In the picture from the left to the right: H.E Soeur Socheata (Under Secretary of State of MoEYS), H.E. Chea So Methy (Provincial Governor of Prey Veng Province), H.E Mr. Hidehisa Horinouchi (Ambassador of Japan to Cambodia), Interpreter, H.E Dr. Im Koch (Secretary of State of MoEYS), Mr. Mima Yoshihito (Superintendent of Education of Tokushima Prefecture), and Mr. Nagamatsu Yoshihiro (Principal of Tokushima Commercial High School)
My Short Biography and What Motivates Me to Do What I am doing now
My Fellow Countrymen, Nephew and Nieces, Respected National and International Generous Donors,
My name is Kong Vorn, 80 years old, living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Before 1970, I used to work with a British man named James Donald Langcaster. From 1961 to 1969, James worked for the previous King Norodom Sihanouk. With a good fortune, I was chosen to work for him from 1965 to 1969. My job was to typist. While working with him, James always told me that there would be lots of Americans coming to Cambodia one day. Thus, I had to learn English more so that it would be easier for me to communicate with them and other people from different nationalities that could speak English.
After hearing that, I continued trying my best to study English. After one month that James returned back to his country, I worked part-time as an interpreter for an American man. I was so happy because I could earn from 10 to 15 dollars a day. Sometimes I could earn 20 dollars a day. This amount of money was a lot during 1970. After working in this field for two months, there was coup d’état leading by Lon Nol against King Norodom Sihanouk. I had so much work to do at that time. Sometimes, I had to work for three different groups of journalists. In the morning, I worked from 7am to 12pm; in the afternoon, from 1pm to 5pm; I also worked a few hours at night for another group of journalists. Some days, I could earn from 30 to 35 dollars, but it was not every day I could earn this much money.
After two months of the coup d’état, I stopped working for European journalists because it was too dangerous. Every day was the same; I had to travel with them to the battle fields and I was frightened every time shooting occurred.
In May 1971, I stopped working in this part-time job and started working with Mr. Suzuki as he worked for Nihon Denpa News. In June, I was arrested by Khmer Rouge cadres and Viet Cong. The hostages at that time were Mr. Toshiichi Suzuki, Mrs. Keth Werbb (Australian), and three Cambodian photographers and me and we were captured at Doh Kanhchor located about 75km from Phnom Penh. Our hands were tied up and Khmer Rouge cadres and Viet Cong walked us for 5 days with bare feet. After 23 days putting us in the bunker and questioning us for almost everyday, we were released by the Viet Cong. I still remember the words that the Viet Cong commander said to us that we all would have been killed if the Viet Cong transferred us to the Khmer Rouge cadres for questioning. Other words I still remember from this commander while releasing us were that when we were freed to gather with the family, we could do whatever we want as long as it was not the action against the humanity. That has been a motivation for me to love doing humanitarian actions and I love every people from different nationalities and consider them as my siblings.
My respected fellow countrymen,
Please allow me to flashback and tell you about my bitter background. After knowing some English, I started working with Americans for the first time in New York Times by earning 3 dollars per day. When my earning reached 15 dollars, Minister Ku Ron’s policemen arrested me and sent me to the prison of the Ministry of National Security and kept me there for 9 days. I was released after bribing more than one shekels of gold to them.
I would like to mention from the above paragraph again that I was arrested by the Khmer Rouge cadres and the Viet Cong in 1971, but after 23 days being in the bunker in Kompong Sela, Kompong Speu province, I was released. After 17 April 1975, about 3 million of Cambodian people were forced to leave their home in Phnom Penh as if they were animals.
On 10 May 1975, Marshal Lon Nol‘s senior soldiers, staffs of Asahi Shimbun and CBS News and I, 10 of us in total, were arrested and were sent to be killed in Phaav commune, Skun district, Kompong Cham province by Pol Pot’s police. After killing three of us, as I saw the way they killed, stabbing three times with a knife on the neck of the victims and pushing them into the ground that had been dug deeply, made me think that it was difficult for them to die. Then, I kicked the man who was about to kill me on his knee and he fell down on the ground as I ran for my life with my tied hands. I ran about 100m into the forests, but as the forests became thicker and I could no longer continue running, I started to prostrate myself on the ground. The Khmer Rouge cadres, the ones who failed to kill me, chased after me; but because it was raining at that time, they were not able to see. Then, one of them shouted out loud telling me to stop running. In fact, I even stopped before he shouted.
