – all of which was sent back to his family in Chiro.

Heritage Line Jayavarman currently employs a total of seven OBT graduates on board. Passengers aboard Heritage Line Jayavarman and The Jahan can visit the joyful children of the Organization for Basic Training every week as they eagerly perform song and dance for their guests.