Six Hong Kong mums and their children have just returned from rural Cambodia, where they have built – and are funding – a primary and secondary school. Expat Parent went to find out how they did it.
The two schools are located in Roong Village, an impoverished rural area around 60km outside of Phnom Penh. The group of mums first became involved with the village in 2012 following a chance encounter between Sai Kung-based mum Grazia Luciani and the director of Italian non-profit charity Missione Possibile (MP), Gerry Testori. Luciani met Testori during a trip to Cambodia with another charity and she suggested he stop by in Hong Kong to spread the word about the Roong village school project.
Luciani gathered together friends and neighbours, and after an informal introduction evening at her home, Missione Possibile Hong Kong (MPHK) was born. Testori himself had been invited by village chiefs in Roong village back in 2005 to discuss the possibility of the village selling land to MP in order to start a school. The village is in an extremely impoverished rural area and most adults are illiterate. Using local materials, the building was opened in 2006 with four classrooms. In 2012, land adjacent to the primary was bought to create a secondary school and enable the children to continue their education.
Eight years of civil war, followed by the four year long “Cambodian Genocide” at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, absolutely decimated the country. The resulting statistics make for gut wrenching reading. It is estimated four million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge, including around 85% of the country’s teachers. Nearly half of the population now lives under the national poverty line and children are commonly required to work in rice fields or factories to help feed their families. Around 70% of girls are forced to leave school after Year 6 (about 10 or 11 years old) to start work, and just 10% of Cambodian villages currently have a secondary school. “It is hard to comprehend the effect on the country of having almost a whole generation wiped out,” admits Jack.
And so it was with determination that the group fundraised to complete the secondary school, and then set out to Cambodia to meet the village and deliver much needed school supplies – including stationery, uniforms, textbooks, medical supplies and teaching salaries. “My first visit to the school was such a positive experience,” says Jack. “Four expat ladies delivering over 120kg of donated school supplies, before spending three days teaching and playing with these beautiful children in their new classrooms. It was such a contrast to our privileged lives in Hong Kong, and so rewarding on every level.” “When Charlotte (aged eight) came with me this year, I had no idea what the reaction would be,” admitted Jack. “She’s a blonde, blue-eyed child and stuck out like a sore thumb, but she was accepted by the children in such an amazing way.
I looked on, shocked by her maturity – I really hope I am planting the seeds of charity in her mind.” “I was so excited when mummy said I could go with her on this trip,” said eight-year old Charlotte. “I was surprised by how many school children there were, but also by how empty the playground was – it was just mud and a few trees. I spent most of my time doing craft activities with the year fives in the library. I also played games at break-time, like elastics, skipping and ball games, and they taught me a few games, too.
When I got back I presented my experiences to my own class in Hong Kong. The trip made me realise how lucky I am.” Tilly Bates, aged 10, also got to join the trip with mum, Jenny. “I taught arts and crafts lessons and maths lessons with my mum in the primary school, and a Chinese lesson in the secondary school,” she explained. “The best bit was getting to meet the kids and see their smiles – they were just so excited to meet us. But I was sad when I saw that the water coming out of the school taps was muddy and not clean. The trip taught me that I’m really lucky – and to think about the amount of water I use and the food that goes to waste at home.”
“I learnt more than I thought I would. These children do not get an education easily.” – Luca Tagliente, 13
Carlo Cico, aged 13, delivered vital pairs of glasses to students with poor eyesight. “I wear glasses myself, so I explained how to look after them. They were the first villagers ever to receive glasses and they felt a bit weird wearing them, so I told them not to be ashamed,” he said.
Mum Birgitta Carter believes the experience has changed both her own and her daughter’s perspectives on life. “It was hot and tiring work but the joy on the children’s faces made it all worth it,” she said. “My daughter’s understanding of things that are merely “wanted” and things that are really “needed” has totally changed since this trip Personally, I am coming to the end of a teacher training course in Hong Kong, and to watch the Cambodians teaching with so little in the way of resources has made me reflect on my own teaching methods,” she said.
“At one point I was teaching syllables to the children – so we made simple shakers out of discarded water bottles and shells collected outside to shake out a word. So different from what is available to me in Hong Kong.” Her eleven-year-old daughter Thea agreed that the trip has taught her to be grateful for what she has. “I noticed that all the children were happy, even though they had so little, she reflected. Funding two schools is a huge, on-going project. The MPHK team are all volunteers and work tirelessly to ensure that as near to 100% of donations as possible reach the schools.
If you have a skill or ability that you would be able to share with the school children, MPHK is running another trip in October this year. Skillsets do not have to be academic – they could be based around music, drama, sport or art. And if you’re a social media whizz, MPHK is also looking for volunteers to help them launch and maintain a social media platform. It is also planning two high profile fundraising events over the next 12 months and would love to hear from events organisers.
justgiving.com contact Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org