An agricultural technical center to fight child labor in Battambang
Battambang. It is common to see several constructions sites in modern Cambodia. It is as the former war destruction is already over and everyone is building something to recover the lost time. Unfortunately, the building of schools, hospitals and community areas is much less than the fever for hotels, restaurants, casinos and resorts. Unemployed young people find easily jobs in construction this time, but in many occasions many of those workers are as young as 7 and 10 years old. In Battambang it can be also a norm to see children in construction sites and the brick factories.
According with Fr. Leonard Ochoa, rector of the new Don Bosco Agro-vocational Training Center, working conditions in the brick factories and the paddy fields of Battambang are inhuman:
‘For less than one dollars a day, family members, including children, work in conditions of slavery. School is not an option for these children, which jeopardizes their future,’ he says.
The Battambang Province is one of the main national producers of rice and agriculture. The second largest Cambodian city is developing and becoming a center for the country industrial growing, a fact that attracts also migration from the rural areas looking for best opportunities. Near also to the Thai border, Battambang is a geographical corridor in the Southeast Asian region and it is important that it gets a convenient development for the growing needs of its population and those coming.
Schools are, so far, the best way to fight child labor and all its shocking consequences, although it is not so easy as to say to a child ‘hey, just go to school‘. Children are in many ways victims of domestic violence and slavery attitudes from adults that consider it is okay to put them to gain the life. Therefore, campaigns to make children back to school include a big work with families and even their bosses that should understand children should not work, but to study.
‘The Literacy Center Project at Salabalath Village was conceived in 2000 by the Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia in the city of Battambang. These lands were given by the government for education, vocational and agricultural purposes and it offers opportunities to children to go to school and remain in school. We provide also school uniforms, health care, food, educational material and teaching-learning experiences,’ explains Fr. Ochoa.
‘Before, thinking in our past, when we were small there were many of us that could not attend a school, because there was not money for school fees or uniforms. Others used to take care of the smallest siblings or sick parents and others were orphans and they had to work in order to survive. But Don Bosco gave us uniforms and food to eat and we learn skills to prepare a different future,’ he concludes.
Mr. Hom Toeur, the school principal, says that Don Bosco Andaung Chenh began in 1999 with 81 students, while Don Bosco Salabalath opened in 2000 with 97 students and ten teachers. All the students come from brick factories and paddy fields from the same area of Battambang. Today, both schools give educational service to 780 students in basic education, write & reading, mathematics and, some of them began already the regular primary education. In 2006 the agricultural program was introduced in a province with a strong rural production.
International donors have played an important role in the development of these educative projects at the heart of the second Cambodian city. Toeur mentions Sawasdee/Kinderfonds Foundation of the Netherlands, the Rotary Club of Schouwen Duiveland, Ziekzee, the Stichting Scholenproject Cambodja in Rotterdam and many other organizations and individuals that have given priority to a project where it is possible to measure a social impact.
The Don Bosco Agro-vocational Training Center was officially open last February 25 in a program that included the blessing of the Catholic Bishop of Battambang, Mgr. Enrique Figeroa, although the project is not religious oriented and students are not object of indoctrination, according to the policies of the Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia.
‘The philosophy of the project is the formation of children and young people to be good, honest and productive citizens for their country. Among the objectives it is providing basic literacy and elementary education to poor rural children, distributing educational material and equipment to motivate the children to remain at school, providing food, but also health habits and to preparing the students with skillful programs,’ says Fr. Ochoa.
The agricultural program is going to be focused in what Fr. Ochoa calls model rice farming and vegetable horticulture to have a positive impact on the life and production of the Battambang rural areas.
- Michael Shean, USDA (2010). Cambodia: Future Growth Rate of Rice Production Uncertain. Commodity Intelligence Report. Link retrieved on March 6, 2013.