Dharma Based Education for Vulnerable Children
Head Nun and Head Monk of Wat Proveal
Many primary school age children from poor families in Cambodia are unable to attend school. The nuns’ center at Wat Poveal in Battambang, a provincial capital in the northwestern part of the country, has set aside land in its compound to build and run a home for 40 vulnerable children allowing them to receive quality educations. The children will be cared for by the nuns with assistance from the wat community. The children will attend a nearby primary school while benefitting from a moral upbringing and skills-oriented instruction at the home.
Land designated for the Children's Learning Center
There are a significant number of primary school age children in Cambodia from poor, very poor, or broken families who are unable to support or send them to school. Many wind up as quasi-orphaned street children begging for food and veering toward a life of glue-sniffing and petty crime.
The international community (UNICEF in particular), frequently working in partnership with international or local NGOs, and numerous well financed foreign religious missions have been engaged in redressing this problem. With some notable exceptions, little has been done in this area by indigenous Khmer Buddhist institutions in a country that is 95 percent Buddhist. In the past, before the massive social upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s, when more than a quarter of the population perished, such institutions through the traditional Buddhist wat structure had been in the forefront of helping the neediest and most destitute members of Khmer society.
A need exists for local Buddhist institutions to revive and increase their capacity to provide and care for vulnerable or destitute children unable to attend school. Such care does in fact take place, much of it undocumented and unrecognized, but largely on an individual and informal, not institutional, level. By providing for their basic, including moral, needs, these institutions can play an instrumental role in not only having children receive a basic public education with their peers, but also integrating them into the country’s own Khmer and Buddhist culture while providing them with practical life skills.
Goals & Objectives
The goal of the project is to assist Khmer-Buddhist wat communities restore a tradition of serving as social safety nets for the most vulnerable members of society. The main objective of the project is to provide a home for vulnerable children at Wat Poveal, offering these children the opportunity attend local public school, receive a Khmer-Buddhist moral upbringing, and benefit from extra-curricular training in practical skills leading to right livelihoods. A secondary objective is strengthening the capacity of the nuns’ center responsible for the day-to-day management of the vulnerable children’s program at Wat Poveal.
The nuns’ center plans to build and run a home for 40 vulnerable children (half boys, half girls) allowing them attend the primary school located in an adjacent wat that is less than a 10 minutes’ walk from the home. Adequate land has been set aside for the facility, located next to the three-story nuns’ center building (whose middle floor is meditation space). The head nun of the center seeks to build on years of experience in caring for “orphans.” She has run an informal activity at the nuns’ center assisting an average of six “orphan” children in any given year. (An “orphan” may have one or both parents alive who are unable to care for them.) The children receive sustenance – food, shelter, moral & personal guidance − from the nuns while attending the local school. Head nun Ly Sa Vy, with support from Wat Poveal’s head monk, seeks to build on this experience to create a larger-scale program.
Organizational support, work plan, & cost estimates.
The nuns’ center has asked KEAP for assistance in obtaining the necessary resources to build the home and implement a program of support for the resident children. The head nun plans to have younger resident nuns run the school with assistance from a local Buddhist NGO, Samakithor (Dhammic Solidairty) that specializes in training and education. Other community-based organizations who have pledged to assist include the Battambang branch of Cambodia’s Buddhist University and the Dhammayietra Center for Peace and Nonviolence (pending confirmation). The head monk of Wat Poveal, who assumes overall responsibility; the head monk of Battambang province (mekon); and the Provincial Religious Affairs Department have given their approval contingent on adequate outside support. The constituency of support needed for implementation has come together for this project.
KEAP is an “international friends of Buddhism in Cambodia” humanitarian organization founded in 1988 to assist with the cultural and spiritual rebuilding of the country following the wars and upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s. KEAP does not implement projects but supports locally initiated, owned, and managed education projects. Its main activity has been providing scholarships for monastic higher education. For a number of years, it has also supported the needs of nuns and vulnerable children. In Siemreap province (home of the famous Angkor temples), KEAP has over the years provided support for an informal school for vulnerable children. It raised funds to build a nonresidential school building in Wat Thmey, which provided the land and some teaching assistance between 2002 and 2005. Although relocated, the activity still functions with minimal outside support in providing the moral and material support necessary for up to 30 vulnerable children to attend the nearby local school.
Since 2009, KEAP has provided support to improve the nuns’ center facility at Wat Poveal, known as the country’s leading learning center wat outside Phnom Penh. Donors mainly from Asia made it possible to upgrade the main building with electricity, municipal water, and a roof to protect the building from water damage during the rainy season. Donors have also provided needed nutritional support (rice) for the nuns as well as the reprinting a meditation book used by the head nun in her instruction.
KEAP’s work with the nuns’ center has been conducted through the local Buddhist educational NGO Samakithor (Dhammic Solidarity). Samakithor localized in 1995 from the French NGO, Partage avec les Enfants du Monde (Share with Children of the World). Between 1992 and 1995, Partage conducted an education and training program through Wat Poveal on “Buddhism and Community Development” funded by the European Union’s “EC-Cambodia Rehabilitation Programme.” Its founder Pierre Marchand worked with Ven. Thich Naht Hanh’s orphans’ program during the Vietnam War. In close collaboration with Wat Poveal and in coordination with the Buddhist University, Samakithor will serve as KEAP’s local implementing partner for the building phase of this project. The cost of the facility, a single-story building with boys’ and girls’ wings (including bathrooms, kitchen, storage) and resting on traditional pylons, is estimated at USD 80-90,000.
The construction phase is estimated to take more than six months during the dry season. During this phase, Samakithor will take the lead in program planning and capacity training for the younger nuns who will run the home on under the supervision of head nun Sa Vy. The average monthly operating cost, with meals the single most costly item, is minimally estimated at USD 3,000. Means for obtaining local in-kind and financial support will be integrated into the program, including the building phase, to assure local ownership and project sustainability. A program of individual child sponsorships is envisaged to ensure monthly operating costs.
Below please find recent photos taken at the nuns’ center in Wat Poveal. If you wish to help this worthwhile project, or for further information, please contact:
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Doun ji Ly Sa Vy
Dounji ("nun" in Khmer) Ly Sa Vy, is the head nun of Wat Proviel. A good-humored and fiercely determined woman, Doun ji has been a nun for over twenty years, walking with Maha Ghosananada and knowing him well. She exemplifies the spirit of faith and determination that is found in the women of Cambodia, especially the elders, and it was in fact nuns and laywoman who proved to be Maha's most devoted, enduring and courageous followers (the walks passed through mine-fields and active battlegrounds and several marchers were killed by crossfire).
Like Maha Ghosananda, Doun ji Ly Sa Vy has a step-by-step vision for peace, in her case buidling the Preah Maha Ghosananda Children's Learning Center, the first such institution of its kind in Cambodia, a school that would empower younger nuns to be teachers, and thus elevate their role in society, and to serve one of the most vulnerable populations of Cambodia, the poorest children of the nearby countryside.