- By Soma Norodom
Soma Norodom gives a talk to novice monks at a Buddhist school in Kampong Cham province. Photo by Soma Norodom
The importance of education has been my platform since I moved to Cambodia in 2010. Growing up as a refugee in the US, it was education that gave me a sense of belonging, a career to make a good living, and respect.
According to UNESCO, only 1.6 per cent of Cambodia’s Gross Domestic Product (GNP) is spent on education. The GDP on education in most Western countries is anywhere between 5.5 to 6.4 per cent.
Countries like Brazil, Greece, Denmark, Argentina, Sri Lanka and Barbados provide free education that is funded through charitable organisations or taxation.
In Cambodia, education is not free, though NGOs and organisations have provided it to some. But many more children do not have the luxury of a quality education.
The Venerable Punlork Gnim has devoted his time to making education accessible to some of the young kids living in Kampong Cham province.
“Buddhist School is still popular in educating Cambodian people, especially for the poor, as we focus much about quality of education,” stated Venerable Punlork.
“Now there are 95 Buddhist monks who are studying here. Under my supervision and support, they are receiving free shelter, food, and education. All donations in my monastery are from supporters in the community, in Phnom Penh, and some from Cambodians who are living in the United States.”
Born to a poor family in rural area, Chomkar Kor village, in Oreang Ov district, Venerable Punlork has never given up on education and has earned a bachelor’s degree from a university in Phnom Penh. As Head Monk in charge of Oreang Ov Monastery, which has 25 monasteries under him, Venerable Punlork established a library called, “Indradevi”.
“My purpose of establishing the library is threefold. I experienced difficulties of my own in finding books to read, and many public schools have been constructed but there is no library to fulfil the need of students who want to do research, and I want to inspire people to read as a habit, as many Cambodian people do not care much about reading as compared to people in developing countries,” said Venerable Punlork.
Venerable Punlork added: “Only education can help them to liberate from poverty. Without education, one will continue to suffer. I encourage those who have a vision of establishing a library to do it, because a vision, along with action, can help change the world.”
Note: The documentary film, Girl Rising, from CNN Films, and directed by Academy Award nominee Richard Robbins, will premiere in Phnom Penh at the French Cultural Center on July 2.
The film focuses on the power of education to change the lives of girls around the world, and educating girls can break cycles of poverty in just one generation. In the film, each girl’s story is told by celebrated writers from their country and narrated by celebrities.
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