Seeking truth and justice in Cambodia

03 Jun 2009

By The Record

Catholic school puts money where its teaching is.


By Bridget Chamberlain

It is said that Catholic education in Western Australia challenges us
to seek truth and justice for all, especially the most vulnerable.
St Brigid’s College, Lesmurdie had a clear picture in their mind how
they could rise to that challenge when a small pilot group visited
Cambodia and Vietnam in 2007.
They returned, touched and inspired and wanted to raise $20,000 to
build a school. But in nurturing a relationship with Jesuit Services
Director, Sister Denise Coghlan RSM, they learned of more urgent needs,
said Linda Murray, St Brigid’s Director of Christian Ministries.
To deepen their relationship and understanding of that area, last year
the college sponsored two young Cambodian women to visit Perth and then
go onto World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney with St Brigid’s delegates. 
The two students, Seap and Vee, formed close friendships with the
school community and helped the College identify practical ways to help
Cambodian children.
“We refocused our attention and made a commitment to return in 2009,
this time giving our girls the chance to participate and learn from the
outreach program,” Linda said.
In April eight St Brigid’s students from Years 10-12 and six staff
visited Siem Reap and Phnom Penh where they would have a glimpse into
Cambodian life and see how $20,000 their donation could make a
While in Cambodia, the girls from St Brigid’s proved there is no
language barrier when showing generosity and compassion. “The love and
laughter we helped bring to the children in the orphanages was amazing.
It was so difficult to say goodbye,” said one student, named Courtney.
The group visited the Jesuit Services office in Phnom Penh and saw Seap
Kol and her husband Tin Tin at work writing and producing books for the
librarian scheme. The books are boxed and allocated to each village or
number of villages and one person from the area is trained as a
librarian. These people are not teachers and have basic skills to
encourage and teach literacy. The children come to makeshift schools
and read and borrow books to practise their reading. Seap trains these
people and Jesuit Services assists in the cost of printing the books
and paying the librarian’s wages, which work out to about $15 a month.
A visit to a home for disabled children and youth was an outstanding
success and the interactions proved that language was no barrier.
“One of the best and most precious gifts you can give to the vulnerable, is your time,” another student, named Amy, said.
Once the Khmer Rouge killing field, in 1991 Baneay Prieb was
transformed by Jesuit Service Cambodia into the Centre of the Dove,
where young people disabled by landmines, war, polio and accidents come
to live and share their stories while learning new skills that enhance
their dignity and a future.
“The work they do is valuable and practical.  We saw the pride the
residents take in their new work.  Many of them acquire new job skills
such as metal work, sculpture and carpentry.  Some were even
manufacturing wheelchairs,” Linda said.
The Catholic Church is integral to Siem Reap’s faith development.  It
assists in learning centres for children and with hygiene education,
value education, literacy and English classes, library and reading
communities.  The students reflected: “I’ve learnt that I can make a
difference, even in a small way.  I’ve gotten so much out of it, seeing
kids with nothing smile, seeing people without legs smile, knowing I
made a difference to their day as they did to mine,” said one student,
named Tahlia.
“I have learnt to appreciate what I have back home.  Here we live such
a privileged life and we should be grateful for what we have.  We need
to be mindful that in Cambodia and here in Western Australia some
people are struggling to get the basics,” said another, named Jess.
Donations to St Brigid’s will help build two houses in Siem Reap, feed
children in the village for three months through the rice soup Catholic
Church outreach program and will publish and print more than 750
library books for the children to share and read through the village