The 3S of Chum Sonya’s Entrepreneurial Success: Scholarships, Savings, and Stewardship

Being frugal and having a bag full of tricks as an entrepreneur served as an impetus to catapult my legacy- Tribal Education Group-to the promising youth of the Ratanakiri Province to become a multi-million dollar private education establishment. Through leveraging on my past earnings as a professional academic and most notably, the past competitive scholarship funds I was able to win, this definitely gained momentum in turning this strategic blueprint into a reality.

Carrying the weight of being touted as a Cambodian academic scholar from one of the finest and most prestigious educational institutions in Japan-Waseda University, I gained a foothold in business also through meticulous inquiry and research till the wee hours of the morning anchored my entrepreneurial drive. I did not get off on the wrong foot by virtue of saving a huge chunk of my scholarship funds in establishing my start-up school which has already transformed the lives of more than a thousand students since its inception.

Although I was still a young undergraduate student, it dawned upon me a vision to start-up a school of the highest caliber in the Ratanakiri Province. What propelled me to push through was the dire situation of the province’s education system as I wept through my feeling of helplessness seeing the very low standard of education. I came to my senses that I needed to raise capital to initiate change in the province’s education system. It was definitely an uphill battle to say the least. To kick-start the blueprint, I needed to devise a step-by-step strategy as early as when I was still an undergraduate student at the University of Cambodia. It was definitely not a walk in the park, but it propelled me to be more creative and resourceful in financing this aspiration. I was receiving scholarship funds while I was still an undergraduate law student at the University of Cambodia.

Despite the odds, my pursuance of scholarship has not shaken as I won numerous postgraduate study grants for me to take up Master of Science in Asia Pacific Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University and Doctor of Philosophy in Asia Pacific Studies at Waseda University which are both in Japan and a Doctor of Philosophy in Global Management at Ajou University in South Korea. Being cognizant of the fact that the worth of these scholarships has amounted to thousands of dollars, I never had second thoughts of ‘penny-pinching’ these scholarship funds since this is one of the key strategies in raising capital for my education start-up.

As vivid as my hopes and aspirations are for the province is, it came to a point that I was almost at my wit’s end as I juggled my continuous scholarships, my professional work for various roles in different time spans: as an Associate Professor at Pannasastra University of Cambodia and ultimately, becoming one of the Board of Directors at Mengly J. Quach Holding just to save money. I built on the momentum via the ‘KAIZEN’ or the Japanese concept of continuous improvement of the ‘strategic staircase’ and last but not least, both the hard and soft infrastructures of the school. For years before the completion of my PhD dissertation, my typical month would comprise of spending a couple of weeks in Phnom Penh for my role at the Mengly J Quach Holidng, a week in Ratanakiri to monitor the gradual progression of the physical infrastructures and facilities of the Tribal Education Group and, interestingly, flying out to Tokyo for a week to attend classes and work on my PhD research projects at Waseda University. As memorable as it gets, I always booked the cheapest flight to Japan. There is just one drawback to this cost-saving measure: I need to transit to an airport in China for more than 20 hours before I board my next flight to Japan. But there is a silver lining to this seemingly painstaking wait: a flight of fancy of the macro and micro items in my dream school that needs to be ‘brushed up’ and the research deliverables for my PhD study. Most of my eureka moments for my business have popped up while I was just sitting down in the airport transit areas.

When I felt that I am prepared in many aspects that led to the foundation of the Tribal Education Group, I quit my job and jumped into becoming an entrepreneur for my home province of Ratanakiri in 2016. Since then, we have had liquid assets and healthy cash flow by virtue of wisely spending on infrastructures of paramount priority. As a shrewd investor, I have adopted a financial strategy from Samdech Hun Sen, the on-going Prime Minister of Cambodia which is coined as ‘Win-Win Strategy’. A concrete example is through bartering valuable items that may be of use in the school such as motorcycles, furniture items, electronic products and even television sets in exchange for a student’s tuition fee and miscellaneous expenses. Furthermore, we also give partial scholarships to students whose parents are construction personnel in the school. We deduct their wage as a tuition fee payment for that student.

