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Muoy You, who escaped Cambodia's killing fields, now teaches self-respect and integrity

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Now Muoy wants to transform the prospects of other Cambodian families by giving children of low-income cleaners, laborers, farmers, and tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw) drivers a high-quality education.

"I don't just want to teach them to read and write," she stresses. "I want them to become professionals, writers, thinkers, artists – to make their country proud."

In Cambodia today, few students have that chance; most have access only to basic education. So upon returning home to Phnom Penh in 2003, Muoy set up the Seametrey Children's Village, a private initiative. She mortgaged a property she owned abroad, bought a small plot of land, and converted a run-down hut on it into a classroom.

"A school is just a building," she notes. "It's the resources that matter."

Courteous and fluent in English, Muoy modestly calls herself "an obscure woman with dreams bigger than herself." She started with a handful of young children – those of neighbors and acquaintances.

She ditched the rote learning that is common at crowded government schools and instead set about helping children discover the joys of learning by themselves in a free-spirited environment. "You shouldn't just stick children behind desks," Muoy explains. "You need to help them retain their childlike curiosity and spontaneity."

Word of her school spread. As more and more students came, Muoy rented the house next door to expand.

Two years ago, after the death of her architect-painter husband, she turned their airy, four-story home on the site into a guesthouse.

"I've turned hotelier for the cause," Muoy says with a chuckle. The income "helps us sustain the school without the need for handouts," she says.

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