Don Bosco, the Apostle of Youth, died on 31 st January 1888, leaving behind 773 Salesians, 393 Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the lay branch of Salesian Co-operators, an Association of Past Pupils as well works in nine countries in Europe and America during that time. Nowadays the “Salesian Family” is found in 128 countries with 402,500 members which include priests, brothers, sisters, lay co-operators, benefactors and past pupils at the service of the education of the young: “ We, the Salesians of Don Bosco, are an international organization of men and women dedicated full time to the service of young people, especially those who are poorer and disadvantaged. Wherever we work, ‘ ” Youth Resource Development ’ through education and evangelization is the focus of all our concern – because we believe that our total dedication to the young is our best gift to humanity.
1. First steps towards Don Bosco’s arrival in Cambodia.
Don Bosco officially arrived in Cambodia in 1991 from Thailand, a country where the Salesian presence started in 1927. Thailand had to cope with the Cambodian refugee camps on its territory. The Thai government forbade any organization other than the Thai army to come to the support of the refugees fleeing the war. In 1989 the Thai government allowed the United Nations to conduct technical education for youth in the refugee camps through the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugee (COERR). This organization delegated the project to the Jesuits from India. They, in turn, thought of the Salesians from Bangkok due to their expertise in vocational and technical education. The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Renato Martino, knowing the work of the Salesians, was also in favour of giving the project to Don Bosco. In August 1989 the Salesians established 6 centres for technical education at the 2, 8, Sok Sann and B sites along the Thai-Cambodian border. The centres were lead by Brother Roberto Panetto and the past pupils of Don Bosco Bangkok. The machinery was provided by the Salesians from Macau to support the project in favour of the Khmer youth in the refugee camps. Within two years there were around 3,000 young participants who had gained some technical skills, but the war was nearly over in Cambodia and the people were about to be repatriated. Past pupils and the personnel kept asking the Salesians “Are you going to come with us?”
Arrival of Salesians in Phnom Penh
In 1990 the Salesians presented a proposal to the Ministry of Education to open a Technical School in Phnom Penh. The project was welcome in a post-war period of reconstruction. In January 1991 the government suggested that the school must be official, but the Salesians spoke to them about the Salesian Preventive System of education. In April two officials from the Ministry of Education paid a visit to the Salesian works in Thailand and gained a favourable impression of the style of education. That visit was definitive for receiving the final approval and sympathy of the Cambodian government and they approved the Technical School project in May of that same year. The historic arrival date for Don Bosco in Cambodia is marked as May 24, 1991 when two Salesians, Brother Roberto Panetto and Father Valter Brigolin, came to live in Phnom Penh. May 24 is also the Solemnity of Mary Help of Christians, a Marian devotion so dear to Don Bosco and to the Salesians. The land for the technical school was bought in what is today the New Phnom Penh District (Phnom Penh Thmey) – at that time a rice-growing-field territory. The government entrusted to the Salesians the orphanage of Preik Phneu, 11 kms to the north of Phnom Penh. It was a contract between Don Bosco and the Ministry of Social Affairs. The first instructors were Thai past pupils of Don Bosco Bangkok until the first Khmer instructors could take over the instruction. On January 31, 1994, His Royal Prince Norodom Ronnariddh, First Prime Minister, officially opened the Don Bosco Technical School in the New Phnom Penh District. On May 24, 1996 His Excellency, Second Minister Samdec Hun Sen presided at the ceremony of the completion of the Don Bosco Technical School-Phnom Penh. Father Juan Edmundo Vecchi, the 8 th successor of Don Bosco, came to Cambodia on October 7, 1997. His presence was a very important moment of encouragement. His message focused on building up the educative community and the Salesian Preventive System.
