Tien's story

Teacher, Baray

Tien was born in Chrey Village, in the Teuk Commune, of Siem Reap Province. Tien is the youngest of 8 siblings, 4 sisters and 4 brothers. She is also a coach.

Tien started here education at École d'Hôtellerie et de Tourisme Paul Dubrule,  obtaining her Bachelor degree in Teaching Methodology with an emphasis on English.

Tien has a larger-than-life, bubbly personality. Her energy is higher than most, she has an uncanny playfulness that is unmatched by others. When she laughs the whole room erupts.  She has the ability to capture the attention and the heart of anyone she interacts with within a few short moments of knowing her. 

Yet, beneath her fun-loving demeanor lies a story of incessant obstacles trying to discredit, disqualify, and dehumanize her. Tien was born into a large family in a village northeast of Siem Reap. Her family survived the Khmer Rouge regime, but suffered greatly. They were forced from their home, their eldest daughter’s life taken, and faced with a constant battle of survival. When Tien entered the world, she was the sixth, and last biological child. Her family took in a two orphans, whose parents had abandoned on her family’s doorstep. None of Tien’s five sisters went to school.  Instead, they worked as builders or farmers, in order to support their family. In fact, her family discouraged her to gain an education, as the Khmer Rouge regime had killed people based upon their education level, and told her it was dangerous to attempt to pursue it.

Tien started school at the age of 7, were she attended the local village primary school.  The majority of her classmates did not possess the most basic of necessities- shoes, school supplies, or even a change of clothes. In order to earn money, she would go to the nearby Lake Baray after school and sell ice tea to the tourists visiting that beautiful landscape, which was the backyard of her family’s farm house. During this time, her curiosity for the outside world peaked. Through being exposed to various people of diverse backgrounds, a desire to learn English ignited. At the age of 15, as her adolescency lost its appeal to the foreign travelers, she outgrew selling tea to tourists and she adopted a job as a cleaner. During this time, her brother’s wife passed away and Tien took on the role of taking care of his home and his children. One day, as she was cooking for his kids, she was approached by some westerners from a local organization called Children Dreams Siem Reap. They had been watching her tand wanted to know her story.  They decided to donate money to help her tend to her nieces and nephews.

Because of the compassion and financial help from Children Dreams Siem Reap, Tien was able to afford English classes. At 18 years old, Tien began learning English from a local farmer in the village that charged her 10,000 riel per month ($2.50). Yet, as her passion to learn strengthened, her parents lashed out. Tien recalls, “After I graduated Grade 12, my mom could not understand why I kept studying. She would tell me that I was crazy and I needed to come back and work on the farm. She tried to arrange a marriage for me and threatened to kick me out of the house if I did not listen to her. She would call me lazy which hurt the most. I sacrificed so much. I barely slept. But she could not understand.” Tien’s family was not the only ones who disagreed with her pursuit of higher education. Often, the older men in her village would come to her house and scold her parents for allowing her to continue her studies. They would tell her parents that “no man wanted to marry a woman that was smarter” than him. They accused Tien of spreading this bad idea of higher education to the younger generation in the village, emphasizing that  she was not following the rightful duty of a Khmer woman. Yet, Tien persevered.

Tien earned herself a place in a well-respected hospitality program. From Monday to Saturday, she would wake up at 4 a.m. and work until 2 p.m. then go to her hospitality program from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. During this time, she  saved money for university with the hopes and desires of earning a bachelor’s one day. She crossed paths with the same volunteers from Children Dreams Siem Reap that had helped her financially in previous years. They were so inspired and impressed by Tien’s progress that they decided to sponsor her bachelors and offer her an English teaching assistant job.

For three years, Tien taught English at Global International School in the morning, attended University in the afternoon, then taught in her own home, to the children in her village, at night. Reflecting on teaching in the village, Tien says, “Even as busy as I am, I can never give up teaching in my village. I did not have this option to be able to learn English. So now I have to provide it to these kids to change this generation. To encourage them to push through because I did not have anyone here that believed in me. And I want them to know I do. I want to be a part of Cultivative Cambodia because I want to know and to learn something new. To give kids a good education."

Cultivating Cambodia, 2472 Patterson Road, Unit 1, Grand Junction, CO 81505