Banner website January 2016        Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia (DBFC – in Khmer មូលនិធិដុនបូស្កូកម្ពុជា) is a Cambodian and International non-government organization founded by the Salesians of Don Bosco in 1991. The organization focuses on providing training to youth from poor rural or urban communities, ethnic minorities, disabled youth, girls and young women and underprivileged children and youth in general in skills that will help them to get a job and rise their standard of life. It has also the Don Bosco Children Fund to support children to stay at school, preventing them from any form of exploitation or abuse.

       The Salesian Congregation of Don Bosco, through the Salesian Province of Thailand, made presence in the Cambodian refugee camps at the Thai border in the 1980’s, during the Cambodian civil war. They set six technical schools for children and youth to answer the needs of the Cambodian families living in camps. After the Peace Agreement in 1991, Don Bosco was invited by the Cambodian Royal Government to open technical schools and run projects in favor of underprivileged children, especially orphans.

History

Background

Childrn1 Refugee Camps
Children of the Refugee Camps. Photo Courtesy Chhan Touch.

       After the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime on January 7, 1979, Cambodia entered a new era of civil war and chaos that would keep the country busy for the next decade, slowing any hope of development and peace. Several people took refuge at the Thai border. Cambodian people was prevented to enter the Thai territory, but stay in 8 refugee camps: Khao I Dang, Site II, 2, Site B, Site 8, Sok San, Site K and O’Trao. The Thai army was all the time at the places. But along the time, there were many other camps since 1979 to 1998. In this period, there were five big movements of people creating new camps, destroying old ones. The camps were not only of Cambodian people, but there were also Laotians and Vietnamese. As for the Cambodians, some of them were made by different factions, reflecting the national conflict of the time. There were, for example, camps commanded by Khmer Rouge troops.

       The United Nations Border Relief Operation (UNBRO) and different NGOs, supported many programs in benefit of the refugees, especially with educative material, food, medicine and other possible needs to make the lives of people the best as possible (Thai / Cambodia Border Refugee Camps, 1975-1999). Don Bosco, invited by the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1987, was in charge of education at II, 2, B and Sok San sites, this last the biggest. Br. Roberto Panetto was in charge of the technical schools. The setting of all these international support was not easily accepted by the Thai government, because it would attract more Cambodian refugees. The difficulties with the Thai government discouraging too much support and attentions in the camps, caused that many organizations had to change their foreign condition, for example, Don Bosco was acting as a Thai part, to adapt from helping people in the refugee camps to helping Cambodians as a whole. It was one reason to introduce Don Bosco in Cambodia, becoming also a Cambodian organization and thus holding the duty to support more the camps in the border (see the description of this situation with Jesuit Refugee Service).

Don-Bosco-Phnom-Penh-1992
Fr. John Visser (tallest in the center), Br. Roberto Panetto (the last to the right), volunteers and first teachers at Don Bosco Technical School in Phnom Penh (1992).

Don Bosco Phnom Penh

       With the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, ended the Cambodian-Vietnamese War and begins a new time for Cambodia from the hands of the United Nations. It established the United National Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC, 1992-1993) to organize and run an election. Cambodia entered in a time of reconstruction (the post-conflict) and much work was to be done with thousands of abandoned and orphan children, widows and a deep level of poverty. During the last decade of the 20th century, the levels of school attendance were very low, with children busy trying to survive in a country without economy.

       The Cambodian government offered to Don Bosco an orphanage in Phnom Penh Thmey Commune, at the time it was a very isolated area of the city. Don Bosco ran the orphanage until 1992, when moved to the present land to set a technical school. The Salesian sisters were also invited to open vocational centers for girls and they set in Tuol Kork and Tekla in Phnom Penh.

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