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Activist Has Hopes of Being CNN’s Top Hero

PHOTO SLIDESHOW by Josephine O'Hara, courtesy Nuon Phymean, click here.

Phymean Nuon, the founder of an organization that helps hundreds of children working at a dump outside Phnom Penh, has been nominated as CNN top “Hero” for 2008.

Phymean Nuon’s People Improvement Organization has been offering free schooling to children who scavenge at the site for four years.

Her status as “Hero of the Year” will be voted on in an online poll at, and she has already been selected inside the top 10, chosen from 3,700 other nominees from 75 countries.

“If I get the most votes selected by the public…I will receive an additional $100,000,” Phymean Nuon, who has already won $25,000 in the contest, told VOA Khmer. “I will use the award money to build a new orphanage center for street children. These children are our next generation, and our country depends on them.”

Phymean Nuon was born in Kampong Cham province and raised alone a three-year old niece whose mother had died, at age 15. Most of her family had either been killed under the Khmer Rouge or fled to refugee camps in Thailand, she said.

Phymean Nuon worked hard to stay in school, she said, realizing the importance of education, before finding work with UN agencies.

She established her own organization in 2002 after watching a group of children fight over a barbecue chicken bone she had thrown in the trash, she said.

“I remembered how hard it was in my life, to live with the support of a parent,” she said. “I knew that there was something I could do for children who didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. I had to do something to help them get an education.”

“My life is connected to those children who need help,” she said. “Nobody wants to work in the garbage dumps and sleep on the street. I feel very joyful and warm when I see the poor children happy, enjoying themselves, smiling with the hope of the future.”