Many elder people worry about their lives after retirement, but for Kong Vorn, a former migrant who went to Japan during the war in 1981, his immediate worries are about the future of many poor children in his hometown of Prey Veng.
It may be hard for some to lead a successful yet quiet life, but Vorn, a reserved man, is doing just that. As a matter of fact, the school that he helped establish, which has educated thousands of poor Cambodian children, is an accomplishment born out of his hard work, even in his retired age.
After having lived and worked in Japan for over a decade, “In 1993, my Japanese friends and I established the Cambodia Education Assistant Fund (CEAF) in Japan to find funds to support the education of Cambodian children,” Vorn said.
At the moment, he is the head of the board at the Cambodia-Japan Friendship middle school in Preah Sdach district, Prey Veng.
“Currently, there are over 4,000 students studying in this school,” he said, adding, “Most of them are from Prey Veng, and the rest are from Svay Rieng, Kandal, Kampong Cham, and Kampong Thom.”
Vorn said every year, the middle school “needs about $100,000 to operate and to pay bonuses for teachers on top of their salary and to provide scholarships for students.” He elaborated that the funds stumping up the bonuses come 100 percent from the school’s Japanese friends, donors, associations and organisations in Japan, and from the Japanese Embassy in Cambodia.
The bonuses for all 48 teachers are $64 a month for every middle school teacher, and $75 for every high school teacher.
Besides financial support, “there are also many Japanese volunteers who always volunteer to teach Japanese and English in our classes every year.” Teaching and empathy run deep in the family; Vorn’s own grandson is one of the said volunteers.
Vorn, approaching 80 years old, and the founders of CEAF do not work for profits. Instead, they continue volunteering to find more funds to support the school and its students.
When asked if he has any concerns for the school’s future, he said, “I have prepared and organised the school’s plans. There won’t be any problem if the successor is as passionate about social work as I am, but I still believe that our Japanese friends will continue to help us until we can do it on our own.”
He added that right now, with the fiscal support of donors and the Japanese Embassy of Cambodia, the school is building a small factory to turn local fruits into processed food products that can be sold to support the school.
The Cambodia-Japanese Friendship Middle School stands on a 4-hectare land, which Vorn bought in the early 1990s and was subsequently granted the permission to build a school by the Ministry of Education in 1998. Before the establishment of the school, the CEAF supported many schools in Prey Veng.
Vorn is a former staff at Kyodo News in Cambodia from 1970 to 1975. After the Khmer Rouge in 1981, he was granted the permission to live in Japan by the Japanese government under special conditions, as he had worked for many years with the Japanese.
He is the only Cambodian to have been awarded the honour of Japan’s highest order: The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Stars on December 11, 2014.