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Sunsoley Riem (top row extreme left) is seen here with some of the villagers and their children whose endowment was stolen by the manager of the funding Japanese NGO - (nationalradioWORLD.com - photo)



This villager is the most memorable from my trip to the Khmers that were ripped off by an NGO manager. Riem believes he passed away - (nationalradioWORLD.com - photo)


Three of the amputee villagers after their return from their unsuccessful search for food - (nationalradioWORLD.com - photo)


One of the homes the villagers lived in. Unable to earn a living some sold their homes in order to survive - (nationalradioWORLD.com - photo)


Seen here are some children from the Sangkuem Center for Children dancing. In the background are some of the homes that were built use them to has a result of Sunsoley Riem's efforts - (nationalradioWORLD.com - photo)



The Sangkuem Center for Children is the result from the seed planted by Sunsoley Riem - (Sangkuem Center for Children photo)



D. J. Ken - National Radio Text Service


Sunsoly Riem is a former refugee who returned to Cambodia to help his people and stabilize their existence by being involved in several NGO's. In an era that NGO's have come under question Riem has managed to persist to conceive and deliver NGO's that provide evidence of his cause. He also has had some bumps in the road where funds for one of his projects was stolen by a Japanese NGO agent overseeing one of his projects but Riem marches on


Tuesday, January 31, 2017


During my first year in Cambodia in 1998, my mission was to find Khmers that returned to the country to help their people. I was to find that it would be a tough task as experience revealed many were self serving and in it for the money and connections. As for philanthropy we have yet to find such a Khmer person.

On my first visit to Siem Reap, the home of the renowned Angkor Wat Temples, after asking the locals if they knew of such a person that returned to help his people the name Sunsoley Riem came up. With enthusiasm they said he was trying to create an NGO to help the poor people in Cambodia.

During my first meeting with Riem he took me to an area several kilometers outside of Siem Reap. He showed me a piece of land that was set back off the main road. The land was sunken in below ground level with several cows grazing on the grass. He noted that he wanted to create housing for children there.

At that point I couldn't see his vision. Several years later I returned to visit Riem and asked to see the results of his plan. It was amazing what he accomplished as there was a community built with several huts, a community center, a kitchen and dining area, a computer training room that was in need of some computers as well a play and a garden to grow vegetables.

Due to personal problems Riem eventually removed himself from the project and his sister was in charge of the grounds and a large NGO was overseeing the project. The center is known as the Sangkuem Center for Children.

On our return journey to the city Riem diverted from the way we arrived and took an alternative route through the village where many of the children that he was helping came from. He showed me a bridge over a small canal that he paid for out of his own pocket to help the villagers have access to the road to take the vegetables to the local market to sell.

I asked how much money could they make a day and his reply was about $1 US. That clarified how dire the situation was in his village and how much they needed help as they were largely uneducated and survived off the land.

Riem had resolved his personal matters and got involved with another project to help homeless beggars that were on the streets of Siem Reap. The first step was to acquire funding which was supplied by Japanese NGO.

Riem negotiated with a government official Suy San then the deputy provincial governor of Siem Reap, who authorized the donation of government land for the homeless to live. Homes were built on the property but the residents found it difficult to survive since the location was s far away from Siem Reap.

On a visit to the location we saw some of the villagers returning from hunting for frogs to eat but had no success. There were several gardens in the village to grow vegetables. Several of the villagers were amputees losing their limbs from land mine explosions.

There was a school on the premises that was vacant with layers of dust on the desks. Being that the village was so far away from Siem Reap one of the tasks was to find a teacher that would travel a great distance and volunteer to teach as there was no money for a salary.

The alarming matter came to light when Riem revealed that an NGO agent who was overseeing the project stole two years of the three years of funding. The first year was paid for but after the theft the villagers and Riem were left to fend for themselves.

On another visit last year Riem was working on another project to build a school near the grounds of the Sangkuem Center so the children could study. He noted that the children's center was so noisy that those trying to study on the premises couldn't because of the noise.

The location of his planned school was a short walking distance from the children's center. What stands out about it is it is located on Riems farm that has fish, chickens, ducks, goats and pigs making it a very pleasant environment for children.

Presently the school is operating providing an education for 120 students between the ages of 6 to 19 that come from villages in the area. The farm facilitates those students interested in learning how to care for animals and learn agriculture.

The school also provides English language lessons and training for occupations in the travel industry which Ream clams many of the former students from the school and the Sangkuem Center have left the villages and obtained jobs in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh thus earning a living to help support the impoverished families.

Following our trip to see the school I remained confused about who is Sunsoley Riem. Ironically when I turned on the television there was a documentary on Channel News Asia regarding the independent train system that enables some of the poor to earn a living.

The content focused on locals constructing wooden platforms to sit on placed on small train wheels which are powered by a little motor. The operators use the abandoned tracks of the former railroad, pre Khmer Rouge era, to transport tourists through an offbeat scenic route. The shocker was Riem's name was noted on the credits as being a production contributor.

Having known Riem for 18 years I asked him the big question… WHY IS HE DOING THIS?

He claims that he wants to help his people. He pointed out that he was a refugee from the Khmer Rouge conflict. He escaped to Thailand and obtained a job teaching English. It was after the Khmer Rouge conflict was resolved that he returned to see his villagers trying to survive in such terrible conditions. It was at that point that he envisioned his commitment to help.

I questioned his motives by pointing out that he had an SUV. He explained that it was in the proposal to be granted funding.

In reality getting around Cambodia to oversee and NGO project is a must and without transportation most likely impossible since the roads are a nightmare, but improving.

Riem claims that he takes no salary and lives off what he earns from farming and growing cashew nuts.

Over the years Riem was an enigma to me. He was always up front and honest when confronted with probing questions which is unlike most NGO's based in the country that have the can't look you in the eye disease or tell you what they are really doing.

Riem went to the extent to explain that the European individual what is helping raise funding for his school project takes 10% for his efforts. When you consider that some NGO's are accused of taking 90 to 99% for administration costs from donor funding Riem's accountability seem to be in order.

Riem has always impressed as being a lone wolf. His dedication to assist the Khmer people has had its bumps in the road. A project he was involved with an Israeli NGO failed due to the lack of funding.

The determined Riem marches on to the beat of his own drum and in his own way gets the job done when all of the systems are in place and most of all when an NGO is responsible enough not to steal the donor money and leave its intended recipients to starve.

That brings up another point. I asked Riem what happen to the villagers who were located so far from town. He said some sold their homes and moved on. One of the individuals that I so vividly remember passed away.

Whatever the obstacles Riem seems determined help his people' and when all of the pieces fall into place… HE GETS THE JOB DONE.


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