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8 February 2023 - Story

An elderly man pledges to spend the remaining time helping young students

In an effort to help eliminate illiteracy and reduce poverty in his community, an elderly 77-year-old man, Heng Ham, has voluntarily offered the remaining time of his life to support children and ensure that they are correctly educated.

Mr. Ham was the Kampong Uor Village Chief in Khon Rang Commune, Kampong Chhnang’s Boribo district, since 1983 and the Principal of the floating Kampong Uor Primary School.

The floating Kampong Uor Primary School was built in 1963 and run by a Buddhist monk. This school was closed in 1970 due to the war. The school reopened in 1986 under the initiative of Mr. Ham, whose daughter, Heng Sreyoun, served as the only teacher for two classes consisting of 60 students.

Throughout the years under Mr. Ham’s leadership, the floating school received support from Save the Children Norway and various donors. Under this support, the school was relocated to land and renovated to become a five-classroom building.

In July 2021, with funding support from Save the Children Korea, Save the Children Cambodia worked in collaboration with the Provincial and District Offices of Education, Youth, and Sport to implement the Safe Back-to-School – Pathways in Educational Equity and Resilience (PEER) project in Kampong Chhnang province and Kampong Uor Primary School was registered as one among the 32 target schools.

Since then, Mr. Ham and his two teachers have been equipped with skills for better planning, using technology, and understanding different approaches to teaching, including concepts of gender equality and inclusion.

Mr. Ham then decided to step down from his position in early 2022. Still, the school management continues to invite him to serve as the Deputy Village Chief and Honorable Chairman of the School Management Committee because of his outstanding achievements.

Every early morning, Mr. Ham shows up at the Kampong Uor Primary School and spends time with teachers and students to clean classrooms, prepare meals, and support teaching and learning.

“Our current teachers are still young and need more experience and support to communicate better and teach young students. I usually observe how they explain the lessons and check on students to see if they understand,” he said. “The school did not have enough learning and teaching materials, and it’s really challenging.”

Aside from offering his time to the school, Mr. Ham also spends his earnings and savings to repair the school and purchase educational materials to maintain a friendly learning environment for students.

“My life has been attached to the education sector. I have spent more than 40 years working to improve my community, and I will continue doing this until my last breath,” he said.

Sambuon Kearin, the current school principal, acknowledges the essential roles and contributions that Mr. Ham has made for this school and his community.

“I highly value what he did for this school; it means a lot to children. He has sacrificed his strength to support students,” Mr. Kearin said. “Mr. Ham always gives us great advice to address problems and challenges, and I enjoy listening to his ideas in our meetings.”

Suorin Putheavy, a grade 5 student, considers Mr. Ham her role model and that she will study hard in return for his effort.

“Grandfather Ham is very active. He addresses all problems at school, and he cares about our future. He demonstrates his willingness to do his best to support us,” she said.