The English school that started in a backyard

GIVING: Thomas Ong (in blue) with the school's founder and principal, Sopheak Phountam.

He has been working quietly behind the scenes in his mission but his supporters have been growing in numbers.

Local actresses Ann Kok and Jesseca Liu, former actress Constance Song, actor Zhang Zhenuan and UFM 100.3 DJ Huang Wenhong have joined Thomas Ong after he embarked on the project.

Last week, actor Terence Cao and actress Aileen Tan also joined the group.

Ong, 45, told The New Paper that he was moved by his friends' "willingness to help".

"They are not afraid of the hot weather or that they have to teach in a cramped classroom. They even go barefeet to play games with the kids in the field.

"No words can describe the feeling when I see them. It's elating and touching," he said.

Ong got to know Mr Sopheak Phountam, the founder and principal of the Sopheak's Friendship School, during his first trip to Cambodia in 2012.

Then, he had travelled with Kok to donate bicycles to public schools and orphanages.

He said: "Since then, I have seen how Sopheak's school grew to two schools in different villages, giving free English lessons to under-privileged children."

Sopheak's Friendship School began its first classes in mid-2012 in Mr Sopheak's father-in-law's backyard. It had five teachers and 150 students. Today, there are about 600 students.

Ong said: "Some of my friends have visited the school on their own and this is exactly what I had hoped for.

"I have often made trips alone to get more things done, like handing donations for the school fund and setting up a proper accounting system and bank accounts for accountability purposes."

He added: "I believe that education is very important and will help the kids have a better future. By mastering English, they will be able to get better jobs and the lives of their families can improve."

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Mr Sopheak at

Some of my friends have visited the school on their own and this is exactly what I had hoped for.

- Actor Thomas Ong on starting a trend of giving back