by Vannak Lach and Stephanie Boegeman
When talking with Mr. Smien Thol, the first thing you notice is that he’s always smiling. In addition to being cheerful and well-respected, Mr. Thol is known in his community as a strong advocate of education. When asked about his dreams for his community, he’ll tell you: “I am a son of a farmer, farming is in my blood. But I want to see all the children in my village go to school. Even if they become farmers like me, they will be smarter with their farming if they get educated.”
At 56 years old, Mr. Thol has been a life-long advocate of studying. He began teaching in 1979, at a primary school where he taught grades 1 through 4. Mr. Thol was forced to abandon the classroom when the country plummeted into chaos after the Khmer Rouge regime. Now, 30 years later, he is once again involved and invested in education in his community, this time as a member of the School Support Committee (SSC) at Chanleas Dai Primary School.
SSCs are an integral component of PEPY’s Sahakoom Apeewaht Sala (SAS) program, in which the community comes together to make improvements in local schools. Through SAS, community members like Mr. Thol work together on SSCs, where the committee functions like a school board to develop communities and promote education.
Mr. Thol brings parents on school visits to see their children studying in the classroom. When Mr. Thol introduces parents to the class, parents are proud to see their children hard at work. This drives home the importance of sending their kids to school more than any abstract campaign or conversation.
Mr. Thol plans to lead school development activities far into the future. He always advocates that people should create the change they want to see in their own communities. “Everyone focuses on betterment in the next life,” he tells us. “Why not build a road to improve your community now, rather than waiting for a better road in the next life?” We are proud to be working alongside Mr. Thol as he works to make his dream for his community come alive.