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Final Education and Schools Report Tabitha Cambodia -1994-2003

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Our Tabitha senior staff have lived through the worst that life can offer. Heng and Srie shared how they missed out on their education during the Khmer Rouge era after which the Russians were in control of Cambodia and forbade education. They shared how they went to an underground school, knowing full well they could lose their lives in that process. Education was and is a passion for most of the people here. It is no wonder that Tabitha staff heartily welcomed the opportunity to provide an education to the children of Cambodia.

I sit here rather bemused as I reflect on our accomplishments of enabling Cambodian children to attend school. Over the past 28 years, we have enabled 1,972,301 children to attend school throughout our program areas. Millions more children will pass through all the schools, those we had built and those already built by the government. We were given the privilege of building 118 schools over the past 12 years in the following provinces: Banteay Meanchaey, Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampong Channang, Kampong Speu, Kampot, Kandal, Kep, Koh Kong, Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Siem Reap, Pursat, and Takeo.

As I reflect on this, I remember several very special moments. I was talking with a mum and dad one day in Prey Veng. They were anxiously waiting for the arrival of their 10-year-old son from school. In front of their thatch hut was a table and 3 stools. They were ready to learn the lessons the boy had learned that day. He was teaching his parents how to write and to read, how to do math, how to have better health lessons like washing your hands before meals. I kind of laughed a bit as they had no water source at the time and this was a habit taught and understood but very difficult to maintain. Fetching water took valuable time away from the working day. It was their hardly controlled excitement at the new lessons he would teach them that day that touched my soul to the core.

Then there was the 12-year-old girl in Kompong Speu who was mentally challenged. She held my hand during the whole time I visited the school. The teachers were gentle with her in a way that surprised me as Cambodian children would never be allowed to touch me without permission. When I asked the students questions about what they were learning in reading, she would grab a book and then very slowly begin to read. She could do math; she could laugh and she could play. She was a member of that school, treated kindly and included in all activities. She was special and she was loved and cared for by all the students and teachers. She may have been mentally challenged but they simply accepted her and encouraged her to be her best. This school touched my soul.

The desire to learn was so very great amongst the children. I spoke with a 13-year-old in Preah Vihear, who was sitting in the first grade. He had never had a chance to learn. He needed to start from the beginning. He was not ashamed to be with the little kids, not ashamed that he stood tall in the midst of the little ones. This was his dream coming true. He desperately wanted to have an education and nothing could stop this young man. This young man’s story was repeated in every school I visited. The opportunity to learn, the thirst for knowledge so very great.

I reflected on the many times I had stood in a village surrounded by parents desperate that their children would have a chance at an education. Sometimes the issue was that none could afford the schools fees required and so we would work out a savings plan which involved earning an income enough to pay these fees. At other times there simply was no school nearby and so we built one together. Education was always celebrated and I had the privilege of being a small part of it all.

I think of the many donors who contributed towards a school building. I remember Bruce and Sharon promising another 6 rooms after just donating 9 rooms. I remember Ella as a teenager giving up many hours to sell products to raise enough to build several schools. I remember the Wagners who gave schools out of their meager savings. They discovered the more schools and wells they donated, the larger their savings grew. So many donors, so many stories of compassion and zeal.

So many lives touched in so many ways. I stand before my God in deep humbleness and thanks giving for this great privilege of education for the children of Cambodia. How good it is! Janne