Concluding part to the Story of a Young Cambodian…
Support with schooling
One day, a white man, a barang as they are known in Cambodia, came to his school. He spoke a foreign language. The headmaster explained that this man worked for an organisation that helped poor children to study, and that he would be setting an exam for those children who wished to sit it the following week in the village pagoda. The boy did not want to let this chance slip by. On the day of the exam, the barang also asked him to fill in a short form about his family and its possessions. That part of the exam was easy: there wasnâ€™t much to write!
The boy thought that the barang would never come and visit him, because he knew that his exam results were disastrous. However, one day, the barang came by with a Cambodian and, by chance, the boy was at home with his mother. The barang spoke Khmer with lots of mistakes and a terrible accent! Fortunately, the Cambodian was there to translate. He understood that the barang was bothered by the discrepancy between the boyâ€™s age (17) and his academic level (grade 8, normally for children aged 13-14). However, in light of the boyâ€™s family situation and his ambition to become a teacher, he thought that the association could help them. A month later, the boy learned that he already had a sponsor. â€œFor as long as your family is unable to help you financially with your education and as long as you have the will and the motivation, we will help you,â€ the volunteer told him.
And so, every month, the boy went to the pagoda to receive personal hygiene products and money, which he used to buy rice for his family and pay for his private classes. His academic level improved each year, and the successive volunteers who met him always found it a pleasure to see such a hard-working boy beginning to fulfil his potential. When the volunteer visited, the family would always offer him what they could to express their gratitude: sometimes it would be coconuts, sometimes prahoc, a sort of fermented fish broth. The volunteer could not stand prahoc, but of course forced himself to eat a little each time so as not to offend his hostsâ€¦
A better future
Despite his age, the boy wanted to continue his studies. The volunteer therefore decided to enrol him at the education centre in Samrong, the provincial capital, where the academic level is higher. This is the step the boy must go through if he wants to become a teacher. So he wants to be a teacher? Well, yes, at least he didâ€¦ but one day, along with other sponsored children from the centre, he took part in a careers guidance forum. It was then that he realised that farmer, nurse, policeman and teacher were not the only professions! He was attracted by the prospect of a career as a civil engineer. He knows, though, that he will have to work hard to get there, particularly as places at Phnom Penhâ€™s civil engineering schools are expensive.
From time to time, the boy returns home to visit his family. It is difficult to be at ease with the contrast between his family and the Samrong education centre, where two meals a day are served with meat and the aim is to study and not to work in the fields all day long. However, he has not forgotten where he comes from, and helps his brothers as best he can with their work in the fields. He knows that he has an extraordinary opportunity, and wants to help his family out of poverty as soon as he earns his first pay cheque. Having begun life in a village with uncertain prospects, and after a tragic period in Thailand, this boy is finally starting to see the possibility of a better future for him and his familyâ€¦
Article byÂ FranÃ§ois-Hugo Russel, overseas volunteer in Samrong. Previously published in Enfants du Mekong magazine 176.