Fr Ashley Evans SJ was on leave in Ireland during the summer and updated the Irish Jesuit Missions office on the Xavier Jesuit School project in Sisophon, Cambodia. He has been ably assisted there by Deirdre Ryan, a volunteer from Dublin. The aim of the project is to serve young Cambodians who are most in need of a quality education.
Education for all in the community
After three years of discernment and planning, a large piece of land for this project was finally purchased in 2013 just outside the small town of Sisophon, in Banteay Meanchey Province, about 40 kilometres from the border with Thailand. The project will include four mutually interacting components—a Community Learning Centre, a Teacher Resource Centre, a small Primary School and a large Secondary School.
The first educational activities began in 2014 with a summer school program for children transitioning from primary to secondary school and then with the re-opening of a small kindergarten school in a poor Khmer village called Dey Lo. In 2015, the first building—a Community Learning Centre with a Teacher Resource Centre—was constructed facilitating a second summer school program and then another kindergarten school which will feed into the one primary school later.
Safety, silence and nature
During 2015, the whole Master Plan was revised with the help of experts. The five key words directing the plan were ‘Happy Learning Community’, ‘Khmer Village’, ‘Safe’, ‘Silence’ and ‘Nature’. While people could readily understand and see the relevance of four of these words, some found the word ‘silence’ puzzling.
Only when the Buddhist and Christian emphasis on ‘interiority’ and ‘serious personal study’ or ‘the search for wisdom’ did people understand why the ‘sacred circle’ is beside the library which is at the heart of our education project.
Buddhist and Christian learning
Even though the schools are Catholic and Jesuit in identity, most of the children come from Buddhist families. In January 2014, an inter-religious blessing ceremony of the land was prepared. The local Buddhist monks first blessed the land according to the Buddhist rite and traditions. This was followed immediately by a Catholic blessing service.
The whole ceremony finished with the planting of eight trees in the ‘sacred circle’ at the centre of our school site. This ‘sacred circle’ will become a place of silence, peace and quiet at the centre of our schools and education project.
A lot done. A lot more to do.
In 2016, the first class of the secondary school is due to start while eight primary classrooms and a multi-purpose hall are being constructed. The project will be self-sustaining in the long run but it is estimated that it will cost nine million euro to set up over 10 years.
Although almost three million has been raised to date, it will still be a big challenge to raise enough to construct the secondary school within the next few years.
If you would like to contribute to this education project, please click here and specify that your donation is for Xavier Jesuit School Project or contact 01 836 6509.
Author: Fr Ashley Evans SJ, June 2016