“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai

The School

students in chef class

Created in 2002 by the French NGO Agir Pour Le Cambodge, Sala Baï is a free hotel school based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Each year, the school trains 100 young disadvantaged Cambodians in the four main professions of the hospitality industry: Restaurant Service, Cook, Front Office and Housekeeping.
During 12 months, the school covers all the training costs (lessons, school supplies, books, uniforms), and daily expenses (accommodations, food, transportation (bicycle), insurance and medical expenses) for the students. The school is totally self-funded and relies on the generosity of its donors, sponsors and partners. It also draws revenue from the on-site training hotel and restaurant which are open to the public. As a result, the school is able to fund  approximately 33% of its operating expenses from the revenues earned.

Since its inception, Sala Bai Hotel and Restaurant School (as of July, 2014) has trained, graduated and found employment for a total of 1100 students. The Sala Bai model is effective because it offers the most at-risk and impoverished youth of Cambodia economic self-reliance and a future!

 A New School Opening in 2015

 In an effort to increase the number of students it can accommodate, in January 2014, Sala Bai (with the support of French NGO, Agir Pour le Cambodge), purchased land in Wat Svay, just minutes from the Old Market in Siem Reap. The new facility will enable Sala Bai to expand its capacity to admit and train new students. In year one alone, student intake will increase 20% over the previous years, an aim to increase sustainability to 50% of operating revenues earned from the training hotel and restaurant. When it opens, the new training hotel will expand to 6 Standard Rooms  and 1 Suite, all which are bookable online. The new restaurant will have up to 40% more seating capacity. Plans include the launch of a 5th training program, Beauty Therapy, a much needed skill at spas in larger, high-end and boutique hotels. Construction is scheduled to begin early next year. The new school will open mid-year 2015.


The Training

student with hands crossed The program at Sala Bai lasts 12 months. This includes 11 months of comprehensive-based hospitality training in one of the four disciplines offered in Restaurant Service, Cooking, Front Office and Housekeeping. The 12th month is dedicated to CV preparation, interview skills and job placement. The curriculum covers both theory and practice on-site at the Sala Bai restaurant and hotel. Additionally, students are required to participate in 2  internship periods at one of the partner hotels in Siem Reap. Practicing under real-time conditions is a training priority. The training hotel and restaurant are places of essential learning activity and hands-on work experience. English Language skills and General  Education training are also a required part of the program. The general education classes and lectures are regularly organized and delivered by outside partners to raise student awareness and knowledge of important topics such as:  hygiene, grooming, sex tourism,  mathematics,  money maters,  road safety, human trafficking, labor laws, HIV/AIDS prevention, etc. Following a successful hospitality industry evaluation and final exam, each student receives a diploma, authorized by 2 Cambodian Ministries:  The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training and the Ministry of Tourism.

The training and diploma received at Sala Bai are real assets for the students. The program at Sala Bai is so highly regarded in Cambodia, that generally, within 3 months of graduation,  100% of the students have found employment. And, the most exciting news, to date, is that 100% of the 2012-2013 class found employment within 6 weeks of graduation! That’s what makes the Sala Bai model unique – it works!

The Students

group of studentsSala Bai students are recruited from the most underprivileged rural districts and select cities throughout Cambodia. Most of the students had to drop-out of school for several years to support their families. The average age is 20; approximately 35% are orphans and have an average of 5 siblings per family. For broader economic benefit, only one person per family is selected.

Priority Given to Girls (70%/30%)

In Cambodia, like in many other countries, girls are more vulnerable. Although the female population is 52%, only 33% of girls versus 67% of boys go to school. According to the UN Report on Poverty, in 2013 only 20% of males and 12% of females attend secondary school. The female population has less opportunity of finding stable employment or one with decent pay. Moreover, very few vocational training opportunities are offered to young women, even fewer when they have a low education level.

Recruitment and Selection Criteria

Led by Sala Bai’s team of Social Workers, the recruitment period is an intensive 6 month process that begins each year in January and ends in July. The process consists of 4 stages: Application, Family Visits, Written Tests, and Personal Interviews. The Selection process consists of the following criteria:

  • Low family income – less than $300 annually
  • Minimum education requirement – Grade 6 (except for Front Office, which is Grade 10)
  • Age range – between 17 – 23
  • Gender mix – 70% girls and 30% boys
  • Total Selected – 100 students per school year

 An Overwhelming Need

In 2014, approximately 500 applications were received and 481 family visits were conducted. In its current facility, Sala Bai can accommodate only 100 students per year. It is heartbreaking to know that each year several hundred potential candidates must be turned away.

The Team

students smiling and waving

The staff consists of 26 people and with the exception of 3 French volunteers that provide technical and management support, the remaining Sala Bai team is comprised of 23 staff members, all of whom are Cambodian. 

The breakdown is as follows:

  • Trainers and teachers (specialized in hotel and catering)
  • 3 English language teachers
  • 4 Social Workers
  • 1 French and mathematics teacher
  • 8 Support staff