AUSTRIA - Kao Savuth was the son of a Lon Nol police officer who was forced abroad by war and found his way, among a small group of other Cambodians, to Austria.
He has become a strong advocate for clean water projects in Cambodia, through his Kakihe Association, which was recognized in 2012 by the Austrian government for its work raising funds to help Cambodia.
Kao Savuth told VOA Khmer at his residence in Linz, a small town in Austria, that he had led several organizations as a way to stop being homesick.
“Although our bodies are here, the heart and soul remain in their home country,” he said in an interview.
Now a father of five, Kao Savuth, 56, is a manager at an electronics factory. In 1992, he became the president of the Khmer Austrian Association, which was recognized by the Austrian government under his leadership.
“I tried to gather all Khmer citizens in Austria, to enhance the community,” he said. That included New Year’s ceremonies, funerals, cremations, traditional dances and other gatherings for the 2,000 Cambodians living in central Europe.
He said this helped him overcome the sense of loss he had after the war. “I needed to do something for Cambodia with my own abilities,” he said. At first, all he could do was send medicine and other donations to hospitals, he said.
He returned to Cambodia in 2004, with an Austrian friend. In his hometown, he saw children drinking unclean water, so they raised funds to dig a well. A year later, he resigned from the presidency at the association, in order to spend more time raising funds for Cambodia. In 2007, he raised around 4,000 euros, more than $5,000, which went toward more wells.
After that, he formed the Kakihe organization, which continues to raise funds for clean water and wells in Cambodia.
His wife, Kim Sean, 57, said Kao Savuth can often spend more time on these projects than on his own family. “I sometimes ask the neighbors for help to take me to the market or do some urgent tasks, because my husband always goes to help others and raise funds,” she said.
Still, she supports him in his efforts, Kim Sean said.
Last year, the organization was able to fund 75 large wells, with another 19 planned so far for 2013. Kao Savuth also hopes to build a school near Phnom Kulen.