Fifteen minutes later, the sky became darker. I tried to quietly walk from my hiding place about 200 or 300m, I took my tied hands to rub with small sharp trees that were amputated. Suddenly, the tie and the shirt that were used to tie me were torn out from my hands. I was so happy and kept on walking into the forests. While walking, I saw two large ground holes full of dead bodies killed by those atheists. I used to be a person who was afraid of ghost, but during that time I was frightened of the Khmer Rouge cadres more 100 times than of ghost.
I slept alone three days in the forests without food, water and even without clothes (they were taken off by the ones who wanted to kill me). I was extremely exhausted. While traveling in the night, I didn’t know which direction was east or west anymore. However, when I heard the sound of the car driving on the road on the east of the forests, I was able to find a National Road 6.
Because of hunger, I decided to leave the forests and asked for water from people in the house along the road. It should be noticed that the Khmer Rouge cadres used a shirt and a tie to tie my hands. When I tried to hide those, I buried only the tied, but I kept the shirt to cover my penis.
While entering the house, I thought that was a civilian’s house and I asked politely to him, “May I have some water, brothers?” “Go and get it at the back of the house”, they replied. The youngsters in the house told me to wait in the house first. I myself was careful too. Suddenly, there were two men walking toward me. One was holding a long knife and the other one was holding an AK47.
The one with a knife quickly walked to slaughter me, but ended up with chopping on an oxcart that was near me instead. I managed to escape from them, but the one with AK47 shot me at my left thigh. Fortunately, the bullet didn’t hit my bone, so I was still able to run away. At that time, I dropped the shirt that was used to cover my naked body. I escaped them into the forest and again slept there. At 5am, I continued walking a bit when I met an old Chinese man. At first, he thought I was the Khmer Rouge’s man and he hurried to give me the towel. When he realized I was naked, he refused to give it to me. I begged him until he agreed to give that towel to me to cover myself.
I continued walking and met a military colonel. He seemed shocked seeing me covering myself with a towel. I told him about my story. After hearing it, he took the bag of cassava powder and a shirt for me. The shirt was too short; it was still 10cm more to cover my whole body. Meanwhile, he asked his wife to cook the rice for me and after that I travelled for one week and arrived in Banteay Chakkrei commune, Preah Sdach district, Prey Veng province.
After 10 days staying in Ta Eom village, I was sent to be imprisoned again by Pol Pot’s Police. I was sent to prison 6 months near Wat Thlork located in Sena Reach Oudom commune, Preah Sdach district, Prey Veng province about 3km east of Cambodia-Japan Friendship School.
In 1979, after the second liberation day, my family and I came back to live in our old house in Steung Meanchey. In October 1980, my wife, my grandson and I decided to leave our beloved country and traveled to Khmer-Thai border. At that time, we stayed at Nong Chan.
On 3 February 1981, my family and I were allowed to live in Japan by the Japanese Government. After learning Japanese for 6 months, my wife and I worked for Nilton Demetsu Keaki Kabuzaki Kaishai. My grandson, Kong Bunthy, started school in first grade in Shiyoshida primary school.
In 1990, my wife and I were allowed to visit my country of origin, Cambodida, for the first time. Then, in 1991, my wife and I visited Cambodia again, but this time we went to visit my wife’s hometown. While we arrived at Sompong pagoda, elder Chok, elder Orn, elder Muk and other relatives of my wife brought me to visit Sompong primary school. When I saw the school, I was very surprised and I said, “Oh, my God! Is this real or just acting that more than 300 students sitting directly on the ground?” I took out my camera to capture what I saw there without adding anymore words and I thought to myself, “So this is what Pol Pot Regime remains: buildings without roofs, the buildings without walls that even people inside the buildings can see those who are outside?” As I could see, there were only about 10 chairs at that school.
