03 September 2008

Savong - 3rd exchange

In our last email exchange, Savong has opened up to what he really wanted from us. He had expressed that many students in his school have requested to be computer-literate, however he did not ask for much, he merely wanted the link to the cyber world, i.e. the once-off internet access fee.

On 8/26/08, Lee Ming <bubbles_222@hotmail.com> wrote:

Dear Savong,
I've received your email. As the date gets nearer, we will inform you on the exact date and time and what activities/class we wish to conduct.

As for your request for story/comic books, is English language ok with you? If so, we can purchase some books from Brunei. If it is in another language, can you tell us where in Cambodia can we obtain these books.

I am more than happy to contribute towards obtaining internet access for your school. However, do you have a common computer that can be accessed by everyone in your school? Is $300 in US dollars? Can you provide me with information of your application for internet access, e.g. paperworks.

Looking forward to hear from you.

Best regards,
Lee Ming


Almost immediately, Savong replied to my mail.

From: savong svay (svaysavong@gmail.com)
Sent: Tue 8/26/08 12:51 PM
To: Lee Ming (bubbles_222@hotmail.com)
Dear Lee Ming.
Thank you very much for writing me back.And I am happy to get your email and read it .
If you can purchase comic and story book here It will be good. And when you are here I will take you to books shop.
Yes,I have a simple computer at school and it can connect internet. Main thing is: If I have budget $300 dollars I can go to internet company to connect it. So I hope that you will donate this finance for connection internet at the school I hope.When I already connected it I will copy bill to you.
How do you think what I said?
Hoping to hear from you

The amazing thing about this entire exchange with Savong is - what is initially a simple offer from us that is travelling to Cambodia, has in turn touched a few hearts.

On the 26th of August, i received a message from Jennifer C. She expressed that she wanted to contribute to Savong's school and after explaining to her what we're planning to do, she immediately transferred the money to me.

I think it takes a big step to be able to:

- No.1: willing to help, ask and find out how you can help
- No.2: put trust in the integrity of the person who set up this opportunity
- No.3: entrust your money to this person

So Jenn, you may be thankful to me for creating this opportunity for you, but i am in return thankful to you for putting your trust in me.

On the 2nd of September, another friend Han Peng told me he is very supportive of this idea of ours and he will try his very best to raise some funds for Savong. His tactic is for them to sacrifice a night out and donate the money they could have spent on coffee or other entertainment. Good luck Han Peng and thank you so much for the cheer!

After all these feedback from friends, it got us thinking. Maybe, just maybe we can offer more than just internet access. Maybe, we can get them a few computers as well! This gesture from you guys have pushed us to do more. We will target and find ways to raise more money.

If any of you feel you want to contribute in any ways, even in the most minute offering, make the first move to email me. I think eventually the person to thank is Savong, it takes more than anything to ASK for help, seizing that chance for all his students. He is a great example of someone with the audacity to dream, and will do anything for his dreams to come true.

.Image obtained and modified from Harley Angels.

Here's a story from Duncan Stuart when he first met Savong in 2004.

Again out of a visit to Angkor Wat. In my own case I met a young teacher Svay Savong who is committed to teaching languages in order that students get employment opportunities in Siem Reap. When I met him in 2004, he was teaching classes in a small room, really a lean-to, on the side of his father's house near the Killing Fields Monastery half way between Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Much as I was amazed by Angkor Wat, upon my return home the subject on my lips was Savong's School.

Savong grew up in the poverty years immediately after Pol Pot, when Cambodia languished; cut off from the West. He has seen how language skills are a key to giving young people employment opportunities, but he also knows that local schools don't offer adequate language education in English, Japanese or Thai. In fact many teachers have left the state school system in order to operate as tutors - taking their teaching salary from the standard $50 per month to something much higher. Relatively speaking, only the wealthy families can afford their $25 month tuition charges. Certainly, very few in the countryside can afford this, so that is why Savong had plans to build a school in a rural area 25 minutes East of Siem Reap.

In March 2005, having kept in constant email contact with myself and a group of other supporters Yoshikazu Tsuji and Makoto Kimura in Japan, and Malcolm, in San Francisco, Savong announced that land had been located. The project had the green light.

Over the next 7 months Savong taught by day and then travelled each night to the building site where his three classroom school was being constructed. By October it was completed and opened, and now 350 children attend - some each day, others on some days only as they still go to a local state school not far away. This is additional education, and I'm amazed at how eager they are to do this. (I reflect on my own desultory efforts as a 14 year old in French classes, and how I used to wish I was anywhere else.)

The school has five teachers now, ongoing commitments for salaries, running costs, books, petrol for the noisy Chinese generator - not to mention upcoming projects - rooms and offices upstairs (the stairs are built) and, in time, three computers in order to teach computer literacy. Savong has built up a good team of teachers, and his long-term goal is to make the school more self-sufficient funding-wise. To do this he is working crazy hours, co-managing a guest house in Siem Reap www.angkorvilla.com and from here he is inviting a steady stream of young tourists to visit the school, teach a few lessons (the kids love it) and to experience a bit of the reality of Cambodia. Many are blown away by the experience. The hope is to build a wider support base for the school. D&D Angkor Villa also contributes some of its profits back to the school.

All these efforts are drops in a much bigger bucket of course. But for the tourist to Cambodia the opportunities do exist for an experience that goes well beyond mere tourism. We all hope that a journey will be somehow life-changing (why else do we travel?) but for the luckier travellers the experience goes beyond that of reflection (gee, thatch huts, no electricity, I'm glad I don't live like that...) to something more useful and profound.


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