Jaya House – One Year Later

By Anna Torkkola

Photographs by Pheakdey Khlok

When walking into Jaya House River Park, one can’t help but notice the enthusiasm of the staff. This exquisite five-star hotel located on the banks of the Siem Reap River caters not only to affluent travellers, but to the whole Siem Reap community. This became clear immediately when I spoke to the owner, Christian De Boer. Christian is particularly well-known around town for his efforts to reduce our collective negative impact on the environment. He makes a point of encouraging his own staff and other businesses in the city to get involved in various projects, including river clean-ups and replacing single-use plastics with better alternatives. “It’s not about trying anymore. We need to do it”, he said.

Jaya House Lobby 

His intense passion is not only focused on the environment, but also on the importance of education and the ideas of personal growth and individual empowerment. “I want to lead by example”, Christian said. And lead by example he did: in January 2018, Jaya House River Park enrolled its whole staff at the Australian Centre for Education (ACE), an English school that has been operating in Cambodia since 1992, in an effort to emphasise the importance of education, particularly English language education in the Cambodian context. Because Cambodia is a country where English is a means of upward mobility for many people, English language education, specifically, is a pathway to individual empowerment.

Anna and Justin

Kosal (nicknamed Justin), the Front Office Manager, raved about both his job at Jaya and his experience at ACE, calling it a “quality school [that] gives [students] a lot of benefits”. He also shared that not only has his English improved since he started studying in upper-intermediate levels at ACE, but that he has observed an improvement in the language skills of his colleagues. For Kosal, it’s not about completing levels, but filling language gaps, which he says are pronunciation and grammar. “To tell you the truth, ACE has helped me a lot with grammar. After two terms I understood more”. He stressed that there is always more to learn, and that the learning moves beyond the English language and to the world outside Cambodia. “I can learn something new that I have never known before… sometimes you work and work and you just know about the society in Cambodia”. His enthusiasm for the prospect of continuing his education was telling. “Study never ends”, he smiled.

Samnang, Yoem, Anna, and Nary

Yoem, a young HR officer at Jaya House who was sponsored at ACE from Levels 1 to 3, shared the impact of his ACE studies from a different perspective. Working in a behind-the-scenes office job, he generally has little need to speak to guests. He said that learning English has drastically helped him understand and produce documents and emails. “[Learning] English is very important for me. When I learn English, I can [communicate] better at work”.

Jaya also sponsors its cleaning staff. The most striking encounter was with Samnang, a housekeeper. Timidly, he had requested a translator for the interview, believing himself to be unable to communicate without one. However, the more he spoke, the more confidence he gained. Samnang has been with Jaya since the beginning and his only previous exposure to English was through the monks at his local pagoda. “When I stopped studying with the monks at the pagoda, I worked here and then Jaya House supported me to study at ACE. I have good luck: I work here and I can study also”. He considers himself lucky because his English studies have helped him in his job. Although the housekeepers are not expected to speak with guests, interactions can and do occur. “Before, I could not speak English. A little bit for me. Now it’s better than before. And then when I [work] here I can communicate with the guests when the guests speak to me. That means I’m better than before. Right now it’s better”.

On the way out, various staff members flocked over to say hello and to share their ACE anecdotes with great enthusiasm. Their happy smiles showed so much more than professionalism and careful customer service; they also demonstrated a deep pride in their work and the tangible results of their studies. Samnang summarised the experience best: “I’m very happy [at Jaya] because I have a lot of benefits”.

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