The first question usually asked of Harry and Rosemary is, “How did all of this get started?” And their response is, “In a traffic jam in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!”
The Wongs were traveling with a group in Ethiopia in October 2007 and while stuck in traffic, the discussion turned to education. One of the passengers told of her involvement with building and sustaining schools in Cambodia. Back at the hotel they were shown pictures like this:
Their hearts melted as they saw an opportunity to better the world one child at time. The following months were a series of email exchanges with the Apsara Foundation in Cambodia who acted as liaisons between the foundation and the government.
A site was selected and The Wong Meanreth Learning Campus (now known as The Wong Meanreth School) was chosen as the name for the school. The plans were approved and construction got under way.
The Wong Meanreth School was planned for 70—100 primary students with two to three teachers. A single building was built for all of the classrooms.
A canteen was constructed to serve a daily, hot meal to each student.
To attract talented teachers, housing on the school grounds was built for the teachers and teacher salaries were doubled. (The government salary for a teacher in Cambodia is $30 a month.)
Registration was announced via the community grapevine and children poured out of the surrounding jungle to come to school. On the first day of school, over 275 children came through the gate, almost triple the amount of students anticipated.
The local school committee along with the principal and the Apsara Foundation coordinator quickly divided the children and set up a morning and afternoon shift for the students. Another two teachers were hired.
In February 2009 of that first year, the Wongs made their way to the school to formally dedicate The Wong Meanreth School and meet the children and teachers. Their visit was met with a huge surprise! The campus would grow overnight!
The Wongs attended the dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony on February 15, 2009. While they had been to Cambodia many times, this was their first visit to the region and their school.
During the construction process, the Apsara Foundation sent detailed photos and a narrative to describe the construction. So, the Wongs were surprised to see two more classroom buildings on the property when they arrived at the school. Meeting with the local school committee they discovered that the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank each donated to the construction of the buildings, but it would be up to the community to support the school.
The local school committee asked the Wongs if they would “adopt” the other buildings and the 50 children and 3 teachers. Without hesitation they said yes.
Their five year plan quickly became a one year plan and details were discussed on how to integrate all of the children and the teachers and give everyone the same opportunities.
From an idea in February 2008, of one building with 5 classrooms, 100 children, and 3 teachers, the Wongs left The Wong Meanreth School on February 15, 2009, agreeing to support and maintain 3 buildings with 15 classrooms, 325 children, and 8 teachers.