Before Chantha became the Founder of Vision Cambodia, his story of struggle and triumph shaped his mission. Simply put, Chantha feels compelled to help the poor villagers in his community because he used to be one of them. He knows, firsthand, what it is like to suffer and survive in poverty.
A Casualty of Civil War
Growing up in an impoverished Cambodian village under very difficult circumstances, he found himself alone at a young age. His father disappeared during the Cambodian Civil War and his mother had no way of caring for him, so he was sent to live with his uncle’s family in another village. To earn his keep, he became a child slave to the family. He recalls being treated severely and put to hard labor from the age of four up until he was thirteen.
Chantha cooked the family’s meals. If any food was left over, he was allowed to eat, but quite often there was not. He cared for the family’s animals, sleeping among them at night. While caring for the cattle one day, a cow escaped his view and walked back home without him. For this offence, Chantha was viciously beaten with a bamboo pole, tied to a mango tree, and left for two days, where red ants began to eat him alive. He admits to feeling like he would die at that tree, but Chantha’s journey was just at its beginning. This experience led him to an important decision to take action.
Action in a New Direction
His entire childhood, Chantha struggled against the wishes of the family to get a basic education. At thirteen, he desperately wanted to attend secondary school but was denied by his legal guardians, who still viewed him as their laborer. Resolved to his decision, Chantha walked out of the village with $0.10 in his pocket, no friends or relatives, and no specific destination in mind. He walked in the direction of the nearest town and arrived at daybreak.
At a Buddhist monastery, he was taken in by Monks. Here he was provided with a safe and stable environment to learn and grow. He received an education and learned to speak English. He became a leader among the other boys and taught English among his peers. During the following six years he excelled in his studies and eventually became the head English instructor at the monastery. A university degree and a career as an English speaking tour guide were to follow, but he never forgot his childhood or the many rural children in similar circumstances.
Experience Abroad and a Goal at Home
One day, he met a vacationing German family who appreciated his kindness so much that they sponsored him to live in Germany for six months. After his stay in Germany, he decided to become a tour guide to save money for his dream: He wanted to help others in his community the same way he had been helped by the kindness of others. He made a goal to start a nonprofit foundation using the money he made from tourism.
He was compelled first to help the poor people in the village he grew up in, because he knew what it felt like to suffer in their shoes. His life connection with the locals gives him open access and the firsthand knowledge to help those villagers who need it most. He is driven by his love and compassion for his people, using 100% of the donations received and much of his own tourism earnings to provide clean fresh water wells to families in need.
He pays the villagers for their work and teaches them how to build wells and schools in order to earn money for their families. This allows the cost of the projects to be much less than hiring contractors and is more impactful for the lives of the villagers. The impact that Chantha has had on his community, the families who receive a freshwater well, and the volunteers who have had the honor of working with him are immeasurable. Each of us can use his inspiration to find ways in our own lives to help make a difference for others.
Initiatives That Make a Difference
There are many initiatives that Vision Cambodia provides villagers, including clean water, through the digging of wells at homes and medical clinics in rural villages. The foundation sponsors schools, by aiding with building and repairs, paying for teacher salaries and ensuring that English is taught to the local villagers. They provide a baby fund, paying $35 for women to give birth to their babies in the clinics instead of at home, in the rice fields, or on the side of the road. The birth funds allow the mothers to have a clean and sterile environment and medical help. The foundation also aids with a farming initiative in the community, by planting gardens in the villagers and teaching the locals how to grow produce, allowing for better health and improved economic situations.
If you would like to join Chantha in supporting families in need by donating towards freshwater wells, please visit aplos.com/aws/give/ASEAAdvancingLifeFoundation/general