By seeing this by my own eyes, nothing could stop me from doing something for the students there. I could not find words to describe how I felt and my tears began to drop. I went back home and talked softly to my wife, “I was asked to visit Sompong primary school by elders and the pagoda’s committee. It was so awful that the school buildings have no roofs, no walls, no teachers’ tables and even chairs for the students. I felt sympathy to all students there. I want to help the school so that the students will have chairs to sit on when they study.” My wife did not refuse about it. I started raising funds from the people who came with me to that village and I got nearly 1,000 USD. In 1992, the pagoda committee started repairing the school and spent 3,500 USD on it. After finishing repairing, the pagoda committee urged me to visit other school, especially Banteay Chakkrei middle school. Frankly speaking, I did not want to go at first because I was afraid it would be the same as the previous school that I had to pay my own money, 2,500 USD, to make funds into 3,500 USD so that Sompong primary school could be well repaired. After a while, as I no longer could resist the committee’s persuasion, I decided to visit Banteay Chakkrei middle school. There were many people going there with me at that time. As arriving there, I saw two inappropriate buildings consisting of zinc roofs and their wooden walls could not cover the whole buildings. As I could see holes that were the result of termites eating those wooden walls, I was so emotional. When I looked at the west of the school, I could see about 100 students studying by sitting on the tree leaves under the palm trees. Seeing my own nation like this, I almost could not stop my tears. The school principal told me, “The total students are 300 students, but they don’t study everyday. If it rains on any days of school, all the teachers and students won’t come to school because there is no shelter for them not to get soaked from the rain because the school only a small buildings without the roofs.
After this 1 hour meeting, I went back to my in-law’s house thinking where I could find the money to build a school building in Banteay Chakkrei middle school. I started to ask for ideas from my wife, “What do you think if I create a humanitarian organization?” My wife refused this idea. She said that I would spend all the saving on it. She continued, “You are a shy person. You don’t dare raise a huge amount of money from people. When you don’t have money, you don’t dare borrow money from others. Even when someone owes you money, you don’t even dare ask it back from them. Then, how will you raise money for this humanitarian purpose?” I replied back to her with the soft voice, “I will stop being shy because nothing can stop me from creating this organization now. I will try to create it in no matter what.”
Then, I contacted Mr. Kazuhisa Ikawa and former Japanese Ambassador to Cambodia, Mr. Kurino. Both of them told me that if I did not create an organization, I could raise money only enough to build a few school buildings. Only creating a legal organization with a clear structure would build trust for donors because it was legal. I asked Mr. Ikawa again. Although my wife did not agree with my idea to establish this organization, I begged her until she agreed.
After that, Mr. Ikawa introduced me to UNICEF senior officer working in Akasaka. I asked her what name I should put for this organization. She asked me about key words I wanted to stress on. I said two words: Cambodia and Education. So, she came up with “Cambodia Education Assistance Fund (CEAF)” I was so glad with this name. Three days afterwards, she sent me 500 USD. I was so happy. After successfully establishing this organization, I asked Mr. Ikawa to be a senior consultant, 5 other Japanese to be consultants, and Mr. Takashi Murai to be an accountant and a senior officer. For Cambodia side, I appointed 30 Cambodians to be senior officers and members of CEAF. In only one month, I could raise more than 800,000 yen from Khmer community in Japan. Later, I received a humanitarian aid from Mrs. President of the company in Goma prefecture 1,000,000 yen. After receiving that money, I started to build a building in Banteay Chakkrei middle school and its inauguration was in December 1993. In 1994, I started building another building in Protheath middle school. In 1995, I started building a building, consisting of 6 rooms, in Sompong primary school. These 6 rooms were built from the funds that were from Kanagawa International Association 1,900,000 yen and from Japanese and Cambodian people that I raised. So in total, the funds were 2,000,000 yen that I did not only build the 6-room building, but also built the fence around the school and Sompong Kearam pagoda. In 1997, I built another 6-room building in Seksa Prey Torp primary and also the fence around the school and Prey Torp pagoda. The school was much better now, but the teaching and studying were not as good. Some students who already finished their 5th or 6th grade did not even know how to read.
I tried to find reasons behind this and I then got to know 2 factors behind it. First, teachers did not teach regularly. Second, students felt bored because teachers did not come to teach time everyday because after the Pol Pot Regime, teachers did not receive enough salaries to support their families; fewer teachers, less classrooms, no proper chairs for students to sit on.
By seeing that, I decided to buy 4 hectares of land in 1995. Then, I bought nearly 1 hectare of land to build a house on and to observe how regular the teachers came to teach students and to observe how the students studied. As I could see, teachers’ living situation was not good. They had many children and did not receive much money from teaching. So they had to force themselves to find other jobs, such as farming and fishing to support their families. Some teachers had a motor-riding service and they were absent from school one or two days a week.
