Chanthou’s Inspiring Journey to Become a Cook

Become a Cook

Daravatey Seng
Chanthou 16 years old, a trainee at Sandan Restaurant in Sihanouk vile is finishing her cooking for customer.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Daravatey Seng

14 November 2019

“I remember my auntie’s advice that when you work in a casino as a young person, you can make some good and quick money, but when you get older, they don’t need you anymore. If you want a good life when you get older, a life where you can be employable or run your own business, you need to learn life skills and gain experiences.”

Sandan Restaurant, Sihanouk Ville, 7 August 2019 – These are the words of Chanthou, a 16-year-old girl from Sihanoukville. We met her at the Sandan restaurant where she is training to be a cook.

Chanthou has been training at the restaurant for over eight months.  She wakes up every day at 6:30 AM, quickly gets herself ready for the day and walks about 30 minutes from home to the national road where the Sandan pick-up bus takes her to work. But Chanthou doesn’t mind the morning hustle. She is excited to go to Sandan because this is a part of a bigger plan for her future.

The Sandan restaurant is one of the M’lop Tapang training center where students like Chanthou - aged between 15 to 24 years old and out of the school system - learn about hospitality, customer services, bartending, and cooking. The course takes 12-18 months and in the end, all students are required to take the exam.

To graduate, each student needs to cook and decorate a unique recipe, as well as make drinks for trainers and the Head Chef, who then score students’ work. The successful students receive a Certificate of Graduation from Sandan training restaurant issued by the Ministry of Labor. More importantly, the graduates receive an immediate job placement in restaurants such as Sokha Hotel, Independent Hotel and other restaurants in Sihanoukville where they are entitled to a decent salary and accommodation.

Chanthou is from a poor family in a remote area of Sihanoukville and despite her desire to learn, she had to drop out of school at grade six. She grew up hearing stories from her neighbors and relatives who worked in casinos about violence, abuse, sex trafficking, poor health conditions and disrespectful behavior by patrons. Her auntie, with whom she is close, always pushed her to look beyond immediate needs and gain skills useful for her future.

“I remember my auntie’s advice that when you work in a casino as a young person, you can make some good and quick money, but when you get older they don’t need you anymore. If you want a good life when you get older, a life where you can be employable or run your own business, you need to learn life skills and gain experiences”, says Chanthou, “and this is how I made up my mind to register for the skill training program in M’lop Tapang training center”.

This training is made possible through the Partnership Programme for Protection of Children (3PC) with support from Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Fund (SDC) and UNICEF.  The training aims to provide targeted labor market programmes and business development skills to highly disadvantaged adolescents and young people vulnerable to violence, exploitation, trafficking, substance use and HIV infection.  Once the graduates are placed in different jobs, the social workers follow up on their well-being at work for the first three to six months.

Chanthou and her first plate of spicy chicken fried at Sandan restaurant, Sihanoukville.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Daravatey Seng
Chanthou and her first plate of spicy chicken fried at Sandan restaurant, Sihanoukville.

Chanthou has taken the training to heart.  She is very passionate about cooking, spending her free time watching cooking videos on YouTube, and wants to master her skills. She has two more months of customer service training and another four in bartending before she graduates. “Chanthou is hardworking and a curious girl. Moreover, she’s really determined about her work”, said Veha, the Sandan restaurant manager.

“Everybody calls Chanthou ‘idol’, including myself. She is so charming and friendly”, –said Sovan, the social worker for Chanthou’s case. Sovan loves working with Chanthou. He can see how the entire family is benefiting from Chanthou’s training. “I am so happy that the situation in her family is getting better since we started to work together”, said Sovan.

Once she graduates, Chanthou is expected to earn from US $ 260-350 per month at some local hotels/ restaurants. Chanthou’s dream is to open her own ‘blink-blink’, fancy restaurant, with help from her mother, who used to be a chief for weddings’ reception.

Chanthou is making juice drinks as she has rained in bartending skills for 4months.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Daravatey Seng
Chanthou is making juice drinks as she has rained in bartending skills for 4months.

“This training taught me a lot. I learned faster when practicing in the restaurant because practice helped me understand the process better”, said Chanthou with a charming smile on her face.  Chanthou is proud that she can already perform about 90 per cent of customer service tasks and is engaging with national and international customers. She is also proud that her skills will help reduce the burden in her family. Chanthou is currently receiving a monthly allowance of US $45 per month and some months, she gets a bonus of US $25 from tips.

“To my friends, come to train at M’lop Tapang center! You will learn good skills for a long-term career”, she says laughing.