Humans of Khmer America

Ron Ung

“I was called to move to Cambodia in December 2014 to help establish a Cambodia YMCA Learning Center for street children. Literally, these children pick up trash to collect pennies (riels). They begin working before the age of 10 and live on less than $1.25 a day. I was formerly the Senior Program Director of the YMCA Long Beach. In the street children program, I found a place to grow my passion in youth development and connect back to the country and culture that birthed my ancestors, a place that has now become home.

Witnessing the bonds that the participants formed with the children was beautiful, reminding me why I do this work. A few participants came back a second year—the kids remembered and were ecstatic to see a familiar, caring face. Many NGOs and youth organizations have a strong opinion about what youth need. The children of the Cambodia YMCA struggle with basic needs. We provide food and clothing, along with positive role models, education, resources and opportunities to succeed in this competitive, lacking environment.

To make a lasting impact for Cambodia’s children, they must be understood as they are—their daily lives, their social and economic conditions.  We must become a source of positive, solution-driven change. With the majority of the population under the age of 30 and the rapidly evolving economy, Cambodia is a quickly developing country with many possible futures. ACJ works to provide opportunities and inspiration to others to join the team on its next journey—which, for me, has never stopped.”

Ron Ung, 26
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Interview by Lauren Imbrock

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