Muoy You, who escaped Cambodia's killing fields, now teaches self-respect and integrity
Muoy You has opened Seametrey Children's Village in Phnom Penh to help restore Cambodia's culture.
(Page 2 of 2)
"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.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Parents pay according to their means. The poorest pay nothing; some pay small sums they can afford. Expatriates and better-off locals pay the full monthly fee of $290.
"A school like this would have been beyond our dreams," says Ang Kim, a tuk-tuk driver whose two young daughters study in Seametrey. He can't pay, but he volunteers as a security guard on Sundays.
Currently, the school has 80 students, from toddlers to teens. They learn in small groups from nursery through primary school. Whether from dirt-poor villages, urban slums, or well-heeled Phnom Penh homes, they're treated alike – and are expected to treat one another alike, too.
A poor farmer's son is best friends with a rich rice merchant's son – a rare friendship in a country with a rigid social divide between rich and poor.
"We have to break down social barriers and emphasize our common humanity," Muoy insists.
A key part of the curriculum is moral education. Muoy and her teachers, many of them foreign volunteers, urge the children to value ethical behavior as its own reward.
"Be gentle and nice, Samreth!" Muoy chides a lively 4-year-old when she sees him scuffling with a little girl on the school's shady, well-equipped playground.
"She pushed me first!" Samreth insists.
"Shouldn't you be a gentleman and not push back?" Muoy tells him. The boy agrees, then scampers back to play.
Samreth studies at Seametrey with his older sister. His grandmother, who sells sugar-cane juice and helps out at the school, gave birth to the children's mother the very same day in April 1975 that the Khmer Rouge set about driving the entire population of Phnom Penh into the countryside to become slave laborers.
During the ultra-Maoist movement's brutal four-year rule that followed, teachers and intellectuals were systematically eliminated in a policy that would tear apart the moral fabric of the society.
Cambodia still hasn't recovered.
"Seametrey is a visionary project [aimed at] regenerating Cambodians' self-respect and integrity," says Elia Van Tuyl, a retired businessman in Palo Alto, Calif., who runs the Friends of Cambodia charity. "It seeks to attack poverty by addressing its psychological, educational, and cultural roots."
After just two years at Seametrey, young Samreth now speaks fluent English. "He's a bright boy with leadership and oratory skills remarkable for his age," Muoy says.
"I'm very happy for my grandchildren," says Tes Kamsan, the boy's grandmother. "They'll have a much better life than their mother and I had."
Muoy is certain of that. She points to a flowery vine in her garden. From its pot the plant has climbed all the way up to her fourth-floor balcony.
"That is my analogy for education," she explains. "Place children in fertile soil, and they'll blossom and flourish!"
• Visit seametreycambodia.org