Kong Sok Leng grew up in abject poverty, unable to even get an education. His life changed when a monk took Mr Sok Leng under his wing and helped him graduate from a university. This act of kindness prompted Mr Sok Leng to start The Center for Helping Poor Children, which provides free education for impoverished children in Phnom Penh’s Por Senchey district.
As a child unable to have an education or even proper food or clothes to wear, Kong Sok Leng, 40, grew up in poverty in Phnom Penh’s Por Senchey district.
When he was 20, his mother took him to a pagoda in the district, where they met an elderly monk who felt pity and took Mr Sok Leng in.
Venerable Meas Rasksa, 60, taught him Buddhism, provided him with an informal education and paid for his studies at a university, where he obtained a bachelors degree before working as a teacher in a private school.
Ven Rasksa’s act of kindness sparked a desire within Mr Sok Leng to do the same for poor children in the province.
“I was born to a poor farming family with no money to go to school or proper food and clothing so after what he did for me, I had a dream to create a centre to help poor children,” Mr Sok Leng says in a recent interview. “I wanted to help the children by giving them an informal education and also providing scholarships for them to study in school.”
On January 5, his dream came true when The Center for Helping Poor Children, which he founded, was officially launched in Por Senchey commune’s Trapeang Krasang village.
Sok Leng says that he is happy that his dream has been realised and the centre is recognised by the Education Ministry and relevant authorities.
He says many children in the Trapeang Krasang community and the province belong to impoverished families and most of their parents are unable to send them to school.
“I always think that a child is a vital bamboo shoot for a family and nation’s development,” Sok Leng says. “My aim is to support their education, including by providing them with scholarships as part of human resource training, from childhood,” he adds.
He said that the centre also aims to provide informal education to poor and orphaned children, including teaching them Khmer and English as well as the Buddhist way of life.
Mr Sok Leng says the centre will encourage parents to send their children to attend state schools nearby their homes and it will offer free extra classes to learn the languages.
He notes that since the centre was launched, 30 students have enrolled to study with six teachers by learning Khmer and English languages in accordance with the Education Ministry’s syllabus.
“Some poor families do not send their children to school and we go to the ground to gather them so they can at least get an informal education in the centre,” Mr Sok Leng says.
He notes that the centre’s activities are being funded through donations, including from RF3 World Cambodia Company Ltd.
“The income we get from the donations we receive is not enough because we have to spend on teachers’ salaries, rental, water and electricity bills and also on providing scholarships to the students. I must find more donors to support us,” Mr Sok Leng says.
He adds that the centre also sorely lacks funds to buy learning tools.
“Our centre is new and I appeal to charitable organisations to provide funds or equipment to support us in our efforts to provide an education to poor children,” Mr Sok Leng says.
He notes that although the centre’s services are free, parents who can pay are encouraged to provide some money for their child’s education.
“If the parents contribute some money, it will greatly help in ensuring the facility be able to sustain its services,” Mr Sok Leng adds. “If possible, I wish to set up centres in other areas to help poor children.”
He also says he is cooperating with local authority to find children from impoverished families to receive scholarships.
Por Senchey district deputy governor Chhun Sunny says she is grateful to Mr Sok Leng for setting up this venue to help poor children.
“It helps the government’s efforts to develop the nation by providing children with an education,” she notes.
“They are from poor families whose parents migrated from provinces to work in factories in the capital,” she notes. “They can’t afford to send their children to school, so this centre plays an important role by giving the children in Por Senchy area a chance to get an education.”
Khun Yu Ly, 48, a resident of Trapeang Krasang village, says she was very happy when the Center for Helping Poor Children was set up because she wants to see children in the area get an education.
She says some parents who are poverty-stricken cannot afford to send their children to school and keep them at home to help out with household chores and sell food outside the house.
“Most of their parents work at garment factories and are migrants from other provinces,” Ms Yu Ly adds. “People living in the area are happy that this centre has been set up.”
“I don’t know why my mother did not allow me to continue studying after Grade 1. She told me that she wants me to stay home and help her sell food,” eight-year-old Ken Ariya, who lives in the village, says. “But I want to study like other children and I will ask my mother to allow me to attend classes at this new centre so I can learn both Khmer and English.”
Her father is a construction worker and her mother works in a garment factory.
“The company and other donors are happy to support the centre because educating children from a young age will bring future benefits to families and the Kingdom,” says Khim So Metona, a representative of RF3 World Cambodia Company