Insider chat with… Charya Sam

Insider chat with… Charya Sam


Insider chat with… Charya Sam

6 September 2018

In a country where 60% are under age 30, education and professional training are key. We talked with the director of the Vocational Training Center at Happy Chandara School, helping Cambodian girls from humble families to become qualified hair stylists.

Family Ties.

I was born in Clermont-Ferrand (France), in a family from Bantey Manchey Province that has escaped the Khmer Rouge through the Thai border nearby. For my parents, integration to the French culture and social fabric was very important. Fourteen years ago, while living and completing my studies in London, I went for a South-East Asia trip with some friends. I met with the part of my family still in Cambodia, came back several times for short vacations in my ancestors’ country, and decide to settle in five years ago. I can see how the family structure impacts on the choices and mindset of my students, for someone born and raised within the Western individualism it can be puzzling, yet it is so ingrained in the Khmer culture.

Fostering vocations.

I started as an educator imparting English classes but my passion is to share some know- how, practical skills, and Happy Chandara (one of the school main sponsor is the L’Oreal Foundation) gave me the opportunity to thrive in that field. I’m impressed with the eagerness to learn and progress shown by young Cambodian girls. Their worldview is completely
different from the sense of entitlement and the material affluence that defines so much of the Western youth. They may lack of self-confidence at the beginning, yet they soon realize that they can reach real accomplishment on the professional level. Each year, most of our 20 graduate students find jobs in the many reputed beauty salons we partner with in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. And five of our former students are already running their own hair salons.


Young Asian women are aware of the international trends in fashion and beauty while keeping their own approach to standards of female attractiveness. Through social media, they get information on Korean or Thai cosmetics that are not only more affordable than prestigious European brands but also easily correspond to their vision. Western post-feminism has not really influenced the Asian conception of being feminine so far: high heels, rather emphatic make-up for special events… I’m encouraging my students to explore the “natural” look, with flowing hair and lighter foundation, eye liner, etc.

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