Rural Schools Support Organization

RSSO  Cambodia

The Team

Heanh Sokunthea – Director

Heanh Sokunthea, or Thea, was born in Domdek Commune, Cambodia in 1980. At this time, the Khmer Rouge still controlled parts of the country. Thea grew up surrounded by war. There were attacks day and night and he often slept and ate in a bunker. During Khmer Rouge raids, Thea remembers hearing the sounds of gunshots and soldiers entering his village late at night. His family moved villages, so he would be closer to primary school. 

Thea passed his 9th-grade exam and was moved to Siem Reap for high school because his town didn’t have enough teachers. When the war ended in 1997, the education system was in shambles, and most instructors were contract teachers. In Siem Reap, Thea stayed in a pagoda with the monks because he didn’t have family there. After completing 12th grade, Thea went to Phnom Penh to take his college exam and didn’t pass. His family didn’t have the money to pay for his education. From 1997-1998, Thea stayed at Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh and occasionally returned to Kampong Cham province to help his grandparents farm and herd cattle. 

In 2000, Thea became a monk at Wat Preah Indakosa in Siem Reap. After 3 months of fasting, he went to a monastic college in Bangkok, Thailand called Mahajulalongkornrajavijyalaya and studied philosophy. Thea stayed in Thailand for 7 years before returning to Cambodia. Back in Siem Reap, Thea studied law at Angkor University and got an MBA in public administration at CUS Siem Reap. In 2007, Thea left the monastery and started working and living at the Landmine Museum in Banteay Srei. As a monk, Thea had taught morals classes to high school students all over Cambodia, where he met his future wife. He liked working with the community and has been doing so ever since. After 10 years with the Landmine Museum, Thea began working with the Rural School Support Program (RSSO). Thea has been working with RSSO for three years now. He is the Operations Manager and initially helped with the rice delivery program during Covid-19. Currently, Thea is involved in both the Rural School Village Program and The Together Project. Thea has two young children and enjoys taking them camping.

Thoeun Daratana – Financial and Administrative Manager

Thoeun Daratana, or Ratana, was born in Kompong Chhnang, Cambodia in 1986. As a child, Ratana moved around a lot because of her parent’s jobs. From nursery school until 6th grade, she lived in Kompong Chhnang. In 7th grade, she moved to Kompong Cham and lived there through 12th grade. When Ratana was young she ran side businesses, selling snacks and drinks, at her school to bring in extra money. Ever since she was a child, Ratana has been one step ahead. 

In 2005, Ratana started studying international business at Cambodian Mekong University. In her second year of university, she started volunteering with 2 local NGOs. In her third year of university, she became a full-time employee for an NGO. After completing her BA, Ratana got her master’s degree in auditing at Vanda Institute. In 2012, she married Heanh Sokunthea and started working for the Landmine Museum. Ratana has been working for the Rural School Support Organization as the Chief Financial Officer for three years. She is passionate about her work and wants to help her country. She has 2 two young children and enjoys spending time with her family.

Mout Saiy – Project Manager

Mout Saiy, or Saiy, was born in Bakong, Cambodia in 1996. Until the age of 8, she mainly lived with her mom’s older sister. In 2009, Saiy moved to the Landmine Museum because her mother got a cleaning job there. While living at the Museum she fell in love with farming.  The Museum had a small farm behind the school and she spent her free time tending to the crops and planting new ones. After graduating from high school, Saiy studied agriculture at Build Bright University (BBU) for 1 year until there were no more agriculture classes. Saiy moved to the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh to continue her degree. Saiy was a serious student and excelled at growing many crops, especially straw mushrooms. As a result, the dean, Dr. Hong, had Saiy work on his farm and teach new students. After graduation, Saiy started working with the Rurual School Support Organization (RSSO). She felt that Bill and Jill Morse, founders of Landmine Relief Fund, had helped her as a child, when she lived at the museum, and wanted to help them in return. 

Bill and Saiy wanted to start a program where the teachers from Rural School Village Program’s (RSVP) schools could learn to grow their own food. Saiy had been given a piece of land by her family and turned it into The Together Project Farm with a greenhouse, a hydroponic greenhouse, and a mushroom house. People in the community were interested in what she was doing and she told them she could train anyone. In 2020, when the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, Saiy switched gears and grew food for people who were hungry. 

Currently, the farm is teaching anyone who is interested in growing sustainable crops and maintaining a greenhouse/mushroom house. Most farmers in Cambodia grow rice or corn, but Saiy is teaching them to grow a multitude of different vegetables with homemade fertilizers. A schoolhouse has just been built on the property to expand Saiy’s teaching program. Saiy has also helped 8 farmers and 2 local schools build mushroom houses. Saiy wanted to create a program where she could teach Cambodians to help themselves. Saiy loves the farm and is happy to help her country and the NGO. Her trainees and the community are grateful for her leadership and instruction. 

Phin Boran  – Deputy Director

My name’s Phin Boran.

I was born on 16 December 1994, the youngest daughter of six children. My father’s name is Toun Sophin, a retired teacher.  My mother’s name is Chhout Seat.  She is a farmer. I grew up in a small village about 60km from the provincial town of Siem Reap. From the time I was born until I finished primary school (2000), the fighting continued in my village (Khmer Rouge). It was the civil war, and it killed a lot of civilians, and people always kept running and trying to escape to find a hiding place during that time. Once when I was just a baby, my mother had to hide in a pond, holding me above the water for hours just to escape the shooting.

My father was taken three times by the Khmer Rouge to be killed because, as a teacher, he was considered a knowledgeable person in the village.  Luckily, he was able to get away. I walked through minefields every day from home to school. When I was in the 2nd grade, there was a landmine explosion in my school. A boy lost one of his legs, I never forget that terrifying moment.

I graduated from the secondary school in my home village.

In 2010, I moved to Siem Reap for high school, living with my 3 siblings. To finish high school, I was supported by my older brother and sister who had to work besides their study time during college.  In 2012, I continued to college in the capital city, Phnom Penh, still under the support of my brother and sister.  The cost of living was more expensive so I needed to get a job. I worked during the day and went to school at night. In 2016, I graduated from the Royal University of Law and Economics with a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration.

After graduation, I moved back to my hometown, Siem Reap. Since that time, I started working with an NGO called Rural Schools Support Organization (RSSO) which helps to build schools and support education in the rural areas of Cambodia.  RSSO has built 28 schools around Cambodia. I organize all communications with the schools, pay the teachers, and get them supplies when they need them.  I’m working with almost 100 teachers and 3,000 students. To help provide the school supplies, we receive requests from schools, handle teacher pays (funding from RSSO), and organize visits or any events for donors and visitors.

I am currently attending the University of Maine in the United States in pursuit of a master’s degree. The college has created a personalized program that will teach me to build physical education programs at schools that don’t have them. After I graduate May of 2025, I will return to Cambodia and start physical education programs in the schools RSSO has built.