Phnom Penh youth learn another character lesson from giving blood.
he National Blood Transfusion Center (NBTC) recently received its largest blood
donation since UNTAC days, when 220 students turned up from the Leadership Character
Development Institute (L-CDI).
The NBTC, which needs 500 units of blood a month for the capital alone, said that
donations were critical to the organization as it had to supply those who could not
afford to buy blood.
Leang Sothea was one of those donating blood between July 15 and 22. He said that
the act of giving blood was a signal that his life was back on track. Before he dropped
out of his regular school program, Sothea said he was only interested in partying,
drinking and singing karaoke.
That changed after he joined the L-CDI, a free schooling program founded by a Malaysian
citizen, Max Singh, in August 2000. These days, Sothea said, he was more concerned
about how he could help others.
Sothea, 23, from Oudong district in Kampong Speu, is one of around 450 students who
had dropped out of school and now attend L-CDI. The school teaches English and motivational
techniques that help students' self image.
"Before I was a bad guy," Sothea said. "I only thought of having fun,
not learning or helping my family. I feel that my character has changed a lot now."
Singh, who previously wrote motivational articles for a children's magazine, experienced
the hardships of daily life in Cambodia on a three-week visit here in 1997. Although
he landed in Phnom Penh on the day of the coup attempt, he was not put off, and returned
later that year with his family. Initially he worked as a part-time English teacher
at a university.
Singh started his school with only 20 students, school dropouts who had few prospects.
Singh insisted that the students would have to learn self-discipline and respect,
as well as giving back to society.
"My students clean roads and markets; they help poor people and give blood to
the poor when needed. I taught them that those who want to help society can do so
even if they don't have money: they can help by offering free work and even their
blood," he said.
Singh said that some parents were not convinced of his program, but that their skepticism
soon changed with the rapid progress that their children made in English.
Others found his ideas - like the "gender balance requirement" and donating
blood - odd, but they too came around when he showed them letters from the Health
Ministry and the NBTC proving the blood had been donated, not sold.
Sek Srey Neang, 19, another L-CDI student in Kampong Chhnang, also donated her blood.
She said that the thought of a needle had scared her, but that the motivational skills
she had learned at the school had helped.
"I have abandoned my bad habits and adopted better ones," Neang said. "I
feel quite strange now. Before I was very shy, but now I am so brave. My parents
trust me even if I go far away from home."