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As a seasonal company Pines & Needles has a long history of attracting humanitarian workers usually based in third world countries and conflict zones during the year, to work in our team over the Christmas season. Over the years we've had the privilege of employing humanitarians to work in our stores, in our office and even in senior management positions.

One of these humanitarians is Juan Antuña Ros, who has been with us for the last four years. During the Christmas season Juan manages our stores but the rest of the year he is focused on his social enterprise HDLF (Human Development & Language Foundation) - building schools in poor rural villages, training Cambodians to become English teachers and supporting graduates with university scholarships and job opportunities.

Nov Sokhalai (left) and Cheang Sophy (right)

HDLF Teacher Scholarships

Last year, the Pines & Needles stores team and their customers were able to fundraise a whopping £10,479 for Cambodian social enterprise HDLF (Human-Resource Development & Language Foundation). With the wondrous support from the Christmas tree company and their tender-hearted customers from all over London, the HDLF has been able to provide employment and full university scholarships for two of its junior teacher trainees.

Children in Cambodia

Cheang Sophy and Nov Sokhalai, both student graduates from one of the rural villages where HDLF operates have been blessed with the opportunity to pursue higher education and receive on-the-job training, whilst teaching English to the younger generations in the village. As well as providing access to life-changing education in rural areas, HDLF strives to empower and employ beneficiaries from the local community and train them to become teachers, humanitarians and entrepreneurs.

A Cambodian School

Cambodia, a country which is only just recovering from the brutal genocide of the Khmer Rouge, desperately needs investment in education, especially in rural communities. According to UNESCO the government invests only 2.7% of GDP in education, which is appalling for a country where over half of the population is under the age of 22. Furthermore, the total secondary net enrolment rate in 2014 was only 27.7 percent and the secondary school drop-out rate was a shocking 21 percent. The main reasons for this harsh reality are low socio-economic status, child labor, geography and gender discrimination.

Sokhalai - Teaching

Sokhalai, 19, is one of the lucky few that can attend higher education. She is about to complete her first year studying English at Dewey International University where she is also enrolled on the TESOL program. She aspires to be an English teacher and humanitarian fueled by a strong desire to help her community.

Sokhalai: ¨I’m really happy to be the first woman in my family to attend university! In the beginning my grandmother had a lot of doubts but now she is really proud of me and often talks about it to other people in the village.

HDLF team with scholarship teachers and PAN international volunteer

Sophy, 20, is completing a Bachelor Degree in Human Resource Management at Battambang’s University of Management and Economics. With most lectures happening on the weekends, Sophy spends his week at HDLF Kampong Preang, teaching English to the community, learning from his mentor and improving his own English by working with international volunteers. He also studies accounting at HDLF and dreams of becoming an agricultural entrepreneur once he completes his tertiary education.

Juan Antuña Ros, seasonal employee at Pines & Needles and Program Director of HDLF had this to say:

‘Sophy and Sokhalai are two incredibly driven and hard-working individuals that genuinely deserve this opportunity. I feel so privileged to see first-hand the transformation that these scholarships are having on their lives and the wider community. In 2019, I hope we can raise enough funds to sponsor a further three university scholarships for our teachers!’

For more information about HDLF's programs please visit their Youtube and Facebook or get in touch directly at hdlf.info@gmail.com If you are interested in volunteering your time in Cambodia and witness first hand the amazing work HDLF is doing, they also provide free volunteering opportunities in education and construction. These can be accessed via the Worldpackers volunteering platform or by contacting Juan directly.