Ken Pitsapheng’s original dream was to be a doctor. Growing up in the countryside, he understood painfully well what happens to people who can’t get medical care. Most suffer and many die and usually from conditions that can easily be treated. His dream was to set things right since he had lost his own mother to malaria.
His dream didn’t become real. He didn’t have the money. He couldn’t be a doctor, but he was the first from his village to go to Luang Prabang, learn English and get a degree. There weren’t others to follow. For the time being, he was the first and the last. When he goes back, he sees that all his friends are married and with children. Many girls get married as young teenagers. He sees that the villagers’ lives are poor and they aren’t educated in the options they could have.
To help educate rural students, he opened a community reading room in 2010. At that time, he was studying in Luang Prabang but he went every weekend to teach the children. After two years, he decided that bringing kids to Luang Prabang would give them better opportunities, widen their worlds and expand their knowledge. He set up a group-housing facility for six young people ranging from ages 10 to 15, each from one village in his area. At the House of Dreams, they can have a safe place to live and a supportive learning environment.
When he goes back to his village, adults ask him if their child will be the next to have a chance to study. Running the operation by himself, he can’t meet everyone’s request, but Ken has set up a system in which graduating students under his tutelage will give back to society by establishing their own education centers. They will also be asked to give 10% of their salaries to support education. If the plan goes smoothly, it should engender a continuing expansion of satellite centers, all managed by young people who have experienced themselves what a quality education is.
I asked if he had a role model or some source of inspiration. I asked him to tell me about an influential teacher. He says that at the tertiary level, teachers leave the students to study on their own so nobody has had an impact on him. He does, however, remember a certain secondary school teacher who taught him when he was a novice. The teacher was still a layman, but taught the dharma and its applications to everyday life. He taught mental discipline and how to control the emotions. Apparently, this teacher later became a monk himself.
Ken entered the temple when he was 11. He said he was a lazy boy and when everyone else went to the field to work, he stayed at home. His father told him he had a choice in life. He could either stay on the farm or go to school so that someday he could work in a comfortable office. At 11, Ken said he wanted the comfortable life so his father sent him to a temple. He father told him, “I have nothing to teach you except that there is good and there is bad and you choose which one you will follow.
His father knew because he had been a monk himself from age eight. Then, at 21, he left the monkhood and was married within a week. The women he married gave alms to him every morning. When Ken’s father was posted 15 km away from the village, she walked the whole distance to fill his bowl. This is the same woman who died of Malaria and inspired her son to do the right thing. He still has a dream. (www.communityreadingroom.weebly.com). He says he’s doing something small. For a 22 year old, I think it is very, very big.