(MissionNewswire) Cambodia’s coastline, recognized in 2011 as one of the Club of the World’s Most Beautiful Bays due to its natural and cultural assets, is home to another important asset – youth seeking an education for a better future.
In Sihanoukville, the major city on the coastline, at-risk youth are given the opportunity to receive a professional education to prepare them for careers related to tourism and hospitality at the Don Bosco Hotel School.
Currently, Cambodia’s economy is growing, with more than 2.5 million tourists visiting each year making a major contribution. However, for many people, life is extremely difficult. More than one third of Cambodians live below the poverty line, struggling to survive on less than one dollar each day, according to UNICEF. While school enrollment rates are increasing, less than half of children finish primary school.
“With tourism becoming one of Cambodia’s fastest growing sectors after the war, we saw an opportunity to expand our training programs into new areas,” says Fr. John Visser, SDB, Rector of Don Bosco Sihanoukville. “Youth are able to learn skills that not only allow them to find jobs here, but also enable them to compete in the global marketplace.”
The school was built specifically to serve as an educational facility. Youth learn skills in hotel management, food and beverage administration and general hospitality.
Fr. Visser notes that some smaller scale hospitality schools were being operated by non-governmental organizations in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but there were no similar opportunities for youth in Sihanoukville, one of the most popular beach resort towns in Cambodia.
“We built the school on an unused piece of land near our current Don Bosco Technical School, the largest vocational school in the area,” says Fr. Visser. “When we began, the fact that we were building a hotel so far from the center of town seemed crazy to some people. Now the Don Bosco Hotel School is setting the example, and other hotel schools are appearing across the country.”
Since the opening of the school in 2007, the area is now being developed into a residential zone – Fr. Visser points out – with new roads connecting it to the main beaches, the airport and Phnom Penh.
Through the Don Bosco Technical Schools, more than 4,000 Cambodian youth have received degrees in technical areas like electricity, electronics, automotive repair, printing, web design, audiovisual editing and production, journalism, social communication, secretarial skills, sewing, culinary arts, hotel management and welding.
The Salesians are widely regarded as the largest single provider of technical vocational training in the world, working in the poorest places around the globe.
“Salesians prepare students for careers in culinary arts and hotel and hospitality management in a number of their institutes throughout the world,” says Matthew Welsh, deputy director of the Salesian Missions Office for International Programs, headquartered in New Rochelle, NY.
Since arriving in Cambodia, Salesians have partnered with the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Education to open a total of seven vocational training centers, according to Welsh. Approximately 1,300 youth ages 16-21 are preparing for their futures in one and two year vocational training programs in Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh, Toul Kork, Teuk Thla, Battambang, Kep, and Poipet. With their diplomas, students take with them skills in mechanics, welding, computers, printing and communication – as well as the hope for a new Cambodia.
The Salesians have a long history of teaching job skills to youth in Cambodia, adds Welsh. Through the United Nations, they began providing technical vocational education to Cambodian refugees living in camps along the Thai-Cambodian border in the late 1980s. Then in 1993, at the invitation of the government of Cambodia, the technical School in Phnom Penh was established to republish, translate, and write books and educational documents that were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime. It contained the only working printing press in the country – and served as a model of hope through education.