Cambodian schoolboy Lim Theanhok’s commitment to learning has already gained him international recognition. Although he eventually wants to become a lawyer, it is for his scientific efforts that the 16-year-old won an award in United States last month.
Theanhok was awarded a gold medal for a science project, winning out among contestants from 69 countries at the annual Genius Olympiad in New York on June 15-19.
The event—founded by Fehmi Damaci, an organic chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Oswego—rewards young people from around the world for innovative ideas for solving environmental problems.
For their entry, Theanhok, along with partner Poch Rothvichet, designed a system that uses a bicycle to pump water through a purifying system using biosand, producing potable water without the need for chemicals or an electricity supply.
Theanhok is in grade 10 at Zaman high School in Phnom Penh. It is one of the Cambodian capital’s most expensive schools, but thankfully for Theanok’s family, his smarts have earned him a highly competitive full-tuition scholarships from Grade 7 upward, worth more than $4,000 a year.
“Winning the scholarship has reduced one of the expenses for my family, so I am proud of that,” he said.
As he recently told VOA Khmer in Phnom Penh, Theanhok works hard at his studies. He gets up at 5:30 each morning to study, and, after a full day of school, he hits the books once again before bed.
“I have to review all the lessons I have learned in class and do homework after school,” he said. “And at the night time, I still have to review my lessons and read books.”
Theanhok’s mother, Kheak Chansokhan, 41, who sat next to her son during an interview, glowed with pride for her son. “I am proud of my son,” she said, “but I’m not really surprised because he always done a very good job in terms of his studies.”
Theanhok and Rothvichet were two of only 17 students from Zaman who travelled to New York for the competition. No other Cambodian schools took part. The Zaman students were selected by the school based on proposals they submitted, and the pair were the only Cambodian entry in the science category.
At the competition in New York, each group was required to give a seven-minute presentation in English, with group that delivered the most convincing idea awarded the gold medal.
“I was so proud to represent a Cambodian team in an international competition and succeed,” Theanhok said, adding that the judges’ criteria were focused on the technical merits of the product, the effectiveness of the solution proposed, and the quality of the presentation.
Despite the gold medal for his environmental solution, Theanhok insists that he wants to be a lawyer, a goal he has had since he was young. “I think I am good at speaking and using language, that’s why I want to be a lawyer,” he said.