PREK KHSAY ‘A’ COMMUNE, Prey Veng province – Cheered on by about 1,000 villagers, New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof, his wife and his three children on Friday inaugurated a new middle school that the family donated.
The five-room school building in Peam Ro district houses 119 seventh-grade students for now and will expand to eighth-graders and ninth-graders in the next two years, said Neou Ty, senior program officer for American Assistance for Cambodia and Japan Relief for Cambodia, which built the school funded by the Kristof family.
“When I travel in Cambodia, I wonder sometimes why it is that America is so much richer than Cambodia,” Kristof said in his inauguration speech.
“It is not because anybody works harder, because Cambodians are very hardworking. It is not because Americans are any smarter, because Cambodians are very smart. But I think one of the differences has been education,” he said.
The closest middle school was previously 5 km away, but now children will only have to walk 5 to 10 minutes to the new school, Yem Sokhom, deputy governor of Prey Veng province, said in his speech at the ceremony.
AAFC/JRFC built the school as part of a program that matches funds from private donors with funds from the Asian Development Bank and the Ministry of Education to create schools in rural Cambodia. AAFC/JRFC is chaired by Bernard Krisher, publisher of The Cambodia Daily.
This Christmas visit was not a first for Kristof, who has been to Cambodia half a dozen times before, including a controversial trip in 2004 when he bought the freedom of two teenage sex slaves from a Poipet brothel. He and his wife Sheryl WuDunn said they are co-writing a book on women in the developing world, and focused their message on the importance of educating girls.
Kristof, who in his biweekly columns champions many causes of the developing world, said that while the need might be greater in other countries, his family chose Cambodia to build a school because it has a better record of actually using the donated schools.
“We just wanted to put our pockets where our mouths are,” he added.