As time flew by, Tribal Education Group’s student population ballooned to more than a thousand students. With the powerful combination of vision, mission, philosophy and implementation of the strategy roadmap, the school increased its income and assets which led us to diversify our business interests and investments into other lucrative areas such as in real estate. At the end of the day, I was able to be a great steward of the resources I was able to acquire in time through scholarships and savings.

About Our Tribal Education Group

The Tribal School
The Tribal School

It’s our home, it’s our place
For English, Khmer, Computer, and Music

The Tribal School
The Tribal School
We play on the slides
We compete on the football field
We sing songs in the music room
We read books in the library

The Tribal School
The Tribal School
It’s our home for learning
It’s the place we have fun

Your choice of a school for your children is one of the most important decisions you can make in their lives.

First a strong and complete education allows them to attend a better university and potentially later compete for an overseas scholarship.
Second, having a solid English language ability opens up more job opportunities with NGO’s as well as in education and hotel/tourism.
Third with the unification in ASEAN this year, there are more opportunities to do business with foreign entrepreneurs, especially in Southeast Asia.
Third, going to a first-rate school is more than facts and figures. It is learning about morality, creating useful study habits, and developing a respectable character.

These are some of the reasons why The Tribal School of Foreign Languages was built last year in Banlung. All too often parents send their children to Phnom Penh in order to receive a better education. On of our purposes is to create a school in Ratanakiri as good, if not better, than the private schools found in Phnom Penh. Also we seek to provide this education at a lower cost for a better overall value for the families in Ratanakiri.

It is clear fact that generally students who excel in grammar school and high school will then perform well at university. When choosing students for scholarships or when competing for high-paying, competitive jobs it is usually the students with the best grades along with superior speaking and writing skills that will be selected.

So what does the Tribal School have to offer your children? We are your answer because we are committed to a quality education with a small class size and we offer a wide range of learning programs and extra-curricular activities.

Allow me to go through what we offer in more detail.

Our faculty has teachers from the United States, Europe, Khmer nationals who have lived overseas in the United States, Europe, and Japan, as well as Khmer teachers with training from abroad. We have teachers with their bachelors, master’s, and even PhD degrees. Every term we also have interns who are top students studying at Pannasastra University and IFL.

We offer a full range of educational programs. Our English school is open for children from the age of 3 and covers every level, even providing pre-Toefl and TOEFL training. We also have a fully licensed Khmer school program from grades 1 to 6.

In addition we also have a computer school complete with a computer lab where students each have their own computer to practice the lessons taught. The dean of this program has over 10 years of experience. Therefore, you can rest assured that students studying computer here will have all their questions answered and have every opportunity to practice what they learn on one of our computers as well.

Our newest program is a music school. We are particularly proud because our music instructor has over 15 years of experience playing, composing, and teaching music. Because we realize that your students are busy with other schools during the week, our music school classes are offered every weekend at 8AM and 2PM every Saturday and Sunday. Currently we are providing guitar lessons for interested students. If you want to learn but do not own a guitar, we also have starter guitars available at our school. Soon we will be offering piano and singing lessons. Currently all enrolled students at our school are provided music lessons free of charge.

Along with our diversity in programs and very experienced teaching staff, we have a top-notch campus, comfortable classrooms, and standards, which insure our continued quality and growth.

One reason we are certain that you will be impressed with our school is our policy to keep our class sizes smaller and manageable. This means no more than 15 students in our early kids program, 20 students for our kid’s program, and 25 students for our regular adult English program. This should be very important to you, because as class sizes balloon, students receive less individual attention. Having less teacher attention in a crowded classroom translates into students learning less and earning lower grades. With a smaller class, there is more time to have students ask questions when they are confused, there is more time to answer questions while covering more material and giving students more individual attention that they deserve and require.

Besides the English Program we also have a fully accredited Khmer school starting with grade 1 and going through grade 6. Again, if you check around, you will discover that our Khmer school has a small teacher-to-student ratio, and we are committed to insuring that this remains. This is one of the key factors that distinguishes a mediocre school with an excellent one. All of our Khmer instructors are experienced, have degrees in education, and are caring and knowledgeable teachers.