Seeing that, I decided to ask for permission from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, registered it to be a public school and promised with the ministry that I would never take the money from the students. Meanwhile, I would try my best to find extra financial supports to help add on existing salaries of the teachers to make sure that they would come to teach full-time regularly and punctually to provide high quality teaching to students.
In 1998, I registered to have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Royal Government of Cambodia, and Cambodia Education Assistant Fund. I registered CEAF in these two mentioned ministries because I wanted to establish a Cambodia-Japan Friendship Middle School in 1999 and made it to become a high school in 2002.
Since 1993 to 2015, my organization and I raised money to build 8 buildings by ourselves, those including buildings that consisted of 5 to 8 rooms and I suggested to Japan NPO that I worked closely with and they helped build 5 buildings (each building consisted of 5 to 10 rooms), a big library building, teachers’ office, 4 small rooms for foreign teachers, Khmer teachers’ house and a small house for students to stay. There were 5 wells, three restrooms for foreign teachers, two bathrooms, three restrooms for Cambodian teachers, 4 restrooms for female students, and 8 restrooms for male students.
Since 1999 to 2016, there were 4,673 students (2,177 were females) who came to study at Cambodia-Japan Friendship Middle and High School (CJFS). There were 15 generations of students and 935 of them passed the 12th Grade National Exam. In the school, there are 5 big buildings and each building consists of 5 to 10 rooms.
From the 1st to the 15th generation, there are about 300 students who have received scholarships to study at universities in Phnom Penh and most of them have been supported by donors in Japan and Europe, and now some have become doctors, civil engineers, high school teachers, middle school teachers, and primary school teachers. Other than that, some of them have become soldiers, police officers, midwives, nurses and officials in ministries of Cambodia. Besides constructing the school buildings and supporting to strengthening the school management, the main purpose of CEAF is to provide school materials to students to learn and to teachers to teach, and it is very important to have enough budgets to pay for administration services. It is very necessary for us to think of any possible ways to seek for financial supports and use them for extra salaries for CJFS teachers because their existing salaries are not suitable to their current living situation while the prices of goods in the market are also high. That is why extra salaries for teachers are significantly important. Every month, my organization provides extra 116$ to CJFS principal, 87$ to deputy principals, 75$ to high school teachers, and 69$ to middle school teachers. This is a method to encourage them to focus on teaching and to spend more time on doing research, so that they can have more good lessons to teach and encourage students to study hard resulting in increasing the number of graduate students from high school every year.
Every year from 1993 to 2017, if I had only focused on constructing school buildings, I would have built 35 buildings because the amount of money that has spent on teachers’ extra salaries, on scholarships to outstanding students, on school administrative materials, on hygiene service of the school campus, and on sending teachers to Japan to learn about this country development are in average almost 100,000$ every year.
The senior leaders of CEAF want students to be well educated, so that they can be moral, love one another, respect the elders, never look down to someone who is not well-educated as they are, never look down on the poor and learn to live with one another in harmony, as the same one Khmer proverb said harmonizing with one another and live with dignity.
The other important purpose of CEAF is to eradicate illiteracy and poverty in Cambodia, and to develop this country to be better and widely known the same as this proverb, “Cambodia Kingdom of Wonders)
In order to realize our purposes, all of CEAF officials would like to call for supports from every Cambodian citizen, especially students who are the strong pillars of the nation, to join hand in hand together supporting CEAF, established by a Cambodian man and he now has turned 80 of age already in order to continue this mission to transform our education system to be proper the same as what all of Cambodians desire for a long time.
We strongly believe that Mr., Mrs., Miss, Nephews and Nieces, Grandchildren, and donors of all nationals will donate your own money to support the CEAF’s mission.
If ladies and gentlemen of Japanese nationals would like to know about CEAF’s activities has been doing for the past 24 years, please read my book, “Survival from the Killing Field”. You can buy this book from CEAF’s office, Monument Bookstore, Happy Day Restaurant, and Cambodia-Japan Friendship Middle and High School.
The “Survival from the Killing Field” describes the real story and events from 1958-1969, 1970-1975, 1975-1980, 1981-1998 (the time that I lived in Japan) and 1998-2017. When you read this book, you will know what has happened in Cambodia as well as my bitter experience in the past 59 years.