Two Korean nationals are setting themselves up for a busy retirement in Phnom Penh, with preparations under way for the August opening of Cambodia’s first two private schools devoted exclusively to the arts.
Lee Chan-Hae, with the support of her husband, Dr Min Sung-Ki, is putting the final touches on the Phnom Penh Institute of Art, which is hoped to become an elite academy in Boeung Keng Kang 1, as well as the El Dream Arts School, in a garment district near the Canadia building.
Lee, a professor of music composition at the prestigious Yonsei University in Seoul for nearly 35 years, and her husband came to Cambodia several years ago for a short stint as missionary workers.
She was shocked by the lack of provision for musical and artistic education.
Impressed by the childhood experience of watching missionaries helping to rebuild her country after it was ravaged by the Korean war, Lee says she was inspired to do something to improve the lives of others when she retired.
“I want my students to have the ability to move to some of the best music schools in the world,” Lee says.
“If they want to go to the United Kingdom, they can go to the Royal Academy of Arts. If they go to Vienna, they can go to the Vienna University of Music. I want to connect them to the possibility of study over there.”
The Phnom Penh Institute of Art will offer education in music, ballet and painting to children aged three years and over, and Lee and Min hope to provide accredited tertiary courses after ongoing discussions with the Ministry of Education.
The eight-storey building that houses the Institute in BKK1 has been built at the couple’s expense. It will boast upright pianos imported from Austria and South Korea, as well as a concert hall with twin performance pianos and a 226-person capacity.
Both schools will offer the same quality teachers, whom Lee has worked tirelessly to attract from Korea and Europe.
The BKK school will effectively subsidise the El Dream school near Canadia, where the fees will be significantly lower.
Lee is hoping to provide education and opportunities for some of the children of the 300,000 garment-factory employees working in the district.
Apart from instilling her love of Bach, Brahms and other classical Western composers, Lee hopes to offer some of her pupils employment opportunities and build up the infrastructure for education in the arts.
“Music teachers, art teachers – we don’t have those here,” she says.
“Many don’t have any elementary, middle or high school education in these fields. I want my students to come here to learn for two or three years and, if they do well, they can go to other elementary schools and teach music, ballet or art.”
Refusing to resile from the frenetic workload ahead of her, Lee says she believes in providing a world-class education for her charges, and has set an ambitious target for her current endeavours at the Phnom Penh Institute of Art.
“What I want and hope is that people of other countries who want to study music and arts will come to this country and come to this school,” she says.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sean Gleeson at [email protected]