A former Cambodian refugee turned philanthropist helps migrants in Ventimiglia

Mengly Quach, who fled to Thailand to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide, stopped at a border town between Italy and France, where he donated 5,000 euros to the local Caritas. After graduating in medicine in the United States, he returned to Cambodia to help the neediest.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - Refugee, doctor and finally philanthropist are words that best summarise the story of Mengly Jandy Quach, a Cambodian man.

As a member of a delegation, he recently visited Pope Francis in the Vatican, which was followed by one in Ventimiglia, a town on the French-Italian border, where Quach donated 5,000 euros (US$ 5,440) to the local Caritas for projects in favour of migrants stranded at the border.

He was accompanied by a Buddhist monk; San Sochea who, after listening to stories about the migrants donated 500 euros (US$ 544), lots of money for a monk; and Fr Will Conquer, missionary of the MEP (Missions Étrangères de Paris) in Cambodia.

"I am very impressed by the work you do,” Qualch told Maurizio Marmo, president of Caritas Intemelia. “It warms my heart and reminds me of my own experience, and that of my family and millions of Cambodians in 1975.”

Born in 1969, the doctor turned philanthropist managed to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide, during which an estimated one and a half million Cambodians died.

“I understand what it means to try everything to cross the border,” Quach explained. “There were landmines and they welcomed us with machine guns, but we felt the same," he said, referring to the massacre of Vietnamese and Cambodians in the Dangrek mountains, on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, in 1979.

Faced with people trying to cross the Thai border, tired by the war against Vietnam (which had invaded Cambodia), and exhausted by hunger after three years of communist regime, the Thai army planted anti-personnel mines around refugee camps and fired at asylum seekers.

Only after a second escape attempt did Quach and his family manage to reach a refugee camp in Thailand from where they were resettled in California, United States, in 1984.

After graduating from UC Berkeley with medical degrees and  several academic jobs, Quach decided to return to Phnom Penh with his wife and two daughters in 2002, where he initially worked as a public health consultant.

A few years later, in 2005, he founded MJQ Education, which today is the largest educational network in Cambodia, with 17,000 students and 1,750 employees.

“I also cannot forget my past and that makes me want to give back to society. I was resettled in the United States from a refugee camp after the war, living on the charity and goodness of the United Nations. Others were kind to me and now it’s my turn to reciprocate,” he said in an interview.

In 2021, King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia awarded him the honorary title of Neak Oknha for service to the needy.

After starting some charitable projects in which all the profits were initially reinvested in humanitarian aid, Quach eventually turned into a full-fledged businessman and writer.

Today he owns some companies in different fields and in the last four years he has written a series of books, ranging from autobiographical stories and poetry to essays in which he explains his business ideas and notions of corporate social responsibility.