PEPY in Cambodia

I was leading a course in London last year during which I was coached in front of the room on a dream I’d had for a while of making more of a difference in the developing world. I was saying that I would love to pass on some of our amazing coaching skills to people that could make a real difference (like community leaders, teachers and social workers) to young people in countries that didn’t currently have access to these skills.

During the break, one of the participants, a lovely young woman called Daniela Papi Thornton, approached me and said something along the lines of, “Well if you would ever like to come to Cambodia and do something for our NGO, we would be delighted to have you.” How’s that for instant results from coaching?

It turns out that Daniela and a friend had been so touched and inspired by Cambodia when they first visited over 10 years ago that they ended up building a school out there. In fact they ended up funding the construction of 6 schools (4 primary schools and 2 secondary schools) and set up PEPY Empowering Youth, an NGO which focuses primarily on university scholarship programmes providing training, support and empowerment for some of Cambodia’s youth. They also run a Dream Manager Programme in a rural High School in Cambodia which provides support and inspiration to the students to live their dreams.

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As a bit of background, Cambodia was under the rule of Pol Pot and the communist Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979. During this ‘killing fields’ time more than 2 million Cambodians were killed, with the genocide focused primarily on intellectuals and city dwellers. Even if you wore glasses it was seen as a sign of intelligence and a reason for being killed. Once liberated from Pol Pot, Cambodia went through about 20 more years of political tension and instability until the late 1990s. Today it is a peace loving country that is in the process of re-building itself after years of hardship.

After our serendipitous meeting at the coaching course, Daniela and I met up to discuss what might be most useful to PEPY Empowering Youth. We decided the most powerful way forward would be to create a tailored workshop to train basic Coaching skills to the PEPY Team, including its Dream Managers and adults from other NGOs that work with Cambodia’s young. That way we would be empowering these adults with coaching skills they could use to support the students to live their dreams.

We also decided that it would be great to take the students through a process that would build their confidence and give them a taste of Co-Activity. To this end, we devised an experiential Youth Empowerment workshop, which would involve the students getting in touch with their dreams and their inner resources as well as making them aware of the mindsets that can support them and the mindsets that could hold them back.

A few months later I was sharing my dreams and plans with a friend and fellow coach Tony Barton. I knew that I was procrastinating on making the workshops happen by myself and asked him if he would be interested in leading them with me. He jumped at the chance and instantly this idea became fun as well as meaningful. That pleasure/purpose combination was like rocket fuel – we booked our tickets, developed the programmes and were out leading the programmes within 6 weeks.

Both workshops went incredibly well with the adults and the students getting great value from them with many requests for us to come back and do more.

One of the things that struck Tony and me was the real passion for learning that the students had and how happy the Cambodian people were in spite of their recent troubled past. They know that education is key to improving the lives of themselves and their families and are prepared to work hard for it. Many of them wanted to be doctors, teachers, a professor or to work in banks. They have big dreams and high commitment levels and just need a little help to make it happen.

As well as leading the workshops, Tony and I took a few extra days to relax and explore around Siem Reap and we went to some of the most amazing ancient temples in the world. We also had the great pleasure of visiting the rural High School where PEPY provides the Dream Manager Programme and seeing and being involved in one of the Dream classes. The trip was a perfect balance of purpose and pleasure. We both hope to do more.

This experience has led me to plan a trip to India later in 2015 to run a CTI Co-Active Coach Training Programme for teachers, social workers and leaders that work in orphanages for the children’s charity Hope For The Children. We also plan to run a women’s empowerment programme and workshops for around 600 children.

For more information about PEPY Empowering Youth, go to