As a local tour guide, Ponheary Ly had the responsiblity of presenting Cambodia to intrigued onlookers, people who were not embedded in the actual devastation of her country. As Ly guided visitors around Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, she noticed the young children begging for money on the statue’s steps. As Ponheary began to take a closer look herself at Cambodia’s young people, she knew she was capable of helping these children find a way to school. She slowly began collecting her tip money to help children pay the minimal fees necessary for an education.
Initially a school teacher as of 1982, Ly was aware of the free education that Cambodia provided, yet few children actually attended. Most were kept home to help with the farm and earn extra money to support their families. For a mere $20 a year, students needed the necessary uniforms and supplies to be prepared for the classroom, a fee most preferred to do without.
Ly herself had survived a genocide that murdered most of her family, including her father, also a schoolteacher. Ly was forced to support her mother and six siblings after her father’s death, leading her into the world of education. Two decades later, she set up the Ponheary Ly Foundation that has helped over 2,000 children attend school in Cambodia. Along with the benefits of an education, students are also guaranteed two uniforms, two pairs of shoes, breakfast each morning and, most importantly, medical care.
Ly isn’t finished yet. She is currently working to clean the water systems in Cambodia’s schools as well as increasing the pay for current teachers.
What does she see for the future? Ly is ultimately hoping for many of her students to carry on into higher education, pursuing careers in the fields of their choice. As an advocate for the young people of Cambodia, Ly has proven that sometimes all a student needs to attend school is a pair of shoes to get there.
An education is a precious thing and has the ability to make or break one’s future. To view a more personal account of Ly’s endeavors, present students with this slide show of two volunteers who spent time working in Cambodian schools.
For an even more personal account, visit photographer Lori Carlson’s webpage that gives an inside look at the children of Cambodia. http://www.pbase.com/loricarlson/plf
Post the pictures around the room to give students the opportunity to view them. Lead a discussion on the importance of education. Is education a right or a privilege? What makes it so? Have students write or share what they appreciate about their education and encourage a whole group discussion with your class. This can open children’s eyes to see that school is more than just a daily requirement, but a means for success and achievement in all areas of life. For an inside view of the everyday life of Cambodian school children (un-glorified and unedited), view this video of a kindergarten class at lunch time.
What connections can your students draw from the video? How does this compare to their lunch time?
Ly gives students the opportunity to take part in her mission. Visit the “Wishlist” on her website and hold a school-wide drive to gather items needed in Cambodian schools. Among others, Ly hopes to collect board games, biodegradable soap and even band aids for her schools.
Now it’s your turn. Do you think education is a right or a privilege? What factors impact this?
As a teacher, would you be willing to provide shoes just for your students to attend?
Want to connect more? Friend Ly on Facebook to get the most current news in Cambodia and have the chance for students to communicate directly with the children they’re helping.