A Word on the Meaning of “Free Education” And the Culture of Aid Dependency
There is a fact that causes some conflicts for some friends when they know that our Don Bosco Technical Schools in Cambodia charge the students with a monthly fee. Why do you say that it is ‘free education‘ when you charge the students?
It is necessary to clarify this element before it reaches confusions.
The Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia is working in the country since 1991 – even before in the Khmer refugee camps in Thailand – to support poor young boys and girls to get a skill for a future job.
Since then, about 1,000 boys and girls leave the technical schools every year with a skill and better opportunities to be engaged in a developing society. Moreover, we have the Don Bosco Children Fund with more than 45,000 children from most of the Cambodian provinces supported by a great net of benefactors from the five continents. The children are guaranteed to stay at their schools and have a good food everyday plus the following up of our social workers.
Don Bosco anywhere in the world believes that poverty can be overcome through education. It is our daily commitment and it is our contribution to the Cambodian development.
The Culture of Aid Dependency
There are moments where peoples need an emergency aid to overcome their social dramas. Haiti, for example, needs aid by now, without any delay. In Port-au-Prince our Ecole Nationale des Arts et Mestieres was completely destroyed by the January earthquake and 500 students and teachers were killed. In such case, we need to give all the support to people who are facing terrible situations.
After the war, Cambodia was a devastated nation, depending 100 % in international aid. It is important that national and international organizations, private and officials, make a careful study of how such aid helped in the development of modern Cambodia. Such exercise will be useful for further coordination, cooperation and planing.
The first decade of the 21rst century has been especial for Cambodia. Even if we face new social problems like inequality and the detriment of rural areas, it is also true that Cambodia is far from that devastated country of the three last decades of the 20th century.
Another fact that many international organizations have to accept is that Cambodians are ready to lead their own country and to plan their own future. International organizations must continue in their role of assistance and consultancy and – in many times – of monitoring a development that should reach every Cambodian. The nation is not that one of the 1990s where the 70% of its population was under 25 years old. Now there are more professionals, more intellectuals, more skillful personnel… Maybe for many they are not enough, but it is the role of organizations like Don Bosco in Cambodia.
But we have our idea of what is aid dependency. It is good for a first step like now is happening in Haiti or what happened in post-war Cambodia. But it should not last for a long time.
Aid dependency does not help in the development of a population. It only creates a society without initiatives, lack of creativity, short in the analysis of its own situations and how they can improve it. Aid dependency can degenerate in a culture of corruption and the marginalization of those sectors that are systematically put out from their access to the international assistance.
We respect the way of many organizations that continue to support a culture of aid dependency in modern Cambodia. But we believe that prepare the young in a culture of creativity, initiative, critical thinking, is more respectful for a proud nation like Cambodia. We believe in the inner intelligence of Cambodians. We think that the descendants of that amazing people that created the Angkorian temples and the glorious Khmer Empire, keep that strength and spirit of courage to build a future great Cambodia. We do not see Cambodians as eternal-children, but Don Bosco came to Cambodia to be a Khmer with the Cambodians and grow with Cambodia.
Our students come from the most marginalized communities of cities and rural areas in Cambodia. They come to Don Bosco because they can not join a university. Don Bosco gives them the opportunity to get a skill in infrastructures prepared for a two years technical course. Everything in Don Bosco is supported by international donors who follow strictly our projects.
The students are asked a fee that is rather symbolic (things like 40,000 Riels per month, depending the school, that is around 10 American Dollars). Now well, such amount was established some years ago as a way to overcome the aid dependency mentality. The students must give value to what they are getting by free. Don Bosco is not a commercial institution. We are not living from the fee of students and poor youth. Such fee does not pay the totally cost of every student in Don Bosco at all.
Then you find that many poor youth get money for parties, motorbikes and other things in modern Cambodia, but for education they feel short.
The fee, however, is not required. No student has been sent out of the school because he or she could not pay the ‘fee’. When a boy or a girl cannot pay it, our social worker visits the families and studies their situation. Then boys and girls who do not have monthly 40,000 Riel are fully assisted in our programs of scholarship. Those who are assisted like this are more than what is published.
Our priority is the poor. Our mission is that the poor get out from poverty through his/her own talents, creativity, initiative. We are not going after children to give a fish, but we teach them how to fish.