koh ka-ek village, Kompong Chhnang province – Until recently only a handful of children in this poor fishing village were able to study in its dilapidated rattan schoolhouse.
Now all 440 school-age children have a place at the new Chim-Chan Sastra primary school, donated by UN workers in memory of a colleague who was killed in Rwanda. It formally opened at a ceremony here Saturday.
A UN rights worker based in Phnom Penh, Chim-Chan Sastra was one of the first Cambodians to be sent by the UN overseas. His posting was Rwanda.
In February 1997 he was travelling with three Rwandan colleagues and a British aid worker when their two vehicles were ambushed by a gang of Hutu militia. All five were murdered.
As a memorial to their friend and colleague, UN workers and members of the Asia Foundation raised $20,000 from personal donations to build a school to honor a man who put great faith in the value of education as a fundamental human right, they said.
“It is quite fitting because Sastra liked education and he studied hard,” said Chim Sang, his father, who was born just a few kilometers up the river and is himself a high school teacher in Phnom Penh. “He wanted to restore education to Cambodians.”
At the opening ceremony Saturday, 60 km north of Phnom Penh, UN rights official Brad Adams honored Chim-Chan Sastra’s commitment and said he hoped the rows of students would be inspired by his work.
“He was the most fearless human rights worker in our office; he volunteered to do the difficult work,” he said. “Sastra worked for human rights because he was concerned about the rights of Cambodians.”
The four-room school sits on concrete stilts to protect it from the rainy season floods. It was built by members of the village who gave their time for free. Three teachers have been provided by the province, with two more expected in September.