A 74-year-old man, Kong You, has devoted the past 43 years of his life to teaching the children of Ka’am Samnor commune of Kandal province’s Loeuk Dek district for free, as he has wanted to see them all literate and educated.
“I started teaching in 1979 as I feared the younger generation would be illiterate, because in the Pol Pot era they could not learn.
“The children were not taught for four years, so I had the idea to put that right – to give the children free education,” You told The Post.
Immediately after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, when You was around 33 or 34 years old, he would hold classes in the evening by lamplight after a day’s farming, tearing up pieces of paper to use for teaching.
As he did not have any textbooks at the time, he said he taught from what he knew, both literacy and mathematics.
Today, he teaches the children of poor people in three villages – Reang Chuor, Ka’am Samnor Leur and Ka’am Samnor Krom – as well as those from other villages, if they want to study.
You, who finished his studies at Grade 7, said he is currently teaching at elementary level, from kindergarten to Grade 5.
“While I teach for free, some parents will offer me a snack or small amount of money as a gift. I graciously accept if they kindly offer, but I don’t take anything as payment – it’s fine if they don’t give me anything at all,” he said.
Alongside his duties as deputy chief of Ka’am Samnor village, You teaches for around three to four hours a day, depending on his schedule.
He teaches every day except Sunday, or when he is too busy, with three classes a day, from 6-7am in the morning, from around 11:30am or noon, and from 4pm in the afternoon.
“There are about 20 to 30 children per class, so I divided it into two shifts – morning and evening. They will also have state school lessons as normal, so they can come to study with me in their free time from the state school and at lunch,” he said.
You said that as there were many illiterate people in the village, he wanted to help by educating the children so they could become civil servants and give back to the community.
He said some of his students had indeed gone on to become civil servants, and they had thanked him and given presents for his efforts in teaching them so well.
“It is nice when former students thank me, but I do this because I want to see the people in my community grow. This is all that matters to me,” he said.
You noted that his lessons were being hampered as his house was starting to leak, meaning he sometimes couldn’t teach when there was heavy rain.
Ka’am Samnor village chief Lev Loeung said that You’s passion for teaching was reflected in the popularity of the lessons at his home, which was not big or intended as a classroom.
“He started off teaching the children nearby. And as he taught so well – with the kids able to understand everything and remember his lessons well – as well as being free, many people became interested.
“He has expanded his classroom by making tables and chairs with contributions from parents, but with no help aside from such kind contributions, it is starting to become rundown.
“What You is doing is so important because children from any village or commune can join his classes for free. If there are any generous people who wish to help Kong You, it would be of such great benefit for the children of the local area,” Loeung said.