Cambodia. A country put on the world map by one of history’s bloodiest genocides, orchestrated by the infamous Khmer Rouge, between 1975 and 1979. Led by dictator Pol Pot, this regime claimed the lives of 1.7 million Cambodian people, or 21% of the country’s total population.
The country has made great leaps of progress since regaining it’s freedom, however, the significance of the damage the Khmer Rouge caused to the Cambodian economy has meant the rebuilding process has been long and arduous. Their troubled past has also left approximately five percent of the country’s population with disabilities.
Despite the apparent difficulties and anguish-laced past that the Khmer are still working to overcome, the beauty and enduring strength of the country and it’s people are unmistakable.
Over the last 40 years, numerous national and international organizations have donated their time and efforts to bettering the lives of the Khmer people.
Bi-annually, sixteen senior students from St Rita’s College Clayfield, partake in an immersion to Cambodia. The purpose of the immersion is to nurture insight into the daily life experiences of the Khmer and their vibrant culture, through becoming part of their community.
This begins at Salla La Valla, a school for disabled children run by the Marist Brothers. One student from the 2011 Cambodia Immersion commented, “Travelling to this school, we expected to assist the children move around, and teach them lessons we had prepared in English. However, when we arrived, we met children who were quite independent and very resilient”.
It is clear to anyone who visits this little school in the rural outskirts of Phnom Penh, that it is much more than just a school. It is at La Valla that these children are given life skills that will assist them through what will likely be difficult futures. They are taught invaluable literacy and numeracy skills, given a roof to sleep under, and are also given essential devices such as splints and wheelchairs when the school can pull together enough funds.
One student describes their experience at La Valla; “I went to La Valla thinking I’m going to make my classes as fun and educational as I can. I think I probably had the most fun and learnt the most, from the very children I was teaching, instead”.
Without the continued efforts and dedication of the Marist Brothers to this school and the organizations who support them through donations of time and resources, these children would be left without an education, a safe place to sleep, and a glimpse of hope for their futures.
While the students’ sense of mischief and fun are unceasing, there is an underlying concern for what will happen when they graduate from La Valla. One student expressed this quiet concern while describing his dream to one day be a teacher, and give back to others what he has received from his time at the school.
“I want to teach... and have a happy class, and be very good at my job. Like my teacher. Learning that job costs much so I can’t learn it now, but I have hope”.
To assist the students of La Valla St Rita’s College and their Alumnae are collaborating with the Marist Brothers of La Valla to establish a much needed scholarship fund for La Valla students to further their education after their time at the school. Such scholarships will invaluably aid the students of La Valla in setting up positive futures for both themselves and their families through education. Coinciding with this, past St Rita’s Cambodia Immersion students and the college Alumnae will be hosting the aptly named “If Only” fundraising evening on Friday 26th of April. This event will feature traditional Khmer dancers, accompanied by a Khmer inspired cocktail dinner and guest speakers Nicole Condon and Rebecca Coleman-Jones, artists from the Bleeding Heart Art Gallery.
Great hardship is difficult to overcome. It can extinguish hope and further adversity, or it can become a force for great compassion. The Khmer people are a shining example of how having very little in one’s life can be made very much, through living a life with undying compassion and optimism for the future. It is only by living compassionately that we can build a peaceful world.
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin” (Mother Teresa)
WHAT | IF Only (Immersion Funding Only)
WHEN | Friday 26 April 2013
WHERE | Ballygriffin Room, St Rita’s College: 41 Enderley Road, Clayfield, Q4011
COST | $100 per person or $150 for two (includes entertainment, food, beer and wine)
RSVP | 5 April 2013
RSVP | 5 April 2013