Siem Reap, Cambodia - 10 December 2014. I spotted him in the bookstore at Siem Reap's airport as I was leaving Cambodia after attending the 10th Angkor Photo Festival. Actually, I heard his voice before I saw him. Someone was reading out loud from a book. Not really loud, but audible. This is how I met Mr. Sok Chanrithy, a check-in staff at the airport. I asked what he was doing, and he explained that during every short break in his work, he would come to the bookshop to practice his English by reading out loud from a book, which he could not afford to buy. As I fell silent, in awe of his commitment to expand his education, he apologized that it was time for him to return to work, and off he went. Ten minutes later, I met him again as he waited for me at the bottom of the stairs to the plane, with a big smile. A young leader making a difference in his own life and in mine. And he was not the only Cambodian who impressed me with a hunger for learning.
A day earlier, I spent many hours listening to Mr. Loy Salith, who brought me to historical Phnom Kulen national park and Beng Mealea temple outside Siem Reap. As a father of four and a former hotel worker, he had shifted to driving a taxi to support his growing family. He told me how he continues his education by taking courses whenever he can find the time. I learned more from him about Cambodia's recent history than from the books I had read. Including surprising details such as the exact number of square kilometers of territory that Cambodia reportedly lost to Viet Nam during the past half century. And about the benefits that democracy should bring.
Leadership takes many forms, and it always involves a desire to grow and develop one's potential. I felt inspired by these two Cambodian men and their commitment to learning.