Who Will Put Humpty Together Again?

By Gee-Gee O. Torres, assistant Editor

The devastation of Cambodia by Pol Pot is now legendary. But the Killing Fields were only part of his terror. On an ideological ‘trip’ he banished people from cities like Phnom Penh and closed down the school. Like Humpty Dumpty, the city and its institutions were shattered and lay in ruins. Into this educational wilderness have stepped some Filipino followers of Don Bosco to help Cambodia put the pieces together again. Our Assistant Editor visited them and shares with us what she saw. (Ed)

When I went to Cambodia last year to visit our Filipino missionaries, I met Sr. Len Montiel, a friend whom I had not seen for a long time after college graduation in Ateneo. Len joined the Maryknoll Sisters and is now assigned in Cambodia. She gives seminars on personal development to the youth. We went to see Youth Resource Development Center where she works and then she showed me around the city.

Since Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia I was expecting to see Buddhist temples glittering gold, tall buildings, four-lane road with several levels of flyovers crisscrossing over it just like in Bangkok. But as we cruised along the narrow streets, riding at the back of a motorbike, I began to realize that Cambodia was not what I had expected. Blackened walls burnt out buildings, unmaintained roads, slum areas – that’s what I saw.

Sr. Len also brought me to the University of Royal Cambodge so I could have a glimpse of the educational situation in Cambodia. I was looking forward to seeing a university with well-maintained buildings, football fields, gymnasium and century old trees around the campus like in Ateneo. But again I was dismayed with what I saw- yes, I think, I saw century-old trees, but the buildings looked neglected, their canteen resembled a talipapa, the surroundings were untended. Then there was some sort of a pond at the back of the building. I asked Sr. Len, “What was a swimming pool?” “Oh yes. That was a swimming pool before. But during the time of Pol Pot, they turned that pool and the entire school into a pigpen because they said education is for pigs only.”

Every time I recall my visit to the University of Royal Cambodge I couldn’t help but think of the children in Cambodia. I wonder if they get to go to school and if they do, are they getting quality education? In the past 20 years – the Khmer Rouge regime of Polpot in 1975, the Vietnamese takeover in the 80’s, the fight between Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Shinouk and the coup d’etat in 1997- have devastated the county and has put education back a century. But children without proper education will never get out of the cycle of poverty. So a group of Salesian missionaries have taken up the challenge of living out in Cambodia the teaching of Don Bosco, IF you touch the hart of the youth, you can lead and guide them to do anything for their good.”

Lord, help us

There are six Filipino Salesian Sisters in Cambodia. They run the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center for Girls and Kindergarten School. They offer two-year courses on sewing, embroidery, computer secretarial and food & home management.

“In the school aside from skills training, we also give the students value formation activities,” said Sr. Malen. “For example, we start the class with a 15-minute good day talk where we discuss the theme for the month and for students who stay in the dormitory we end the day with a good night talk – a thought to sleep-by.” On Sunday the school is open to the youth and there are activities for the children, too.

Sr. Sarah finds their mission in Cambodia very relevant. “The Khmer people have been deprived of material things. Survival is the only thing that matters to them. But in survival also comes the need for value formation. Our students are mostly Pol Pot babies who had been through a terrible nightmare during the time of the Khmer Rouge that they trust nobody anymore. Students don’t even want to talk about their childhood experiences in the hands of Khmer Rouge. But I believe in time they will be able to leave behind the past and continue to dream. Sometimes it’s frustrating when I come in contact with poverty and misery; the situation seems to be so hopeless that I’d like to give up. So I always pray. “Lord, help me never to get used to what I see... said Sr. Sarah.

At times they also find their mission in Cambodia difficult – new land, new culture, new people, according to Sr. Beth. When I asked her how does she cope with this she answered, “I look back to the day of my perpetual now where I promised to stay where God wants me to stay and to be faithful to what I had asked for – to be missionary forever...”

Sr. Paz, on the other hand, is the person-in-charge of the kindergarten school. She enjoys her work especially when she hears mothers say, “We are learning form our children.” A mother told her one time that her child told her, “Mom, why is tit that when you do something for me, I say thank you, but when I do something for you, you don’t say thank you to me?”

Secret Haven

Now meet our food and Home Management expert, Sr. Teresa. I got the chance to see her secret haven when I was looking for a streamer and a big casserole to cook valenciana and embutido for our Pinoy missionaries get-together which we held t the Salesian sister’s House the day before I left Cambodia. Wow, the room was complete with different cooking gadgets. Had I discovered Sr. Teresa’s “territory earlier, I could have enjoyed cooking other Filipino dishes for them.

Finally we have Sr. Gertrudes, or Sr. Ched in short, who was formerly assigned in Myanmar. She was transferred to Cambodia last year to help Sr. Paz in their Kindergarten School and to teach English in their Vocational School.

If you’re on your way to Cambodia, don’t forget to drop-by and say hello to our Salesian Sisters! Their house is just five minutes away from Pochentong Airport. And, after visiting them, go directly to the other side of the city, look for the Don Bosco Technical School and surprise Br. Raddie, Fr. Oscar and Fr. Leo Ochoa, who was my tour guide two years ago when I want to visit our Pinoy missionaries in Thailand and who is now in Cambodia for his new mission assignment. They will be more than glad to see you.

Only Quality Printing

Bro. Raddie Lagaya, sdb was sent to Cambodia in 1995 to help in the Printing Press Department of their Don Bosco Technical in Phnom Penh where they offer courses on electronics, automotive, welding, mechanical, electrical and printing. He is now the head of their Printing Department.

When I visited him in their school, he showed me around the different departments. He also gave me a quick tour of the Printing Press and explained how the different machines work. Bro. Raddie is very particular about quality. He believes that the students will understand better what quality printing is when they see it. So the students are given hand-on training at the press.

Then I asked him, “What can you say about missionary life?” He said, “You need a lot of self-initiative to be a missionary. But to persevere and enjoy missionary life, you need a vocation.”

Agricultural by heart

Fr. Oscar Zamora, sdb who comes from Victorias, Negros was also in Cambodia during my visit. He brought me to see their technical school in Sihanoukville, 3-hours south of Phnom Penh. Fr. Walter Brigolin, in-charge of the school. Welcomed us and showed us the different buildings for their various technical courses. Many students would like to study in their school but out of the 180 participants, they can only accept 80.

Fr. Oscar told met that he had been assigned in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for nine years and was involved in teaching the people new techniques in agriculture. I asked him if he’s an agriculturist. He said, No, I am a Biology minor graduate. But as a biology student, I also studied subjects related to agriculture.” Is it true that here are cannibals in PNG?” I curiously asked. He said, “Nonsense. If there were I wouldn’t be here now, right?” With Fr. Oscar’s convincing answer, I think I would put PNG high on the list for our next Misyon trip.

The work of our Filipino Salesian Fathers, Brothers and Sisters may not be as dramatic and spectacular as working with landmine victims and AIDS patients. But in their own patient way, they are helping to put Cambodia together again.

“Lord, help me never to get used what I see...”