Another rowdy welcome from the students at People Improvement Organisation (PIO)

Heart warming love for Dharma Care helping to provide education to some of Cambodia's most destitute girls.

In 2019, some months after I joined the Board of Dharma Care, I invited Dharma Care’s CEO, Irwan Freeman Wyllie, to come with me to visit the People Improvement Organization (PIO) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Dharma Care had just established the Srey Lak Program for Girls (SPG) and we were hoping to expand the program to educate more destitute girls.


As soon as we entered the school building, we were surrounded by smiling children of all ages.  We were next warmly welcomed by John Thompson and Malyda Mean.  John is a long-time resident of Cambodia and as PIO’s Project Manager, has dedicated his life to offering world-class education to children from low-income families at PIO.  Malyda has held many positions at PIO since 2004.  Officially, she is PIO’s Deputy Director, but looks after all the children at PIO like a mother.  At the end of our visit, we invited all 45 kids from the Shelter (PIO’s boarding school) to a pizza party. 

In the three years since that visit, Dharma Care’s Srey Lak Program for Girls has grown, thanks to generous donations from Dharma Care’s supporters.  (You can read “A Short History of Dharma Care’s Srey Lak Program for Girls” here.) Currently, individuals and groups are sponsoring 13 girls at PIO.  Of these 13 girls, 6 have completed their high school education and are studying at various Cambodian universities. 

Like all schools around the world, the last few years have been tough for PIO’s staff and students.  The school had to close several times, and students had to return to their villages.  Even during the worst of the Covid pandemic, however, PIO staff helped by distributing rice and other necessities to their students’ poverty-stricken families.

Now that travel has once again become possible, my husband and I decided to have a holiday in Cambodia.  I made arrangements to visit PIO twice during our 2-week holiday.  It seemed that I would be able to have a meeting with PIO’s founder and CEO, Phymean Noun.  I had also hoped to once again finish the visit with a pizza party.

Unfortunately, however, I had to shorten my holiday because of a family emergency in Japan.

John and Malyda very kindly accommodated my sudden change in schedule at very short notice and we were able to visit PIO.  Once again, on arrival, we were greeted by the cacophony of excited children’s voices.  Immediately, we were given hugs and greetings in English by the girls in Dharma Care’s SPG.

They had prepared hand-crafted gifts for us: a colourful bouquet of paper flowers, a small jar full of knotted paper stars, tiny scrolls with hand-written good wishes, and braided straws.  Clearly they had been preparing for our visit for days. 


John and Malyda greeted us warmly and explained that we had arrived just in time for a special event: the conferring of Certificates of Achievement to students in Grades 7 and 8.  In small groups of 3 and 4, these students had read books in English and presented a review of what they had read.  And on this day, their hard work was being recognised.


I was whisked away to take my position on the stage in the auditorium, accompanied by deafening cheers and applause from the 200 or so students who had assembled for the event. My task was to hand the Certificate of Achievement to each of the students there.


On the stage with me were Mara, a volunteer teacher from Germany, and Seam Chantrea, a freshman at Mekong Kampuchia University.  She and her older sister are in Dharma Care’s SPG. All university students from PIO have day jobs to support their families.  They attend university at night.  Chantrea works as a librarian at PIO during the day and goes to evening classes.  She is majoring in Management.

Assisting at this event, Chantrea had a stack of certificates in her arms.  Mara started reading out the names of the recipients.  Each name was followed by loud cheering and applause.


I felt truly privileged to have been given the opportunity to participate in this event.  The students’ enthusiasm clearly shows that they are highly motivated to study.  Without schools like PIO, many of these students would have a bleak future. 


Han Phally, the first girl in Dharma Care’s SPG to attend university, was working and we were not able to meet.  However, she left me a warm voice message, welcoming me to Cambodia and thanking Dharma Care for supporting her education.  You can read her story here: “Han Phally’s Journey from Rubbish Dump to University”.


The pizza party will have to wait until my next visit.  Thank you John and Malyda, thank you Mara and Chantrea, and a big thank you to all the students at PIO.

Written by Miyako Armytage from her visit to PIO in Nov 2022.

With thanks to my husband Livingston, who recorded this memorable visit by taking lots of photos and videos.


Donate to the Srey Lak Program for Girls Project

If you would like to transform the lives of destitute girls, you can donate via Dharma Care to help provide more education to more girls.