Update: The construction of Phoum Bourn Svay Klaing Elementary School was completed in Dec. 2014 (see photo below). The project began with its groundbreaking ceremony on school grounds in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia on Jan. 15, 2014. During construction, Svay Klaing students continued their studies at the temple next door during.“Everyone was happy to hear they’d have a new school soon” reported Mr. Sokhom Tauch, Project Lead for Svay Klaing School. This school’s community, located near the Mekong River, saw water levels rise and flood the school and surrounding area in Sept. 2013. The villagers requested a new school that withstands flooding in order to provide a safe and consistent space for learning. Rebuilding the school is a personal mission of Sokhom’s. He served in the Navy, and happened to be on a ship when the Khmer Rouge takeover began. He unexpectedly fled to the U.S. and worked hard to acclimate to a new life. He recently retired from being the Executive Director of the Immigrant & Refugee Community of Oregon. Sokhom has both contributed and has reached out to his family and friends to raise funds for this new school building.
History of the Original Svay Klaing School Building
According to villagers who were born and grew up in this area, the school was built in 1979 immediately following the defeat of the Khmer Rouge regime. School building materials were the remnants of abandoned buildings in the village. The local temple donated land for the school inside the temple compound, yet cannot bear the costs of maintaining the building or operating the school. The school educates 167 students – 84 boys and 83 girls – grades Kindergarten through 6. With only four small classrooms and eight teachers, the school can only accommodate half of the students in morning classes and half the students in afternoon classes. The closest other elementary school is in a nearby village about two kilometers away but it is at capacity and cannot enroll more students. The Kroch Chhmar Brick High School is right next to this elementary school.
The predominantly wooden school was beyond repair. (Update: The school is now torn down and a new school building was constructed thanks to GLEF donors and supporters.) According to the villagers, there were several failed requests made to the local government to repair or rebuild the school. Parents worried that their children face risk of potential danger should the roof or the walls collapse, especially during days with heavy rain or wind storms. The school principal reported students were frequently released early in response to potential risks posed by weather conditions and poor physical structure of the school.
Sokhom is a Cambodian refugee who had the opportunity to resettle in the U.S., he returns regularly to his home country and community to give back. One of his projects was raising the funds necessary to rebuild the temple that shares its property with the school. Each time he would visit his community, he witnessed the slow deterioration of the physical structure of the school, hoping that the government would help. Seeing the children benefitting from the classes taught at the school, and the families who place education on the top of their list yet have no other school where their children can go gave him the inspiration to rebuild this school. With limited options, and involved in the work of the Golden Leaf Education Foundation (GLEF); he made the connection between the mission of GLEF and the construction of a new building for the Phoum Bourn Svay Klaing Elementary School. In November 2011, Sokhom and his wife had the chance to see the opening of the Ang School in the province of Battambang. It was an amazing day for them, seeing the newly built school building standing elegantly and ready to serve happy and excited children and their parents.
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