My travels to Cambodia with Room to Read have been profoundly meaningful experiences for me. On my first visit, I found myself touched most by the dedication of the students and mothers’ determination to change their daughters’ lives.
On my second visit, I realized that the incredible passion and leadership of the Room to Read global team are integral to the success of this organization. From the country directors across Asia and Africa who bring the best practices in literacy and education to each school and library to the social mobilizers or mentors who become intimately connected to the family life of each girl supported by Room to Read—at every level, Room to Read exhibits a passion and commitment that is truly admirable.
In Cambodia, all of those involved in this effort have shared the challenge of rebuilding their lives after a tumultuous history. Room to Read’s Country Director in Cambodia, Kall Kann, has personally experienced the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime and yet has turned this experience into a passion for helping a generation of students pursue their dreams. His heroism is not the kind that sparks headlines or parades, but yet he transforms and saves lives each and every day. I am honored to have had the chance to speak with him and wanted to share some of his thoughts with you.
V: Can you tell me a bit about growing up?
K: My family always valued education. I started going to school when I was five years old and I managed to enroll in the first year of lower secondary school. Unfortunately in 1975, our family was forced to evacuate and I was separated from my entire family and my parents. I was about 12 ½ years old, and I didn’t think I could survive. But later on, I realized I should try to survive because I might meet my parents again. So that was the source of hope and strength that made me believe in myself and I managed my life.
V: Did you ever suspect back then that you’d be such a meaningful force in children’s education?
K: My parents always told me when I was young that you have to study hard. This was the one thing that motivated me. Many people laughed at me and said I should get married and work to get more money to survive instead of studying; at that time not many people valued an education. But I did, I just liked studying. I went back to school when I was around 20 years old because it was the only way I coped with all of my stress. I still don’t know where my parents are, but we know for sure that they died.
V: What is the best part of your work now? What gives you the most joy?
K: I remember when I was young, I walked across the school which was built by a wealthy family that had erected a statue of their parents and a sign dedicating the school to them. I always dreamed that if I had money I would build a school and put my parents’ name on it. That’s why I always thought that if I got a job, I should get a job in education.
I believe that education can bring change and help children in rural areas have opportunities like me. The first opportunity is access to education. My job here with Room to Read is invaluable and pays back to society and to the community. I very much enjoy my role and bridge the gap between those who can offer help and those who need it most.
V: Your dream was to build one school but now you’ve helped build dozens.
K: Yes, I am very proud to say Room to Read has built 25 schools in Cambodia and established over 1,600 libraries. This year we are on track to increase those numbers and provide opportunities to hundreds more children.
V: We have lots of friends out there who are mothers with children the same age as the ones you are helping. If you could tell them one thing, what would you want them to know?
K: I would say if we want to bring peace and stability to the world, then education is the right thing to invest in. Today Cambodia has been classified as one of the poorest countries in the world, but I don’t believe this country is poor. I believe this country is rich in resources not only in terms of culture and natural land, but also in our people. If we invest in education, we can unlock the potential of millions of children in Cambodia and around the world.