Standing for Education to Life
Battambang. In an open hall, which was once the entirety of Vithayalai Don Bosco Battambang, the first Official Graduation Ceremony took place on the 9th of August 2013, and was attended by the schools staff and students, as well as the students’ parents. Invited to attend and take part in the ceremony, having arrived from Phnom Penh the day before, were Fr. Cef Ledesma and Fr. Leo Ochoa. Fr. Leo Ochoa there to witness the First Opening of the School in 2000 and now the First Official Graduation Ceremony in 2013.
Offering Formal Education to 565 students, 2013 also marks the first year that Vithayalai Don Bosco Battambang has been officially recognized as an educative institution. On the 20th of March 2013 Vithayalai Don Bosco Battambang was proclaimed by H. E. Sar Kheng, in the presence of city hall officials, the Department of Education Authorities and the general population of Battambang.
The warmth of the morning sun filled to the edges of every frame as students arrived by bike, foot or closely grouped seating in cars travelling the distance between the two schools, the Andaung Chenh Campus (AC) and the Salabalath Campus (SB). The parents of the prospective Graduates and award recipients filled the seated rows, beneath the acacia tree planted upon the opening of the Don Bosco Literacy Centre at Anduang Chenh in 1999, now fully grown and able to readily cast gentle shade over the children’s play area.
As the beginnings of the ceremony drew closer, only standing room remained. Nokor Reach, the Cambodian National Anthem saw all stand and turn to face the rising flag. A symphony of united voices, created echoes off and around the very first walls built for the Vithayalai Don Bosco Battambang School.
Taking the stage, Ms Pen Davy and Mr Ny Sortanea, two of the schools staff and the shared MC for the Graduation Ceremony proceedings, welcomed everyone in attendance and introduced the first performance. Beautifully offered by Grade 2 AC was the ‘Ro Bam Choun Po’ dance – the piece a blessing on all for a brighter tomorrow, with the petals falling to the stage on which the Graduates would stand.
The report of the school year was given by School Principal Hom Toeur – the pure optimism of his enthusiasm for the students and their education radiating so brightly through his words.
Principal Hom Toeur informed all in attendance of the ceremony, that as of this day there are 565 students enrolled at Vithayalai Don Bosco Battambang and that of these students, a class of 73 would be graduating from Grade 6 as part of the First Official Graduation Ceremony.
Welcomed to the stage, before the wide-eyed and smile bound faces of the school’s 565 students, Fr. Cef Ledesma and Fr. Leo Ochoa conveyed messages of encouragement and praise for the year that has been and each student’s contribution to the lives of both schools.
Following the message from Fr. Cef Ledesma was the awarding of the 73 Graduates for 2013. One by one, each student of the Grade 6 graduating class was called to the stage to receive their Graduation certificate. Their willingness and the desire that shone through their eyes to learn more than they have already is a testament to the teachers of Vithayalai Don Bosco Battambang, and the students themselves, as ultimately it is the students who attend the classes and find the answers to the questions.
Each of these students has the incredible potential to continue their studies and become those who will lead this country to a place and time where education can be available and accessible to all. The acknowledgement of every single student’s achievement from this graduating class was witnessed by all in attendance of the ceremony. Mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles and grandparents – who were not offered the opportunity to receive a formal education, some not able to read and write themselves, were able to see first-hand, their children so full of joy and a desire to learn, and succeeding so profoundly.
Following the awards to the Graduates was the dance of ‘Kas Tro Lauk’, performed by Grade 1 AC, and the dance ‘Nea Ry Chea Chour’ by the students of SB. For most of the students, it was the first time they had ever performed on stage and this to an audience that stretched back to fill passed the very edges of the hall. The action song of ‘Let’s Go’, by Grace 2 AC was performed in English and told of how the students go to school to study and that being able to do so, makes every one of them, happy. This performance was followed by the students of Grade 2 SB, with their show story piece titled ‘Difficulty if you do not study’. The challenges these children are met with every day in receiving an education is more than most. Yet they know, as was performed for their fellow students and for their parents, that the difficulties are greater by far if they do not have the chance to study.
The official proceedings continued with 54 students receiving certificates for ‘Best Study from 1-3’, awarded by Fr. Leo Ochoa. The certificates upheld the message of praise for those who had committed to study and was a validated recognition of their achievement.
Ms Yoern Sreydeap, a representative from the graduating class, stepped onto the stage with the poise you would recognize in an accomplished speech-maker. Her message, to her fellow Graduates, the students of the school, the parents, teachers and guests, was one of grateful thanks and also served as inspiration for those before her who have every chance to follow in her footsteps.
The stage was filled once again by the students of Grade 2 SB, this time with the performance song of ‘Kun Mum Kun Pa’.
The ceremony then moved to its inclusion of awards for outstanding achievements, in recognition of activities beyond the academic, with the hope that the awards would offer inspiration to the other students and encouragement that they too could receive an award one day, upon hearing the names of their peers called out and to the stage.
This recognition that reached beyond the academics of an education saw awards presented to those who had achieved highly in other areas. 15 certificates were awarded for ‘Best Attendance for the School Year’, for the students who had not missed a day of class. 31 students received an award for ‘Best Discipline’, those who had demonstrated respect for their teachers, fellow students and also a respect for the education they are receiving. 25 students received awards spread between ‘Best in Sports’, the ‘Best Volleyball Team’, ‘Best Singing’ and also for ‘Best in Dramatics’, some of these students later took to the stage soon after with one of the final performances.
Offering a message of hope for all children, no matter their age of the notability of their academic success, was a performance by Grade 5 AC titled ‘Standing’. The performance was led by a young Don Bosco student, with an astoundingly choreographed dance piece. Cards capturing the children’s thoughts of ‘I can’t do this’ were met with a strengthened message, allowing them to know that if they ‘stand up’ they are capable of achieving anything. To stand up for their desire to
receive an education, to stand up with the knowledge that they will not be left to walk alone – with the staff and volunteers of Don Bosco by their sides every step of the way.
The final presentation of the ceremony was a dramatic piece titled ‘Children Right’, performed by the secondary students. The piece drew from truths of the students’ lives who attend the schools, of parents and those years beyond them who hold the belief that the children have a right to work, but not a right to education. However the performance and dramatized scenarios were not in ridicule, rather they were in search of understanding, to open the eyes of those who may not have known how to see, and allowing them every chance to.
The official proceedings of the ceremony were drawn to their end with all of the students who received awards filling the stage – those from the Graduating Class, those of ‘Best Academic Study’ and also the awards of recognition for students who achieved highly in areas other than academic literary. Beneath their feet, the fallen petals of belief and reassurance accented the stage floor.
Education for a new life
Chairs were then returned to their original classrooms, ready in waiting for the beginnings of their next class. Parents and relatives returned home, with students forming lines to then prepare for their own journeys from the school. The dusted ground shifted to hold new stories – stories that would be filled with learning; every staff member and student treading footsteps which will now be followed by many in the years to come.
The first Official Graduation Ceremony of Vithayalai Don Bosco Battambang was as much an opportunity for recognition, as it was for awareness and action. Here, every staff member and every student is fighting for education – not with fists or hardened words but rather with an unrelenting hopeful spirit and smiles so bright you would believe they had never seen sadness or suffering.
Not only education for life – learning to read and write, to finish school, to find a job and a secure livelihood – but also education being the first step to life, a life with some of the burdens lifted. There is a new hope here, that is allowed to be in ways that before could not have been possible, with every child standing for their education to life.
Written by Bess Wattchow, Cagliero Volunteer for I See Cambodia