From makeshift classroom to the temple, how the journey begin

13 Years ago, late venerable Ly Sang came to Phum Thom and established the Wat Phum Thom temple, resided there as the the abbot and later went on to try to create the first Khmer language classroom in the province. This is Binh Phuoc, Vietnam. Although Lok Ta (title of reverence for the venerable monk) Ly Sang has past away without seeing the fruit of his labor, his legacy and great devotion to the preservation of Khmer language lived on.

Today, thanks to his work, Wat (Buddhist temple) Phum Thom host a thriving number of students attending Khmer language class each evening. Sometimes the small temple class room is packed with every spaces and chairs crunched in so close together that it literally gives you an impression of a centipede with one long stretch bodies with all the students as its legs and arms.

The Wat Phum Thom temple now boast pupils of over a hundred young children and on any given night the palpable sense of excitement and the thrill of learning the mysterious but yet native Khmer language and script is so great you can almost hear the students chanting each vowels and consonant after the teacher monk from miles away and even when classes are no longer in session, the sounds of students learning their native language rings in your ear so beautifully, no less charming then your favorite Beethoven or Bach.

This though, all happens in a temple classroom that is neither barely started or barely complete. The classroom temple, separate from the main worship temple was put under halt by the government in Vietnam midway through its construction due to cited reasons that the indigenous architects who the abbot employed to construct the building had no insurances and therefore could not guarantees for the safety of the occupants.

in 2007, Lok Ta Ly Sang passed away. He did not get to see how successful his devotion had become, if he could see how many students are now in this class room, he would be so happy. Although the classroom is being used, it is still far from a complete structure, and even though, since then, the government has allowed for the restart of this construction, there is not enough money for the village to complete this building properly.

The classroom is a two story building so even if there isn’t a roof or for the fact that second floor is just but a skeletal frame, that does not deter these students from learning. At least the second floor base can cover as the roof for now and for now, that is enough. For these young and curious students of Khmer language, a place to study and a new dynamic monk teacher successor, it’s a lot more then they had hoped for considering that only a few years ago no Khmer language classroom exist in the province. They should be really proud of themselves because they are the first successful group to have a Khmer language classroom even if it’s not complete yet.

There is always something to be done and everyone can contribute. If you want to, you can help support this project or even help to start a new one. To help to support Khmer Krom children’s literacy, preserve their indigenous language and the unique cultural identity doesn’t cost much. It only cost the effort to participate and care. We are lucky to be in the U.S, even buying notebooks and clothes we can take for granted here. With one notebook here we can probably buy almost 4 notebook over in Vietnam.

At the end of the day, the question is not about what you can do but it’s really about how much you really care. If you think your time or sponsorship doesn’t make a difference, think again. Remember, what may appear to you as one pebble dropped in the ocean, could really have a huge ripple in small pond to someone else.

To my fellow Khmer Kroms, Think, Take Action, and Join Hand to help improve Education and living condition for our Khmer Krom youth in Vietnam and help them preserve our Language and Tradition. Wherever you are, don’t forget where you came from.

This article is written in memory of Lok Ta Ly Sang. Lok Ta Ly Sang passed away in 2007 in Khlang (Soc Trang)province, South Vietnam. He was a compassionate and diligent soul, he loves children and taught us Pali chants and Buddhist precepts. He was almost like a mentor to me as a kid and took care of me when I was sick, blessed me and prayed for my safe trip to America when my family left for the U.S in 1996 and I was fortunate enough to receive his blessing again in 2006 on my visit back to my hometown village.

To Lok Ta, may you find peace and Nirvana. Thank you for your dedication to preserving our Khmer heritage in Kampuchea Krom.


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