Cambodia Club aids healing nation


Wearing glasses, having a gathering of three or more people, and showing affection to family and loved ones are all inherent rights that one would never question as some of our basic individual freedoms. In Cambodia in the late 1970s, these were all severe transgressions that were punishable by death.

The Khmer Rouge, a communist regime, violently took control over Cambodia in 1975. They attempted to create a completely agricultural society that would take the calendar back to the year zero, and they killed roughly 1.7 million Cambodians with the goal of wiping out all traces of education and culture.

The BHS Cambodia Club works to restore and develop education in Cambodia. The club has joined forces with Cambodians to improve present day conditions and help Cambodia recover.

“They are really challenging issues that they have today,” said Daniel Green, history teacher and co-founder of the club. “They faced this situation in the 1970s that is just impossible to fathom, yet there’s this resilience, this spirit and this drive to educate themselves and to take ownership over what happened and to improve conditions in the country.”

In order to develop education in Cambodia, the club raised $17,000 in 2009 to build a sister-school in rural Preah Vihear Province, which is in North Cambodia. The province experienced some of the worst fighting during the genocide.

The Brookline Samlahn School (samlahn means friend in Khmer) was completed in 2010 and now has 150 to 200 students in grades seven, eight and nine.

“I hope that through having this school, the kids can be empowered to try and make a difference because their country is in such a difficult spot,” junior and club member Eliza Fox said.

Green also stressed the importance of this sister school for the Cambodians.

“After war happens, it’s often the educated class that can rally and provide the leadership that’s needed to rebuild,” Green said.

Last year, Green took a trip to Cambodia with six students and former history teacher Kate Boynton. They were able to visit the school and see the rough conditions first-hand.

Green said the trip inspired the kids to help educate Cambodians and was so successful that another group of six students and two teachers will be going to Cambodia again this February.

Currently, the Cambodia Club is trying to raise money for an English teacher for the school, which will cost $2,700. English is key for kids to be able to move out of their villages and into leadership positions, according to Green.

Another major challenge that the Samlahn school faces, said Green, is that it is built on ground where landmines had once been buried. During its reign, the Khmer Rouge had randomly dispersed landmines throughout Cambodia in order to slow down, injure and kill enemies.

There may be as many as four to six million mines still in Cambodia and 40,000 amputees, according to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre. The club is researching landmines and trying to figure out how to best support removing them. It hopes to think of a way to connect other schools and students from throughout the country to help remove the landmines.

The club has identified the landmines as a major setback in the process of rebuilding the country.

“There’s certain limitations to where buildings and villages end, so nobody goes past those limits because of fear from being blown up by landmines,” Fox said. “Nobody knows where they are. There’s no system to it.”

According to Green, Cambodians have taken initiative and students from Brookline have been able to make cross-cultural connections that enable them to help out in the recovery process.

By educating themselves about landmines and how they can help to have them removed, and by educating Cambodians, the Cambodia Club has set a foundation for change in Cambodia.

“Education is this core attribute needed to deal with all the issues that the country is facing right now,” Green said. “There’s this young, almost army of children that are really interested in becoming educated and taking Cambodia to kind of the next level, but need education to do so.”

Seth Coven can be contacted at [email protected]