The pressure of being Savong


By western standards Savong can appear quite strict with his students – but he’s faced with a choice: if a student doesn’t want to knuckle-down and study hard, he knows plenty more who will.


I had a fifteen minute phone conversation yesterday with Savong, and these days we keep the toll calls pretty short in order to save money. (Skype has also saved me hundreds of dollars each year.)  We had a brief catch up and Savong was just coming down after a rare weekend of relaxing. Cambodia had just had its water festival.

Our conversation turned to a couple of sponsored individuals and an issue I’d describe as “being the father of adult students who are still at home.”  Heaven knows, my own parents probably had quite enough of me during my students days: the moods, the claims of adulthood (but not the responsibilities) and my ever-shifting sense of direction.

Anyway, for Savong you can multiply my own parents’ experience by a quantum because he hasn’t got one young adult to navigate around: he has at least 20.  There are students who are struggling at school and wondering if a career in trades might be better. There are students who want a taste of the alluring Siem Reap club and party life. (Savong’s rule: No!) There are students who are having career-changing thoughts: perhaps if I studied this course instead of that course?  And there are students who want to deal directly with their sponsors (asking for more money – but under the table.) Savong’s rule is again: no.

What Savong needs is a supportive network, and he reminded me that us sponsors can assist.

We don’t always make it easy. When one student bucked the system earlier this year, Savong basically expelled him from the program. ‘No more sponsorship – you’ve broken the rules – you can go your own way from here on in.’ After all, there are plenty more students hoping for support.  Sponsorship comes with rules and expectations.

But in that instance how complicated did I make it? “Savong, give the boy a second chance.”  “Savong, you have to show more forgiveness.” Suddenly I was telling him how to be a leader: how to be a parent.

I was mulling this over last night, and vowed that however I can, I should be less the critic and more of the support that Savong needs.  Twenty older students virtually in his care.  What a handful!

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