Don Bosco Children Fund (DBCF) and Don Bosco Literacy Centres
In January 1992 the Salesians opened the program Don Bosco Children Fund (DBCF) of Cambodia to encourage children to complete their elementary education. Also the Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia guaranteed support for this project. The governors of Battambang and Sihanoukville asked the Salesians to do similar projects in their provinces and donated the land (Battambang on January 4, 1993 and Sihanoukville on April 4, 1993). The Don Bosco Children Fund supports children in fourteen provinces and three cities of Cambodia, builds up elementary school buildings in poor villages in coordination with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and runs Literacy Centers in Kep, Poipet and Battambang for out-of-school children and youth. The Literacy Centers in Battambang where brick factories are keeping the children to work as child labourers, offer children intensive elementary schooling. Aundung Chenh and Salabalat Literay Centers are attended by about 200 children.
The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians
On October 24, 1992, Cambodia saw the arrival of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, here known also as the Salesian Sisters. Their presence in Cambodia was very welcome as they provide hopes for many poor and abandoned girls in a country where more than half of the total population are female and where women are victims of violence, abuse and human trafficking. In 1993 the sisters opened their Don Bosco Vocation Training Centrefor Girls at Tuek Thla, Phnom Penh. In February 1995 they opened the Don Bosco Vocational Training Centre for Girls in Tuol Kork. In 2002 they have their Vocational Training Centre in Battambang. The sisters have led programs of vocational skills such as sewing, kitchen and food management, secretarial, literacy centre and other academic subjects for Cambodian girls with dedication and commitment.
Sihanoukville, Kep and Poipet
On January 30, 1998, Don Bosco Technical School – Sihanoukville was solemnly inaugurated by His Excellence Sar Kheng, Deputy Minister. The school offers programs for electricity, metal turning, auto mechanics, welding and secretarial-computer courses. Don Bosco Hotel School opens for tourism and services technology in 2007.
Poipet, a town on the Thai-Cambodian border is known for its classy casinos and the dangerous situation for children (trafficking and other social evils) and has attracted the attention of many organizations for human resources development. The Salesians initiated the construction of a Home for Children started in 2002. Two lay volunteers from FIDESCO were invited to supervise the first group of children from trafficking and from the streets until the first Salesians came to manage the centre on January 2004. H.E. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister officially opened Don Bosco Children’s Home Poipet on January 31, 2005. The home also offers programs for vocational skill training and literacy courses for the children from the very poor villages of the neighbourhood.
The Salesians too opened an educational presence in the city of Kep, a city along the sea, 180 kms at the south of Phnom Penh. The centre was officially opened by Mr. Nguon Bean from the Department of Education, Youth and Sports of Kep City as guest of honour. The centre has Literacy and Sewing courses for the out-of-school youth and provides group experiences activities such as retreats, meetings and seminars in favour of the young.
Don Bosco today in Cambodia
Following in the belief, life and style of work of Don Bosco, the Salesians of Don Bosco contribute to the development of children and young people, “that part of human society which is so exposed and yet so rich in promise” and therefore, they envision themselves as forming a community to be, in society, signs and bearers of love and compassion to the young, especially those who are orphaned, poor and vulnerable. They commit themselves to form the youth to become good, honest and productive citizens of Cambodia and of the world. In order to achieve their vision and mission, the Salesians of Don Bosco aim to provide professional and technical training to the poor, the orphaned and vulnerable youth. On October 3, 2006 the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training signed a project agreement with the Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia on Project Technical Schools and Vocational Training Centres. Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia also assists the children (6-12 years) who are unable to go to school due to poverty by helping them to gain access to basic education, improves the life opportunities for street children, vulnerable and disadvantaged youth and HIV/AIDS orphans with basic health care and appropriate education and training and enables children and poor families to be reintegrated in government schools or training centres by offering intensive courses in their literary centres and/or vocational training centres. The official name of the Salesians of Don Bosco is the Society of St. Francis of Sales. Their “Salesian vocation places them at the heart of the Church and puts them entirely at the service of her mission”. The students of the schools of Don Bosco in Cambodia learn to respect culture, religion and the schools teach tolerance and fraternity as universal values. Their motto is: “industriousness, piety and cheerfulness”. “The ”Salesian vocation calls to be deeply united with the world and its history and for this reason the Salesians in Cambodia have the commitment to work for the development of the country, its people and its youth. Through the Salesian Preventive System of Education they educate the young to hope, love and action.