KEP PROVINCE – The smallest province of Cambodia was created by a Royal Decree in 2004 from the Kampot Province territory. An amazing piece of Cambodia at the seaside, near the Vietnamese border. A small peninsula oriented from north to south in a triangle formation with a group of small islands and islets that we call “The Kep Archipelago”. The Kep Peninsula has its own spine made by a beautiful formation of hills, the remnants on an ancient sea floor, making strange and fascinating pyramids that form the tropical forest of the Kep National Park.
Kep Province is, doubtless, a hidden paradise and it was already known since the French colony, when the French elite built Kep Sur La Mer Ville, a French town whose original and wide French style streets have endured decades at the southeast side of the Peninsula. As it happened with nearby Bokor Ville over the Bokor National Park, the tutelary mount of this special Cambodian seacoast region, the Kep French town was abandoned twice: During the War World II and during the 2nd Indochina War in the 70s. The Khmer Rouge made Kep, the iconic French summer corner, as their stronghold for years to come, even after the Peace Agreement of 1991.
In 1991 the Salesians have stepped on Cambodian soil, although the first contacts of the Don Bosco’s heirs were already done during the refugee camps of hundreds of Cambodians in Thailand during the 1980s. When the Salesians arrived to Phnom Penh on 24th May 1991 to open the first technical school and children fund, they were already talking Khmer language.
In 1992 with a visionary idea of future presences of Don Bosco in different Cambodian provinces, Br. Roberto took the initiative to get a piece of land in the then ghost town of Kep, still included in Kampot province territory as Kep City, although it was rather an abandoned town with old ruined French mansions and the architecture jewels of architect master Vann Molyvann (died in 2017 aged 90). Kep was by the time a silence place where nature was free to go everywhere and Don Bosco assured 3 hectares at the seaside in the west part of the Peninsula. Nearby were the ruins of the old exclusive college of the Presentation sisters (today it is a hotel) and the mourned Benedictions monastery that is today an orphanage.
Thanks to many benefactors from Europe, the land was kept for future generations of young people and it was only in 2000 when there was already something as the tailoring school for girls. The nearby Cham Village sent many Muslim girls to study tailoring before the national crisis of tailoring schools, when the garment factories took over Cambodian economy. The permanent support of Mr. Gerard van Hal, the Dutch creator of the Hatrans Logistics Ltd., a transport service company, gave the name to the school as Don Bosco Hatrans.
Beginning of the Technical School 10 years ago
In 2010 Fr. John Visser and Fr. Ly Samnang (Fr. Albeiro Rodas) in Sihanoukville realized that half of the Don Bosco Sihanoukville students population were coming from the provinces of Kep, Kampot and Takeo. At the same time, the original donors of the land in Kep waited for further initiatives from the Salesians to develop the place to the service of youth and children. In 2011 the Salesian council of Sihanoukville and the THA Province, decided to open two associate degree programs in Kep Province under the leadership of Fr. Ly Samnang.
He arrived on Kep Province on 12th October 2011 with ten teachers from Don Bosco Sihanoukville and 40 students who were going to study social and media communication and hospitality in the newest technical school of Don Bosco in Cambodia. The initiative got very soon much attention from local authorities and from international donors, who supported the fact that the isolated Kep Province was going to be the center of a technical school for young people from the region and also to empower the Don Bosco Children Fund.
With the loyalty of Mr. van Hal and the joining of several donors from Europe, USA and Australia, the growing number of students could enjoy new classrooms, offices, sport areas, school kitchen and students boarding. The fact that the school was inside a National Park, made that the administration gave to the school development a special care for the environment and created the school slogan “Education and Ecology for the Poor.” There was also the regular coming of foreign and national volunteers that came to share their knowledge and experience not only with the students but also with the Cambodian teachers to improve their educational skills, plus the close relations with the local government through the Kep Province Hall, Kep City Hall, the department of education, the department of planning and others.
The students for Don Bosco Kep come mainly from three Cambodian provinces: Kep, Kampot and Takeo. But the administration has been always attempted to welcome Cambodian youth from all provinces. Far provinces such as Ratanakiri, Battambang, Preah Vehear, Banteay Meanchey and others have sent their youth representatives. Don Bosco Kep promoted itself among the Cambodian ethnic minorities and it is very much proud to have among its past pupils Jarai, Tampung, Kreng, Muslim and other youth. Thanks also to donors, Don Bosco Kep could be declared an inclusive school and accessible for children and young people who are physically challenged. There has been also the commitment that the technical school and children fund of Kep offer its programs for gender equality, supporting the mission of women empowerment. In 2015 the school was also opened as students residence for children aged 10 to 18 years old to support those who are at risk of school abandonment, child labor and child migration. At the same time, it has been a very important point to link the school to the private and public sector, looking for job engagement for our students. In this sense, we thanks too many companies, organizations and official departments that have visited the school and have gotten students from our side.
During the Pandemic
The Covid19’s pandemic was the main test for the Don Bosco Kep mission. We celebrated the 10th anniversary in the middle of a lockdown, but we did not discontinue our commitment to be at the side of the most Cambodian poor children and youth. Since March 2020 Don Bosco Kep used all its resources and experience to increase its online education system and defended the fact that many of its students (children and youth) are orphans, abandoned or very much poor. For more than 20 months, Don Bosco Kep has been in a special lockdown, protecting its children and youth and following strictly the global and national recommendations against the decease. After 20 months as a children and youth protection shelter, Don Bosco Kep is grateful to God for not having a single case of covid19 and for protecting also the families of the students. Thanks to international donors, our Don Bosco past pupils even from other schools and the local Kep Province government, the school has been an object of support to sustain its special population with food, medicine, academic material and encouragement. We are ready to keep going in the most critical moments, because we have the seeds of the future. Our mission extends even further out of our school fences through the Don Bosco Children Fund and the Don Bosco Brother Sun Program: We follow the experience of children in different provinces, especially in Ratanakiri with a Jarai village and in Udong Meanchey.
Fr. Roel Soto speech during the 10th anniversary celebration.