If you want to know whether an establishment (restaurant, shop, etc) is a quality place just look in the bathroom or look around in the corners to see how much dust and spider webs there are. If you visit our school you can be assured that the bathrooms are cleaned every hour and that they are hygienic and clean. It’s not just the front gate or paint on the building that matter, but all of the small details that demonstrate to you are quality commitment.

There are other ways that make us different than most other schools. In every classroom you will find not only a ceiling fan, but also one or two air conditioners. That is because we know that it is hard to focus on class lessons, writing, or spelling when you are hot, sticky, and uncomfortable. It is very important to give our students every opportunity to learn and be the best they can be. Therefore this means that the classroom must be comfortable and quiet. Also the school materials have to allow students to learn without confusion. The first part of this is the schoolbooks. In our Kid’s Program we use the Family & Friends Series. Not only do we have the Family & Friends Class book but also the workbook as well as the Grammar Friends. One of the keys to learning is being taught a new lesson and then having a chance to practice the material until it is retained in the student’s long-term memory. In the Adult Program we also use Family & Friends as well as the English File Series. These books are accompanied by Facts & Figures and other books with short readings in order to enhance our students’ reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. For students at higher levels we utilize local English newspapers and TOEFL exercises.

A good education does just mean filling in class books or copying lessons. The sign of a good school is the additional schoolwork such as homework, quizzes, and examinations. At our school we are proud that we give students homework and quizzes 2 to 3 times a week. Another reason why small class sizes are important is to insure that there is no cheating during either quizzes or examinations. As you can well imagine, it is very difficult to monitor a class with 40 or 50 students taking a test. Each test is crafted to measure each of the domains taught in class – writing, reading for comprehension, speaking, reading English words correctly, grammar, and vocabulary.

Our classrooms are equipped with comfortable student desks, which are padded so that students do not feel sore from sitting in class. Our white boards are actually clear boards, as they are made of high-quality glass to insure that the written material is easily read and after class they can be erased without leaving any white market residue or smudges. One of the first things visitors or students will notice if visiting our classrooms is that they feel open and comfortable. This is because every room has at least one window looking out onto trees and flowers. There is a significant difference between sitting in a room that is open and airy as compared to a cramped room with no windows. Since we strive to be an international standard school (as opposed to simply a good school for Ratanakiri) we are now installing LCD monitors in our larger classrooms which will allow for power point presentations or interactive lessons with students. Many of our classrooms already have dedicated (this means permanently installed) television monitors so that students can watch videos, sing along with popular songs, or listen to native-speakers speaking. One of the first sights one comes across upon entering our main building is a television above our main entrance playing videos to help people learn new English terms or improve their spoken English.

We are very proud to be the first school to offer both a computer school and a music school in Ratanakiri. Students who enroll in our computer program will be taught by a computer specialist with 10-year experience repairing, teaching, and programming computers in Phnom Penh. Computer classes are taught in a computer lab where every student has access to his or her own private computer and monitor. Again, because these classes are smaller, you are insured of getting more individual attention during or after class. The focus of this computer school is practical applications, such as using Microsoft Word, creating a professional PowerPoint presentation, a picture and graphics package. This computer school is open to students from the age of 8-years up. If you are wanting to become more proficient on Facebook, making spreadsheets, or creating an accounting system, this is the perfect program for your needs.

The most recent addition is our music school. We are confident that this school will meet your expectations and surpass them, as the instructor has over 15-years’ experience playing, composing, and teaching music. Currently we have music classes every Saturday morning at 8AM and afternoon at 2PM and again on Sunday morning at 8AM. Since this school has just commenced, we have students studying guitar, and soon our music school will be offering other instruments and courses, including piano, singing, and contemporary dance. This is part of the reason that so many of our students can be found hanging out at school on the weekends – they are learning to play songs, having snacks at our restaurant, and playing games at our campus.

We know that many parents are busy in the morning, so we have a full-service door-to-door transportation service for students in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Our transportation services are available for any family within the greater Banlung residential district because we want everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy the education and benefits we offer.

