You can’t help but notice the venerable Somnieng Hoeurn.
The Buddhist monk from Cambodia wears the bright-orange robes of his faith. His smile lights up a room. There is a peace and goodness and energy about him that draw others to his side.
His calling in life is to lead an organization that helps the most vulnerable of his country, struggling but emerging from the unspeakable horrors of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
He came to the Quad-Cities in 2006 after meeting local dentist Jon Ryder in Cambodia. Now, he will return to his country with a business degree and a promise.
“I promise that I will use all of my education and my talent to represent people in need and to represent the poor and powerless,” he said during a celebration to mark his graduation later this month from St. Ambrose University. “This education will give me a louder voice.”
Yes, Somnieng earned his education — he spent time on the dean’s list — while he lived in the Quad-Cities. But the lessons he offered to us outside the classroom are unmistakable.
He teaches quiet perseverance. Somnieng grew up in a poor family in a poor country. He had little education before he chose to become a monk. Problems with visas nearly derailed his education. Yet, he endured.
He teaches calm. Somnieng led countless meditation classes during his time here. In a society that some may find overbearing, loud and thoughtless, his meditation sessions offered an oasis of mindfulness.
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He teaches devotion to others. Somnieng’s Life and Hope Association provides an orphanage and educational programs to children and adults in an effort to break cycles of family violence and poverty. Its mission is that Cambodia will be a “peaceful and cohesive society built on a basis of loving kindness and compassion.” Somnieng led the organization from his Rock Island home while he studied here.
But most importantly, Somnieng lives his Buddhist faith.
“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” — Buddha
Thank you, Somnieng, for bringing your perspective to the Quad-Cities. May all you taught us remain as you return home to help Cambodia grow.