UPDATE: Our second school, Koh Broteal Elementary in Pursat Province, Cambodia, opened its new doors on Oct. 2, 2013. The new, five-classroom building is where over 140 first-fourth grade students learn. The student body is expected to increase in the near future, as this is now the closest school for many children in this rural area.
Project Lead Mrs. Bonneary Simas and her mother, Ms. Eng Lean Ly, the completion is very personal. Bonneary feels she “was spared to help build the Koh Broteal School.” Both Bonneary and her mother were enslaved in a camp during the Khmer Rouge Genocide, not far from where the new school stands. During her visit earlier this year, Bonneary was able to pay homage to those who suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and even had the opportunity to personally thank the other woman who saved her life — a Buddhist nun who still lives in Cambodia.
The funds from our 2012 Annual Gala “A Magical Night in Cambodia” helped kick-start construction. Along with providing the building, we partnered with the Rotary Club of Edmonton West in Canada who donated water projects (well, biofilters, rooftop collection, dugout), school support and supplies, preschool and community coordination. GLEF also partnered with Rotary Club of Pursat in Cambodia to oversee the project’s completion. Our work wouldn’t be possible without these key partners across the world.
“The spirit of Koh Broteal is always with me.” reflected Bonneary.
A grand opening dedication ceremony took place on Jan. 14, 2014. GLEF’s Facebook page has photos from this special day.
History of Koh Broteal School
Koh Broteal Elementary School is located in Pursat Province in the poor, rural yet burgeoning village of Choum Raisse. The area has strong potential for agricultural growth, and the population is beginning to rise. Still, resources are extremely limited. There are currently 142 school-aged children (2012) in the service area, with 215 children age one through five who will soon be expecting to attend school in the coming years. The original, broken-down, single building school only accommodated 68 students. As a result, these children attend class for half the day. The local community was only able to send their children to the existing school for the first two grades before they have to exit because of capacity issues.
Before the new GLEF Koh Boteal School was built (2013), the nearest school is approximately two miles away. Children traveled by foot or by bike (if they are fortunate enough to own one). The older children are responsible for taking their younger siblings along. However, the dirt road makes travel difficult, especially during the rainy season. Now more children are able to use the new school building.
It was not just the size of the original building that posed a problem–the structure was unsafe. Built 30 years ago from scrounged resources, the roof, siding and flooring were falling apart. It was a hazard for the students to attend class, and the community worried for the safety of the children. Promises made by the government to fund a new school were not able to be met given the current need in other areas across Cambodia. Many families feel education is not a priority in their region because of the lack of support. The school’s principal, who also serves as the teacher, is working hard to change this stigma.
The school sits on government land, not far from former killing fields established by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Many lives were lost on that land, including those of children. Now, genocide survivors and reformed Khmer Rouge leaders live and work side by side in the village. Together the community hopes to rebuild and inspire the futures of their children by providing a sustainable education.
During the Khmer Rouge Genocide, GLEF Project Leader for Koh Broteal’s new school, Bonneary Chan Simas and her mother Ms. Eng Lean Ly were enslaved in the Choum Raisse work camp, a mile from where Koh Broteal Elementary School sits today. They suffered from starvation and were threatened with execution on several occasions. Many members of their family died, including Ms. Eng Lean Ly’s parents, whom she buried with her own hands. Despite the horrific life they were forced into, they maintained hope, love and compassion. They also knew that education was the key to success and, in their case, survival.
During the long hours of work, Bonneary would help pass the time by telling the young communist children moral stories with the hope they too would know compassion and caring. These children would sometimes sneak food to Bonneary or help with her share of labor, all in the hopes she’d continue to share her wisdom.
Bonneary attributes her survival to her mother’s love and strong will, as well as to their shared compassion toward others, even those who did them harm.
They barely escaped the genocide after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. They have since made a life for themselves in the United States. Bonneary and her husband Dave*, President of GLEF, are dedicated to giving back to Bonneary’s home country. Their whole family has rallied together to give Cambodian children a chance to learn and prevent a tragedy like the Khmer Rouge Genocide from happening again.
The village of Choum Raisse is excited about their new five-classroom school building, potable drinking water and more. With its partners and supporters, GLEF was able to meet this need.
If you would like to support GLEF’s mission, you may make a tax-deductible donation securely online at the button to the right (top) or you may send a check to:
Golden Leaf Education Foundation
3439 NE Sandy Blvd. #412
Portland, OR 97232
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*Koh Broteal School building project was chosen by the Project Review Committee, comprised of GLEF members who have no personal stake in any of the schools. Both Bonneary and Dave Simas abstained during this school’s voting process.