2019 HERO AWARD
2012 HUMANITARIAN AWARD
Founder, Krousar Thmey
When he was 25-years-old, Benoît Duchâteau-Arminjon took a year-long sabbatical from his finance job in Bangkok to help Cambodian refugee children living in Thailand. He taught accounting classes at Site Two Refugee Camp—the largest refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border, and for many years, the largest refugee camp in Southeast Asia. Astonished by the number of abandoned children, Benoît began to collect funds to help provide them with basic necessities, like school uniforms, and shortly after, he began construction on a shelter to look after orphaned children.
In 1991, Benoît opened an orphanage at Site Two under his newly founded organization Krousar Thmey (“New Family”). It was the first Cambodian foundation to enable the integration of underprivileged children into society through education and support adapted to their needs. It was here that he met a 10-year-old boy named Wanna who had been abandoned by his parents at the camp hospital because he was blind. In this region, it was believed that disabilities were a result of bad karma or the consequence of poor decisions made in a past life. Because of this, children like Wanna were often neglected and disregarded. But Benoît was captivated by Wanna’s tremendous energy, infectious personality and determination to succeed, and the chance encounter with this young boy changed the course of his life forever.
Benoît never returned to his finance career in Bangkok.
In late 1991, the Cambodian-Vietnamese War came to an end with the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement and Benoît moved to Cambodia and helped to repatriate 154 children to Krousar Thmey’s first permanent protection center for disadvantaged children in Siem Reap. The following year, the organization opened the first temporary center for street children in Phnom Penh. And in 1994, Krousar Thmey proudly opened the first school for blind children in Cambodia.
At the time their first school opened, the government was not providing education for children with disabilities. Benoît was determined to change that. His advocacy and persistence with the local government, His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk and the Prime Minister of Cambodia garnered attention across the country, and in 2011, he began to advocate for the process of transferring Krousar Thmey’s educational activities to the government. In less than 10 years, they managed to register all teachers and staff members as government employees, develop adapted curriculum for the training of specialized teachers and establish a public decree to recognize the needs of these specific institutions to formalize education for disabled children.
In mid-2019, the Prime Minister of Cambodia will symbolically receive the keys to Krousar Thmey’s five schools to fully transfer operation to the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. This will establish the first public education system for children with disabilities in the country—Benoît’s main goal and purpose since day one.
A key component to instituting a fixed educational system across the country was the development of Khmer braille and sign language. Krousar Thmey formed a committee that included both deaf and hearing members to develop Khmer sign language, create adaptive text books, train specialized teachers and interpreters, and assist families and relatives of deaf students. The first sign language dictionary was released several years ago, and today, Krousar Thmey is working to create the first multimedia Cambodian sign language application to help facilitate the understanding of sign language and the communications between hearing impaired and hearing people.
Krousar Thmey is run by Cambodians for Cambodians and currently operates programs in 14 provinces across Cambodia, including five schools for nearly 1,000 children who are deaf, blind or visually impaired. Their programs include child welfare, cultural and artistic development, academic and career counseling, and health and hygiene, in addition to their schools for deaf or blind children. They currently support more than 3,000 children each year and aim to build a world in which they are empowered to grow into independent and responsible adults.
Since Benoît was originally honored by World of Children in 2012, he has made astonishing strides in changing the educational landscape for children in Cambodia. His tireless efforts have positively changed the future for thousands of children and will continue to impact disadvantaged children for future generations to come.
If you’re wondering about Wanna … he’s a true success story! With the help and support from Benoît and Krousar Thmey, he completed his education and became a music teacher. He is married with a seven-year-old son and currently teaches at Krousar Thmey’s protection center in Takhmao.