Text and photos : Jean-Matthieu Gautier
Reasey is immediately impressed with the new library: he says he’d like to donate books to the students.
Reasey has been living in his home province of Banteay Meanchey for a year now, after spending 8 years studying in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. He’s been on quite an adventure in a country where long-term studies are rare – the need for children to help their families takes priority over academic study.
Reasey is a young man of 30 and speaks such perfect French that it’s hard to believe that he’s never set foot in France. He asks after everyone’s health. He works at Thmor Pouk hospital as a general practitioner, where he was assigned by the health department. He performs operations there in addition to his role as a consultant.
Now that he’s a working doctor, Reasey’s occasionally treats local sponsored children for free. He hopes to open his own practice in Sisophon in a few years’ time, which would enable him to live with his wife and young son who live there. In Cambodia, many families live apart from each other during the week because of work. The roads are poor, and it can take more than an hour to travel 20 miles or so.
FROM STUDENT TO CENTER DIRECTOR
In 2008, in his last year of secondary school, Reasey starts taking classes at the Children of the Mekong Centre in Sisophon. His friends had told him about the organisation and how it could help him realise his dream of studying in Phnom Penh.
He already knows that the salaries of his father, an agricultural worker, and of his mother, a teacher, won’t be enough to fund his dream. Since they are hesitant to entrust their son’s education to an organisation, Reasey has to work hard to convince them. He eventually succeeds.
Reasey is a brilliant student and passes his baccalauréat with honours. He is awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Health Sciences in Phnom Penh, a project he had developed by helping with yearly orientation forums set up by Children of the Mekong. “I wanted to help and take care of people but I knew I had to study much harder in biology and chemistry to be eligible for the scholarship, so I put all my energy into my studies. I remember one time I only had 3,000 riels in my pocket (0,75 centimes, equivalent to the price of a meal) but I chose to spend them on a schoolbook he says with a big smile.”
“My motivation was reinforced by my French sponsor who really helped me.” She was always there for me during important times in my life: my birthdays, my wedding, the birth of my son… We’re still in touch regularly, and share news, both good and bad. I try to help her in turn when she needs it.
THE POWER OF PATIENCE, DETERMINATION, AND EDUCATION
Reasey’s story is not simply that of a brilliant student, it’s also one of a young man in love in a country where relationships between men and women are still affected by convention and arranged marriages.
With a smile, Reasey tells me how, in secondary school, he met the young woman who would become his wife. Chanleap didn’t have a sponsor, but she also took classes offered by Children of the Mekong at the Sisophon centre. They then lost sight of each other until Chanleap was hospitalised in Phnom Penh. Feeling anxious, Chanleap contacted Reasey and asked him to visit her and give her his opinion on the treatments she was being prescribed, and to keep her company. In Cambodia, hospital patients are never left alone. Family and close friends stay by their side and help them in various ways such as buying them food, as food is not provided in hospital settings.
Reasey was in his 4th year of study back then. Despite the Children of the Mekong Center’s strict rules prohibiting anyone from leaving the centre after 8.30 pm, he decides to spend the night at Chanleap’s bedside « with my books and notebooks » he specifies. They fall in love. Reasey still has 4 years of study to complete before they can marry, but Chanleap promises to wait. They get married a few months after his last year at university, and a year later Reasey becomes a father to a little boy, Eden.
Reasey’s story is also one of success for the Children of the Mekong: to guide young people along the path to establishing happy and well-balanced families of their own. Reasey recognises how much he benefitted from the opportunities he was given would like to sponsor young people himself to give them the chance he had. “I think former students such as myself have a role to play – more than just meeting up from time to time to take photos together. We need to actively engage with the youth of Cambodia.”
TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT CAMBODIA
Our COO Eugenie Munakarmi was in Cambodia last February, she recalls her visit to the Samrong Education Centre.
They Reasey became a doctor because he was supported by his sponsor for his education.
There are many children in Cambodia dreaming of becoming a doctor too. They need a little help to continue their education despite the poverty of their family.
You can make a difference in their destiny, with £28 a month.