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Billionaire brings the gift of reading

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Bill Dangel (left), a volunteer librarian with the Peace Corps, Dr Mey Kalyan and Jim Thompson talk during the opening of a new library in Pursat province on Saturday.

Of the 60 countries in which billionaire Jim Thompson’s Crown Group does business, he chooses Cambodia for his acts of philanthropy – this time, the opening of a library in remote Pursat province on Saturday.

About 3,000 people, mostly stud-ents from the adjacent Leach High School, came to the province’s Phnom Kravanh district to honour the results of Thompson’s $57,000 donation.

Named the Hazel Joyce Library, after Thompson’s older sister, who was also present, it fits in with Thompson’s notion that education is the primary requirement for Cambodia.

In a speech that followed a five-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh through flooded areas, Thompson said he hoped people would take advantage of the opportunities the lib-rary offered, even if they were poor, because he was certain  education could lift people out of poverty.

Thompson, 71, said Cambodia had not had much help over the years and he saw a chance to make a difference in people’s lives.

“I’ve been in Asia for 48 years, and there has never been an era of stability like there is now. The country that didn’t get much help was Cambodia; it can use a hand,” he said.

Pursat governor Khoy Sakha’s mot-orcade met Thompson’s minibus and led the way to the library, which the governor’s team had decorated lavishly for the occasion.

Others present included Thompson’s wife Sally, Crown country manager Frank Kursteiner, and Dr Luise Ahrens and Father Kevin Conroy from Maryknoll, a Catholic charity.

Thompson’s Hong Kong-headquartered Crown Group is the largest privately held relocation and document-storage company in the world, with 24 million cartons of documents in secure warehouses.
He also has more than 700,000 bottles of wine, mostly owned by Europeans, stored in an old army bunker in Hong Kong.

In Cambodia, Thompson’s business has document storage at a warehouse in Tuol Kork, and carries out global point-to-point moving for companies and embassies.

Also at the opening was Mey Kal-yan, an adviser to the government and one of the architects of Cambodia’s rice policy. He brought along his sister, a schoolteacher in Phnom Kravanh, and his brother, who is a doctor in the area.

Mey, who grew up about 30 kilometres from Phnom Kravanh, complimented Thompson on his donation.

“This is a good centre and a good entry point for knowledge,” he said.

“The opening of the road, the new technology and this library are fantastic for the area.

“They’ve done a good job on a useful thing. Knowledge is the centre of everything, and this combines well with the coming of electricity.

“Thousands of young people are so excited about the opening.

“This is a marker for knowledge in this area. From now on, it is our role to continue helping provide more books and more knowledge to this community.”

The library, with nine main study tables that have four chairs each, sits adjacent to the high school and contains books in both English and Khmer, enabling rural people to improve their reading skills. The library is also looking for donations of books and other materials.

The Phnom Penh Post is working on a Newspapers in Education program, not only for the Hazel Joyce   Lib-rary but for at least 80 high schools throughout rural Cambodia.

The library is Thompson’s third charitable project in Cambodia, a country with relatively small operat-ions compared with Crown’s worldwide presence, but one that is close to Thompson’s heart.

“Giving away is one of the things that’s really rewarding. There are so many needs in the world, it’s overwhelming – but when you begin to focus, you really can do something of lasting value for people,” he said.

“Cambodia is a country where the government is supporting education, and you can help the teachers – and this is where I get total fulfillment.”

Thompson works closely with Cambodian Ly Vanna, who administered the contract for the project.

“Vanna and I want to continue working on new projects, and we’ll do whatever we can to help Cambodians,” he said.

“I’ve got my kids and my wife involved in this, and we’re here for the long run.”

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