Say Hello to Seiha, a Compassionate Powerhouse
Seiha Kong is a powerhouse, one of the strong pillars on which many an ISF achievement has rested. She joined us nine years ago in 2011 as the Operations Manager of our first education centre in Steung Meanchey. A year later, she then took on the challenge of opening up an entirely new centre in one of Phnom Penh’s most disadvantaged communities. The district of Chbar Ampov is known for its extreme poverty, and high number of undocumented immigrants and displaced people. Within the community there is also a staggering amount of drug, alcohol and gambling addiction. Over eight years, she has guided ISF Chbar Ampov’s blossom into a beacon of learning, excellence and compassion.
Over her tenure as the head of the school, Seiha has overseen a number of improvement projects. They include the creation of an outdoor seating area for students, a car park for staff and a brand new computer room for the abundance of students interested in learning Information and Communications Technology (ICT). She also manages community outreach projects like adult literacy classes, an on-campus sewing workshop, whilst being the main driver for plastic reduction education at ISF.
Seiha’s workload is a heavy one. She manages an entire school, including a social work team busy with aiding communities with huge social challenges. Yet in the midst of all of this, she has also become a personal confidante and mentor to many students. It’s not unusual to find a gang of kids waiting outside her office hoping for some advice or kindness or just a hug. They never have to wait long.
The source of Seiha’s empathy and drive to improve lives through education isn’t hard to find. “My childhood was very difficult, my father died when I was in grade 7. My family’s living situation got more and more difficult as my mother tried to earn enough for five children. It got harder and harder, and my mother could not afford for me to keep studying. But I was really determined. I started to grow my own vegetables in every spare minute and went to sell them at the market to make money to study and help my mother. I did this until I graduated.”
While Seiha started her career as a receptionist, she soon realized her real passion lay in helping others like herself. “I know how hard it is to be poor. I know children need the basics like education, security, food, a home and good health. I wanted to do something to lift children from dark backgrounds up to a brighter future.”
Seiha’s ambitions for Chbar Ampov have driven her to work hard from day one. “I want this to be the happiest and warmest place for these kids, a safe place where they get love and care.” She knows from experience that many children do not get this at home, due to families which are in the grips of addiction or violence. “But I also want it to change their lives forever, to be a bridge to a great future career.”
It’s not always easy. Witnessing students lose their motivation to study as pressures from the world and their families become too heavy is heartbreaking. While Seiha works valiantly with the social work team to help them to keep studying, they can’t always succeed. Some do drop out. However, Seiha says all the hard work is worth it when she sees the children who are responding to the support they are given, and witnesses their growing appreciation and love for school.
Seiha admits that she worries about funding with COVID-19 wreaking havoc around the world. “It makes me frightened to think that if we can’t support children and their families, they will have no hope of breaking out of poverty,” she says. But she refuses to stay downhearted. “Once this is behind us, I want us to keep growing. I want ISF as an organization to inspire people everywhere. Most importantly, I want to see us change the lives of as many disadvantaged kids as we can. Kids like I used to be.”