As you come into land at Siem Reap airport, Cambodia tourists on the left hand side of the plane hold their faces to their windows, peering out at the scenery below. There! Can you see it? The distinctive square that maps out Angkor Wat! And below us, a large rectangular lake. We’re coming in now…you brace your feet and….bump…we touch down.
That lake, that rectangular man made lake is 1,000 years old. It is called West Baray and it was constructed to provide year round water for fishing and agriculture for the Angkor Kingdom. It was built as part of a system that enabled, through irrigation, three rice harvests per annum, not two. It reflected the knowledge and engineering skills of a civilisation that earned undreamed of wealth and power. This lake helped support a city of more than one million people – the largest city in the world.
Today the lake is a destination for locals seeking a place to swim and picnic. Skinny boats with their diesel engines take visitors out to a small island where there is an Angkor shrine, and a small wooden pagoda. Children often come here, some selling fruit to visitors. Over in the shade there’s a group of musicians, blind, who play the complex, enchanting Khmer music.
It is here that Savong and his friend Sopin took me in October 2004 and we sat in the warmth, listening to the music. Sopin sat on a small jetty catching puffer fish the size of spiky little golf balls. It was here that Savong discussed his dreams of opening a school in the countryside, the school that now bears his name.
More recently Savong has invested more time in West Baray, and with generous funding from a Hong Kong based sponsor has started a small school – an extension of Savong School to give local children precisely the same hope that he gives elsewhere: the hope of education.
Today Savong posted on his Facebook page a couple of photos (one of them is the girl above) and he reflected on the fact that this is where he first shared his dream to build a school. Now here is a second school, a modest open-air classroom, that serves more than 100 children.
The photo above is a fresh reminder of the willingness that local children show for education. Today 8 years after his own dream came true, the dreams of these children are now being realised as well.