For young Cambodians growing up in rural areas, the only option for gaining a higher education is to move to one of the country’s major cities, where universities are concentrated. But very few return to their communities, with jobs also hard to come by in the villages.
The country’s workforce is growing by some 60,000 each year, and despite healthy economic growth in recent years, there are not enough good jobs. As a result, many emigrate in search of work, traveling to neighboring Thailand, or further afield to Malaysia, South Korea or China, and shouldering significant risks. Scores of their compatriots have found themselves trafficked into slavery on fishing boats or ended up detained overseas for immigration offenses.
But in Siem Reap province, one young man has bucked the trend.
Twenty-five-year-old Thorn Bun Thoeng chose to create his own job. He decided to remain in his native Preah Dak village and in 2011 started teaching English to local children.
He graduated from the University of Southeast Asia in Siem Reap city in 2014, but in the meantime has turned his yard into a school where more than 60 local children now study.
“A majority of my community lacks proper education, and we need education for development,” he told VOA Khmer. “So I volunteer myself to promote education in my community with a support from my sponsor who lives in the US.”
His friends encourage him to find better paid job in Siem Reap city, he said, but Thoeng believes that providing education to people in rural areas is more important.
The language school is free for children in his community. It offers two classes, one for young children and another for teenagers.
Thoeng has single-handedly improved the level of English among the youth of Preah Dak village, which he says will be vital for them finding jobs in the future.
“When I first started this job, many of my students didn’t even know how to write letter ‘A’ in English,” he said, “but now they can write and speak good English.”
Thoeng said that, with the help of some of his students, he also plans to set up a small vocational training school for widows in the community. The school will help the women to develop skills and become more employable, he added.