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Schooling a healthy business

130220 09
Dr Mengly Quach, founder of Mengly J Quach Education, speaks to the Post this week in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

With its two private schools boasting 7,000 students and 300 teachers spread over five campuses, education service provider Mengly J Quach Education could easily be a called successful enterprise.

Yet its founder, Dr Mengly Quach, stays in a rented house with his family.

“In Cambodia, it is considered shameful to stay in a rented house. But I would rather spend the money on my schools,” he said.

Such dedication is perhaps what has driven his two schools – American Intercon Institute (AII) and American Intercon School (AIS), founded in 2005 with only 20 students – to become the
renowned institutions they are today.

AII follows an American-model, offering classes in English and computer science, while AIS follows the Cambodian Education Ministry’s curriculum, with classes from kindergarten to Grade 12.

“I remember when we started AII, there were about 20 other international schools setting up too. But many have gone bankrupt – only two or three of them remain today,” Quach said. It would be possible that those schools ran out of funding or their teaching quality was not up to par, he speculated.  

“You are on your own when running private schools, without government subsidies or loans like in other countries. But I don’t blame the government, because they are already struggling to meet other needs in Cambodia’s development.”

Meanwhile, Quach said, his company tries to spend wisely, noting that he has other businesses that also fall under the Mengly J Quach Education umbrella.

“For the two schools to function, we have supporting services, which eventually grew to become six separate subsidiaries,” he said. These six subsidiaries generate a third of the company’s revenue, while the rest comes from the two schools, he added.

One of the subsidiaries, Intercon Transportation Services, has a fleet of 70 buses – the largest school bus network in Cambodia, he said – which transports students to school for a fee. The other subsidiaries – Smart Mart, Intercon Supply and Bookstore, Alex Food Court, and Cafe Chateau – offer services like on-campus bookshops and eateries.

But it is perhaps the last subsidiary – the Mengly J Quach Student Health Centre – that has the biggest impact on students. The on-campus clinic was set up in tandem with the two schools in 2005.

“We are the first school in Cambodia to have a student health centre on campus,” said Quach, who also serves as the centre’s chief medical officer, having graduated from medical school in the US.

Quach and his family fled the Pol Pot regime and eventually wound up in California in 1984. Fifteen years later, having completed medical school, he was teaching university-level medicine when he returned to Cambodia for the first time since leaving the country.

“I had forgotten most of my Khmer,” he said. But the visit sparked a renewed interest in his birth country, especially when he saw the state of Cambodia’s debilitated health system.

In 2002, he returned as a public health adviser based in Kratie province, and went on to establish health programs in schools and colleges.

“But I still felt responsible for making a difference,” he said, which prompted him to establish Mengly J Quach Education in 2005.

In the same year he set up a charitable arm, the Mengly J Quach Foundation. It gets about $200,000 annually from Mengly J Quach Education to support its activities, ranging from scholarship
programmes to a mobile clinic that travels to medically under-served provinces.

“I tell people that I am a doctor by profession, and educator by field,” Quach said.

“Health and education belong together – when teaching students, you should also educate them about hygiene and good health.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Low Wei Xiang at lowweixiang@live.com

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