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Since 1980 Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) had been present among Cambodian refugees and displaced persons in Thai refugee camps during the Cambodian civil war. Through a process of discernment, a decision was reached in 1989 for a JRS team to serve inside Cambodia, while another team continued to serve refugees in the camps. The pioneering JRS group entered Cambodia in 1990 and established an office in Phnom Penh. After that JRS set up the Jesuit Service to serve poor people in Cambodia. “Our real focus was to promote the reconciliation of people’s hearts and of the country.” says Sr. Denise, Director of JRS Cambodia, one of the founders of JSC. Since 1994, JSC has been serving in Cambodia for the development and accompaniment of the poor in the villages, persons with disabilities and landmine victims, refugees, and marginalized people in society.
Among its various programs, total of 2,810 students have lived in Banteay Prieb, 3,040 students were supported by scholarship programs to continue their study, 25,161 wheelchairs were produced, and 1,175 families were provided with a decent shelter. Another accomplishment is its dedicated team. Many of them started with us and are still with us. They are the people who did not come for big salaries. They came with a heart to help the poor people, the marginalized.
Established in 1991, Banteay Prieb has been accompanying people with disabilities, by providing community life and teaching skills and values which enhance their sense of dignity, confidence, and independence. It enables them to generate income on their own and live independently, while harmoniously settle in society once they finish the program. In July 2019, the Department of Social Welfare of the Cambodian government announced a new development plan for the lands which include the land of Banteay Prieb, and started the construction soon after the announcement. Accordingly, Banteay Prieb temporarily stopped the enrollment of new students and started preparation for a new phase.
There are five rural offices of Jesuit Service in Cambodia: Phnom Pehn, Battambang, Siem Reap, Sisophon, and Kampong Thom. Jesuit Mission’s general rural program, Metta Karuna (meaning loving compassion) serves the people through education and social programs. The main target group is the most marginalized in society – the poor and persons with disabilities.
Battambang Student Centre has been operating to provide poor students with a better learning environment since its beginning in 1995. In 2019, 62 students including 38 girls lived in the Battambang Centre and Mondol Ratana Centre. They have afterschool activities such as team reviewing lessons, computer class, English class, physical education, and gardening. Every Sunday they have special activities such as outings, ethnics/ecology education, group discussion, and student council.
JSC Book Production started in 2005 because the Cambodian publishing sector was at an embryonic stage and no publisher offered books for children. Book Publication Project publishes and distributes children’s books to enhance a sustainable reading environment for Cambodian children and to eventually improve the fundamental education system in Cambodia. This project is committed to offering books that help Cambodian children to have enough books to enhance the reading capacity which can help them with opportunities for a better future. Furthermore, we hope to encourage and help Cambodian children to express their emotional feelings in healthy and natural ways.
Light of Mercy Home aims to offer proper care and education to children with disabilities(CWD) and to enable them to lead an independent life as integrated members of Cambodian society. It provides them not only with a home where they live together as a community but also with a chance to learn academic as well as extracurricular skills. We invite them to accept themselves, to get to know each other and develop their personalities as well as their social skills.
Since 2013, the Ecology Program of the Jesuit Service Cambodia has been collaborating with local communities and schools in protecting local natural resources and in sharing practicable research information on important environmental issues. In 2019, we are happy to share there were more youths involved in our activities especially with regard to Ecological Restoration and Education & Advocacy. We believe that it is important to engage the youth in increasing awareness and action in local environmental issues. The youth of today deserve to witness and experience the beauty and complexity of the natural world, as well as to be aware of the many ways by which we are gravely harming the earth and its life-giving system.
Ecological Restoration: We continued to work with our local community partners, schools, and other NGO partners in the conservation of forest areas.
Education & Advocacy: We focus on environmental education activities with local schools.
Research & Publication: Using GIS technology, we conducted a Forest Cover Change Study on Prey Lang Forest and Stung Sen Ramsar Site. The study showed that 102,436 hectares of forest were converted into agricultural areas, plantations, and human settlements. This number of hectares represents around 24% of the total land area of Prey Lang, making it a very significant phenomenon. We also helped an NGO partner Cambodia Youth Network in their research on a 2,000 hectare-land being cleared in the Prey Lang Forest.
Sustainability Practices: One of our long-term goals is to have local staff lead the Ecology Program. In June, Ms. Panh Chanda started her Masters in Tropical Risk Management at the Ateneo de Davao University, Philippines, and in November Ms. Nak Yuri enrolled in the BS Natural Resource Management at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.