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Supporting youth with education and agriculture

Project Code: KHPT-1200007 | Project Location: Tahen, Cambodia

About the project

The Tahen Welcome Centre and Kindergarten are located in Battambang Province and aim to provide support to the community of Tahen and surrounding villages of Roka.

The centre’s goal is greater community sustainability and development of the St Joseph’s Parish in Tahen with a focus on the community in Tahen.

The main objectives of this project include:

  • Education and personal growth of children in vulnerable situations.
  • Promoting Cambodian Culture.
  • Rural development, updating agricultural practices and environment conservation through education.

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Updates and challenges

“2020 has been a difficult year for us, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic which forced the closure of the centre and the return of most of the children to their homes. Nonetheless, the centre survived the COVID crisis and reopened in September to continue doing its crucial job in being a home for more than 100 children. We also managed to stay opened for 27 children who did not have a place to stay during these months.

On the academic side, all our grade 9 students passed the state exam that qualifies to continue to grade 10, and all of them have decided to continue with their studies. Also, all the students who have finished grade 12 are continuing with further education.

The kindergarten has reopened too and is still offering lessons, food, and rest to around 120 children from the surrounding areas, being the only centre in the village that does so. The Salesian Sisters have helped our kindergarten teachers during the months that the centre was closed by giving them an extensive formation programme which has helped them learn and practice new educational and pedagogical concepts.” Bishop Kike, Parish Priest of Tahen

In March 2020 all kindergartens, schools, and universities in the country were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the National Government. The centre sent most students’ home and closed kindergarten temporarily. With permission from local authorities, the centre was able to remain open for 27
students who were unable to return to their families.

The centre was able to fully reopen in September 2020, now having a total of 110 students in attendance. In October 2020 schools reopened partially with interspersed schedules avoiding big concentrations of students to allow for COVID-safe classes.

By providing students with scholarships this project has enabled 110 children to access quality education while also ensuring their families are supported financially. The centre also provides books, pencils, backpacks, uniforms and transport to and from school when needed for all the students. In 2020, 11 students (four boys
and seven girls) graduated year 12.

The Tahen Parish were able to provide support through paying wages to primary and secondary teachers and a security guard. Overall, 47 teachers were provided with salaries. By providing a reliable salary the schools can maintain staffing and ensure students are in smaller class groups and can receive individual, quality teaching.

While the kindergarten had to close in March staff made use of their time, with the support of the Salesian Sisters, by working on the 2021 program. At the end of 2020, 90 percent of the children who finished kindergarten moved to Year 1 knowing how to read.

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The centre assures all students access to basic needs through providing a balanced and healthy diet, and access to potable water and shelter. The centre also caters to the children’s individual health needs attending to hospitals and doctors’ appointments as necessary. For example, one student required a hearing aid and was supported in receiving this. This is made possible through collaboration with the Health Centre, which is staffed by local community members trained by the church.

During March and April, staff made use of the smaller cohort at the centre, conducting several reparations such as: mending the drainage system at the boy’s house, updating the electricity system in the church, and mending furniture for the kindergarten.

Three students became tennis coaches through the centre’s collaboration with Tennis Cambodia. They attended (when COVID-19 situation allowed them) workshops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. A total of 46 students have joined training throughout the week. Depending on their ranking, the best five players travelled to Phnom Penh 12 times to play tournaments.

Sport is being used to deter youth from alcohol and drug use during their free time, a problem for many rural communities where young people have limited options. These activities are also encouraging the children to value teamwork.

“Within our programs, we strive to preserve and strengthen the Cambodian culture and have set up traditional dance. We stopped having classes from 16th March and started again on 9th September due to COVID-19. The classes have an eighty percent
attendance rate.”
Bishop Kike, Parish Priest of Tahen

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Stories from the ground

Ary Seng has lived in the Tahen Centre almost 10 years now.

“Since I arrived the centre has given me a lot, like health care, 3 meals a day, dancing, English class, especially is access the education. Living here are a lot of friends and they are like my brothers and sisters; we are always doing things together. In the future I want be a teacher because I want to help the kids in my village to access education and give some of my salary to my family.” Ary Seng, Grade 12 student

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Plans for the future

With this project period drawing to a close Catholic Mission is excited to journey with the Tahen Parish throughout the future. The Parish is working with Catholic Mission and another Australian business in an agricultural project focusing on making the community more self-sustainable.

The school term has started this year and the new COVID-safe set-up is going well.

The centre will continue to prioritise the education of children both living at the centre and in the wider community ensuring their correct development in a healthy, safe environment. One future goal is for the greater inclusion of children with physical and/or mental disabilities at the centre. Another is to include music lessons to accompany the traditional dance classes.

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