Tep Livina used to be a gangster who made a 360 degree turn with his life when he decided to enter school after being shot and badly injured. He came out a valedictorian in one of Cambodia's toughest language schools and soon after established his own learning institution to help Cambodian youth like him.
Then there's Kit Loring and Carrie Herbert, directors of Ragamuffin International, an institution which uses art and theatre as therapy to those ravaged by war, conflicts and deep emotional stress.
with Kit Loring and Carrie Herbert of Ragamuffin International
Sovathana Nana came from an impoverished family in Kompong Cham, but through sheer audacity and determination, she pushed herself to gain education and is now a rather accomplished counselor, radio presenter and president of a local youth volunteer organization.
There's also Piroska Bisits Bullen, a public health specialist who taught us how research and data study can lead us to make better decisions!
I also met and befriended a math wiz who represented Cambodia in the world math olympiad. He wrote 5 books starting when he was just 15 and at 22, is now head of a multi-million dollar company which specializes in gold trade.Saing Darareaksmey is truly a young but fiery dragon.
Then there's HRH Princess Norodom Soma, niece of the king of Cambodia who broke all of my stereotypes of all princesses and royalties. A full time journalist and writer, Princess Soma and her family were one of the first political evacuees who moved to the US during the war. Now permanently back in the kingdom, she brought with her a sense of freedom and individuality that sets her apart form any royal you would encounter.
While any princess in their right mind would be comfortable in a caravan of luxury cars swarmed by bodyguards, Princess Soma rides a simple tuktuk everyday. Yup, not even a taxi!
with Sovathana Nana, her boyfriend, Princess Soma and Dararaksmeay
But I will always remember her for walking into the TEDx after party, a bit late, because she had to go home after the event to work and answer emails. I just ordered 3 fish mini-burgers at the FCC rooftop and upon seeing her, she came up and asked me where the food was. Told her that the open bar was over a few minutes ago. She let out a big sigh and said "Too bad, I'm starving!"
So out of courtesy, I offered her my remaining 2 burgers but she asked "Are you sure???".
"Oh yes, please help yourself to these"
She then grabbed one and offered her assistant the other one.
Little did she know that I instantly became her biggest fan.
The princess ate my fish burgers and that was probably the most amazing yet surreal experience I had ever encountered at TEDx Phnom Penh and taught me a valuable lesson that royalties are still mortals like us and she is probably the only one brave enough to let everybody know.
Oh, and the three photos above were taken with her camera which she emailed to me right after the event.