“The proudest moment of my life”

Vanra, 24, is Making Waves with her own salon business, supported by Mith Samlanh and the UNICEF-WELLA partnership.

Lydia Darby
Chem Vanra, 24, in her salon in Phnom Penh. October 31st 2019
©UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby
22 November 2019

Phnom Penh - November 5th. Vanra grew up waitressing in a Japanese restaurant to support her five siblings and parents. “I enjoyed it because I was able to learn two languages, and the staff treated me well,” said Vanra, “but I have always been interested in hair and beauty.”

When Vanra heard from a friend about the opportunity to study at Mith Samlanh (MS) NGO on a vocational program funded by UNICEF Cambodia, she sat her family down to persuade them to let her take part. She told them, “now I am young and have the energy to work, I need to get the skills to have my own business for when I am older.” Vanra studied Khmer, English, health, lifeskills and computing for a year, with short courses in hair dressing, nail art and makeup. When Wella hair professionals came to MS, Vanra was able to take an intensive course on hair dyeing, curling, styling and preparing equipment. “Students were so happy and we all learned quickly because of our incredible teacher,” explained Vanra. She always had the vision to start her own business, and that’s what kept her motivated. 

Mith Samlanh were able to give Vanra some great practical experiences. “I trained in the nail bar where I loved chatting with customers. I made some great friends, especially the other nail trainee,” Vanra told us, “the trainers were so good, they always encouraged me and didn’t fault me even when I made mistakes. They taught me the theory as well as the practical skills. I got good feedback, and this gave me confidence.” As well as these useful skills, Vanra learnt soft skills, including “honesty, responsibility and punctuality, how to share experiences and network.”

We spoke to social worker coordinator Jann Oudan, who has been working at Mith Samlanh since 1998.  “We think it’s important to support young people, we have the opportunity to encourage them and develop them, Oudan told us, “Vanra benefit from the training, soft skills, theory, knowledge, and practical experience. Wella provided a great service.” There are over 100 young people in training with Mith Samlanh this year, many were marginalized individuals and had dropped out of primary school. “This is where they gain skills and can make an income,” Oudan explained. His personal highlight has been watching the organisation grow over the years, gaining government recognition and seeing hundreds of youth get into work. “I see students go from no ability to being completely competent, with a sustainable income and the knowledge of how to manage it.”

Jann Oudan, Social Worker Coordinator at Mith Samlanh. October 31st 2019.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby
Sann Oudam, Social Worker Coordinator at Mith Samlanh. October 31st 2019.

“Of course, we have challenges, family finances threaten to make young people drop out of the program, so we work to support their families, so their children can continue.” Oudan explained that if youth needed fast money, they could work at Mith Samlanh alongside their studies. They do everything to prevent them going to work in factories and other low-paid jobs. “The training in English communication and computer skills helps young people write their own CV at the end of the year,” says Oudan. “Drugs are also a major problem, although we have developed a course for trainees on how to avoid getting involved with drugs.” Other challenges include youth without ID cards, as Mith Samlanh must support their paperwork which can be very difficult, and finding support for trainees with learning difficulties, which Mith Samlanh doesn’t yet have the expertise to assist with.

The mentoring programme for Vanra and her peers is part of the UNICEF-WELLA Making Waves Programme, an innovative partnership that united UNICEF with Wella Professionals. It builds upon UNICEF’s life skills and education initiatives by adding a component dedicated to training young people in hairdressing. This combined approach leverages Wella and UNICEF’s commitment to empowering young people providing a ladder out of poverty. 


Through working with NGO partners Friends International, Mith Samlanh in Phnom Penh, Kaliyan Mith in Siem Reap, the programme equips young people from the poorest and most vulnerable communities with life skills to help reduce their vulnerability and build better futures. Cambodia’s young population provides great potential for the country but many adolescents face socio-economic barriers and exposure to various risks. Through this programme, adolescents like Vanra can build the life-skills they need to realise their dreams. 

Chem Vanra, 24, in her salon in Phnom Penh. October 31st, 2019.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby
Chem Vanra, 24, in her salon in Phnom Penh. October 31st, 2019.

Vanra has now managed her own salon and beauty business for just short of one year. “This was the proudest moment of my life, opening up my shop. I was always the quiet one in class because I was busy learning. I always knew this was what I wanted to do. I was excited and scared when I opened the salon at first,” Vanra explained, “Everyone told me I wouldn’t make any money in the first three months, but I have five siblings and I couldn’t delay in making money.” 


Vanra was fortunate enough to train with Mith Samlanh, and now she is giving back to her community. “I now train four students myself, they pay to learn and then they get 30% of the customer fee. I use my network to help them find employment.”  

Before we left, Vanra said, “I just want to say thank you to Mith Samlanh and UNICEF for everything, and for Wella for the memorable experience. Thank you for the encouragement.”