We are confident that we provide an excellent, high-quality educational experience for our students, but we also attend to their health, emotional, and recreational needs as well. We believe that a healthy body promotes a healthy mind. We have not one but two restaurants for our students. The first restaurant is a spacious place that prepares healthy meals for the children to have at breakfast and lunch. We also have lots of cold drinks and light snacks. We serve some drinks and food items that are particularly popular like our banana/peanut milkshake and freshly-squeezed fruit-vegetable juice. The restaurant has 12 large tables and it is housed in a traditional, tall-roofed wooden structure that beckons to an earlier time in Ratanakiri.

Because we want our students to have all the benefits that students in larger metropolitan have, we are opening another snack bar this month. The menu will mostly be Western snack food, like French fries, hot dogs, pizza, and hamburgers. Adding to the taste is the atmosphere, which allows students to sit atop the restaurant on a balcony overlooking the trees and nearby surrounding area. Whether you are looking for a filling meal, a quick snack, or a place to socialize with other students, our restaurants are the ideal places for students to eat and hang out.

We are the only English school in Ratanakiri that has a multiple slides, rocking horse animals, and a kid’s playhouse. In other words we have modern and high-quality playground equipment. During classroom breaks or after class you can always see the young children climbing up the stairs to slide down our winding, red slide. You may also see kids of all ages rocking back and forth on the plastic rocking rhinoceros, the happy yellow seahorse, or the jolly blue elephant.

For older kids and adolescents we have a football field behind our main school building. It is surrounded by a tall net and is fully lit at night for our evening students. We also have a badminton court with an official net and market with the official boundaries for those who wish to play a singles or doubles match after class or on the weekend. Soon we will be constructing a full-court basketball court. If you check around you will see that we are one of the few schools in Cambodia (not just Ratanakiri but all of Cambodia) that has multiple restaurants along with a football field, basketball court, and badminton court on its school campus.

As anyone who has been in school can easily attest, over half of the learning that occurs happens outside of the classroom. In the classroom lessons are taught, but it is at home where one can practice and see whether your ability is adequate to complete practice assignments. We give homework multiple times every week. We also provide a library where students can visit after class to do homework in a quiet and comfortable environment. Our library is stocked with popular English books at all levels, because one of the most important skills to improve English is reading books. As our library grows over the coming year, you will be able to find books with grammar exercises, vocabulary, dictionaries, Khmer culture and stories, science, history, popular culture, geography, and computer science. We seek to not only teach English grammar and vocabulary but also promote a reading culture among our students.

Another bonus to being a student at the Tribal School are the extra perks that one can’t see from outside. For instance we have free wi-fi for all of our students at our school. This is particularly beneficial for students who may want to brush up on their English on the Internet or do research of some class topic after class. On major holidays we have festive parties at our school in order that everyone can come together to celebrate. Last Christmas we had a very popular party with food, a talent show, and singing. Also this last Khmer New Year we brought students together to play traditional Khmer games, sing songs, and play games. We also go on trips together. In May there is a planned school trip to Siem Reap. While there we will visit the ancient Angkor Era Temples, eat together, and bring school supplies and snacks to one of the rural schools where students don’t have enough school materials.

Another aspect of our school is morality training. We try to set an example by giving food to poor citizens in Ratanakiri. We also offer special scholarships to needy minority families that wish to attend our school. In the coming months we will also have an event to prepare and pass out food for people who need some extra assistance. Last year in cooperation with the Royal Cambodian Government we brought in a large team of physicians and dental professionals to provide free check-ups, free medical consultations, and free teeth cleaning.

With any product or service you buy, you are always looking for the best value available. This means balancing what you receive against the cost. We are certain that if you compare our quality of education, the range of services we provide, the friendly service of our administrative staff, the comfort and attractiveness of our classrooms and campus, and the available music and sports outlets we offer, you will see that we are the best value in Ratanakiri because our fees are comparable to other schools despite the fact that we have more to offer. Few choices will be as important for your children as the education which you provide them, for their education will dictate how well they do in school along with how far they go in school. Invest in your childrens’ education today and give them the gift that never stops growing and paying dividends – a quality education.