Empowering a New Generation of Leaders in the Developing World

Elementary School, Sewing School, and Farm in Tramung Chrum

In June 2005, the Harpswell Foundation completed a four-room elementary school building in the village of Tramung Chrum, about 50 miles northwest from Phnom Penh, in the province of Kampong Chhnang. In the Fall of 2009, we initiated three additional projects in Tramung Chrum: drip-irrigation agriculture, with improved farming methods; a sewing school; and a health care program, providing funds for transportation to medical facilities and treatment in those facilities.

School in Tramung Chrum

School in Tramung Chrum village

Tramung Chrum is a Muslim community, a small minority in the largely Buddhist country. Islam in Cambodia is of a special kind called Cham. Cham is further divided into a majority sect called modern Cham, and a minority sect called Imam San, which combines elements of Islam, Hinduism, and animism. Although they worship Allah and revere the Koran, as do other Muslims, the Imam San Cham have their own traditions. For example, they pray only once a week, on Fridays, and have a strong belief in the spirit world. There are only about 30,000 Imam San in all of Cambodia. Tramung Chrum is Imam San. The village has about 70 families and a total population of about 600 people, including about 150 children between the ages of 5 and 16. Previously, the people of Tramung Chrum had only a school made of bamboo leaves and sticks, which leaked and blew down in heavy rains. On several occasions, the people of the village made known to the Harpswell Foundation their strong desire to have a school made of concrete. The Harpswell Foundation began a fund raising effort in early 2004, receiving funds from private individuals. The cost of the four-room school, 21 feet by 102 feet, was about about $30,000, and it was completed in late June 2005.

Tramung Chrum went for decades without a school for several reasons. First, it is remote. To get to Tramung Chrum, one must first travel about 40 miles on Highway 5 north out of Phnom Penh, then turn left onto a red dirt road for about 6 miles, then, finally, another 3 miles on a very poor, uneven, sandy road, full of large holes and bumps. Secondly, Tramung Chrum is a Cham village, a minority community in Cambodia. Finally, its people are quite poor, owning little more than the clothes on their backs. As in many Cambodian villages, there is no electricity or plumbing in Tramung Chrum. Its people live largely on subsistence farming. Some of its girls, between the ages of 12 and 18, go to Phnom Penh to work in the garment factories, living under rough conditions. Although these brave girls are able to earn money to send back to their families, they burn out after a few years, become sick, and return to the village with little hope for the future.

Building the new school in Tramung Chrum village

In addition to building the primary school, the Harpswell Foundation is supporting the school's teachers and, in 2008, began an ambitious program to sponsor several of the brightest graduates each year to attend secondary school in another village, paying for their living expenses, school supplies, and fees.

Terraces of lettuce on the new farm in Tramung Chrum

Beginning in the Fall of 2009, we began teaching the villagers improved farming methods. They are now growing lettuce, watermelons, and cucumbers. We have also built a "shade house" for growing tomatoes, dug a well, and installed a drip-irrigation system. We expect these improved agricultural methods will produce more crops that the villagers can eat themselves and also sell at the market, bringing in much needed income.

Saly Hap with her sewing machine at her home in Tramung Chrum

Marie Eckstein with Saly Hap

In the Fall of 2009, we also started a sewing school, led by one of the young women of the village, Saly Hap. In 2007 and 2008, Hap Saly worked in a garment factory in Phnom Penh. We paid for her to get advanced sewing lessons and bought her a sewing machine. Since May 2010, she has been running a sewing school in Tramung Chrum, where she has training a half dozen young women there how to make clothes. In May of 2011, Marie Eckstein, a former executive in the chemical industry and a member of our Advisory Board, began helping Saly find markets for her sewing products in the U.S. and teaching her business accounting skills. Then, Laura Wolak, a marketing specialist, joined the project. Marie, Laura, and Alan started a company to sell Saly's goods in the U.S. The company is called Red Dirt Road and Saly's sewing items may now be purchased online. Saly made her first profit from selling her goods in the Spring of 2012. We hope that this project will bring employment to some of the young women of the village, eliminating their need to work in the unpleasant sweat shops of Phnom Penh, as well as generate income for the village.

Tum Yousos and Lebke, two Imam San Cham men who grew up in a village near Tramung Chrum, have helped with the school and the farm projects in Tramung Chrum. Yousos and Lebke are co-directors of Cham programs in our administrative team and are both dedicated to preserving Imam San culture. Like many other small indigenous cultures, the Imam San are struggling to preserve their traditions against the onslaught of the modern world. During the Khmer Rouge era, the Cham people were especially targeted for annihilation and over half of all Cham were killed. Cham were forced to abandon their native language and customs. To preserve their sacred books during this period, they buried them under the ground. Elyse Lightman, officer for special projects in our administrative team, is also working with various projects related to the Imam San and Tramung Chrum. Elyse has described aspects of the Imam San culture in an article in the Phnom Penh Post . More about her activities can be found at her blog site: elyselightman.wordpress

A class in the new school

© The Harpswell Foundation 2008
last revised 9/12/16