Why is education important in Phum Ou and Cambodia as a whole. An insight into the life of Sarath Proeun, Head of Phum Ou School and Vocational Training Centre
My name is Proeun Sarath. I am 29 years old and I live in Phum Ou Village where my school is standing now. I am the first child of three in my family, my parents, younger brother and my youngest sister. My father’s name is Proeun Prem. He is 49 years old and is a farmer. My mother’s name is Sorn Mala. She is 45 years old and she is a housewife. My brother’s name is Sorth Charly and he is 21 years old. He didn’t complete high school and now he is a builder. He starts work at 7.00am and finishes at 5.00pm, Sorth Charly gets $5 per day and works very hard. He would like to continue his study but my parents cannot afford for him to do this. My sister’s name is Sorth Chory and she is 16 years old. She is a student in grade 10. Sorth Chory studies very hard because she wants to complete high school and wants to be an English and Khmer teacher. She dreams about finishing high school and going to University.
I studied hard and was able to finish my Associate Degree at Angkor University in Siem Reap Cambodia and I would like to continue for the Bachelor Degree in English Literature. In 1994, I studied at Phum Ou Primary School and in 2000 I continued to ‘10 January High School’ but I stopped study at grade 8 for a while because my parents could not afford the tuition fees. I had a desire to continue studying and the only way I could do so without the school fees was to study as a monk.
I therefore studied as a monk and was a practicing monk for two years until it was a little challenging for my me to support my family as there are many highly respected though strict rules that that a monk has to follow. My family needed my help as my mum was living away at the time and whilst living with my father, brother and sister I had to look after them and feed them. I used to work as a builder in that time. I worked very hard for a full day and I got $1.50 per day so life was very hard.
I would ride a bike to work in Siem Reap Town and each day I saw many people the same as me on their way to school. I thought about how can I could go to school the same them. So I found a way to find another job and begun work as a security guard at the Siem Reap Airport. During that time, I practiced my little English speaking with passengers every day and after work I went to learn English at the pagoda because it was free, as I could not afford to pay.
When my mother returned to our family she sent me to Phnom Pehn to work with my aunt as a fish seller. This was very difficult work for me because I started work at 3pm and worked until 10am the next day. I worked for four months with very little sleep at night, so I decided that the only way I could help myself was to use education to help me to improve my life and family. I worked so hard but I could not support myself and family so I still asked them if I could return and continue my study because I understood the true value of education.
Unfortunately, they did not agree with me at the time, but I pushed myself to come back and sold my one old cow to be able to support my studies. It was difficult to start with because I had only a basic foundation- I hadn’t even passed high school, though I pushed ahead still and worked hard towards my Associates Degree. After completing this degree, I was very proud. I would love to continue to my bachelor degree, though a lot of my time is committed to supporting growth of others in my community of Phum Ou with our school Phum Ou Community School and Vocational Training Centre. I am lucky enough as part of my professional development with EDGE Worldwide to receive ongoing training at ACE (Australian Centre of Education Siem Reap) Learning English is very important for people who live Cambodia and especially for people in the country side because when they can speak English it gives many job opportunities for them to find a good job in town and they can connect with the world and therefore improve their lives and family. Even though my English is not perfect, I want share my knowledge and have the children in my community receive the opportunity to study to learn about their world and to learn English.
I used live in the situation many children in my community find themselves in now, so I want them to get away from this, I don’t want them to face the same challenges I did. My aim is to see the children in my community have the opportunity for a better life. When I used to teach the children underneath my parent’s house with an old white board and a big hole on it, most of them felt so happy and excited and they thought it was an amazing opportunity for them, and it was compared to my generation which was much different, as for my childhood I could not study like them.
A very good example now is that one of my first students has become an English teacher now at Phum Ou School and Vocational Training Center. Her name is Sophanna, she has helped help me since we started the school in Phum Ou. It is a very nice feeling for me to know that she was my student and now she is getting paid a good wage to be a teacher in my school. It reminds me how important education can be. In my generation there were two or three children who learned English and completed high school. Now there are around 250 students who study English at Phum Ou school so they are very lucky if we compare that to my generation. I am proud to be the head of the school to share these important lessons with them.
Most of their parents have come to understand that education is very important and the best way to help their children’s future and the future of the country. Education not only improves the future, it’s a big part of developing our country.
Head of Phum Ou School and Vocational Training Centre