A message from Co-Founder Julian about the meaning of Thomlang:

When I decided to go to Cambodia as a fresh high school graduate to volunteer at an Austrian organization, I expected it to be an eye and mind-opening experience. However,  I never expected it to have as much of an impact on my personal life as it ended up having. I was originally planning on going to Cambodia once in my life, just for a few months during my gap year before returning to Austria to mind my own business and start medical school. That was the plan. Originally.

What happened instead is that this “once-in-a-lifetime volunteer trip“ has become a life-long commitment. I’m aware that this story may sound very cheesy or pretentious, but the people in Cambodia that I met when they were children or teenagers have become some of the most important people in my life. I have spent more time with them over the past seven years than I have with my actual family in Austria. Our relationships have grown naturally into that of a family, like an older brother that looks after his younger siblings.

I am so lucky to have been a constant thread in their lives for so long. I am incredibly proud of all of these students,  as I have watched them grow up and experience the ups and downs that life has brought them including puberty,  graduating school, and stepping foot into the world outside of the orphanage that they grew up in.

All of these are young people, that are not fortunate enough to be supported by a healthy family. 
Although it was not my original intention, I have filled a role of support and stability for these students.  They have truly let me into their world. They share their dreams, favorite memories, childhood traumas, hopes, doubts,  biggest fears, and so much more, with me.

I have come to realize that these children will continue to be in my life forever. I have also come to realize that they might need me even more than ever before during their adult years – just like we all still need support from our families as we grow older. Whether it be financial support, emotional support, advice, or simply the feeling of being loved and supported unconditionally. This is why founding my own organization has been an ambition of mine for quite a few years now.

Although I have been planning on starting this organization for a while, I never once thought about what I should call it. But when the moment finally came where I had to fill out the registration forms, it came to me naturally: Thomlang.

Thomlang in Khmer means „to grow up“. It is a very simple verb, and yet holds a meaning that is so representative of what we are and what we will continue to be: a family that grows up together.

Not only have I been lucky to witness these children grow up, go through different stages of childhood and adolescence, and slowly but surely grow into the wonderful young adults that they are now – they have been watching me grow up as well. They met me as an 18-year-old kid, so young and naive, with the dream of becoming a doctor. They now know me as a 25-year-old who will graduate medical school next year. They too have seen me go through different phases, growing and changing. They have seen me succeed and fail. But most importantly, they have seen me follow my dream no matter what.

That is why Thomlang is so meaningful to me, and why it puts everything that we do in this organization in a nutshell. When you grow up together you support each other in all ways imaginable. Obviously, financial support plays a major role here, but so does emotional support. Being the person that they confide in, and that listens to them when they need it the most. Being the one who lifts them up and encourages them when they are at their lowest, and the one that is so proud of them when they are at their best.  

Together with your help and support, we can make sure that they will be taken care of for as long as they need. Together we can empower them to achieve an independent adult life, capable of fully providing for themselves and their future families. 

There is a long journey ahead, and the path may not always be easy but just like our families will always be a safety net for us, Thomlang – Cambodian Youth Support will be just that for these children.