The Bible Society in Cambodia is seeking to help people in Cambodia who, through illiteracy, are vulnerable to poverty and exploitation.
The three decades of fierce civil conflict which came to an end just over 10 years ago have left their mark on Cambodia in many different ways, according to the United Bible Societies (UBS). One particularly significant legacy is the very high levels of illiteracy among its people. The education system collapsed during the civil war, depriving a whole generation of young people of the opportunity to learn to read and write, and even now it has not fully recovered.
¡§Illiteracy is one of the most serious problems facing Cambodia today,¡¨ said United Bible Societies Asia-Pacific Program Consultant Arun Sok Nhep, in decribing a visit to Garbage Hill Village, one of the poorest areas of Phnom Penh.
Originally part of the Opportunity 21-funded project Generation of Hope, the Bible Society¡¦s literacy work has now become a thriving program in its own right. Its use of Scripture-based print and audio literacy teaching materials has been "extremely effective" in rural locations where access to even a basic primary education is often very limited.
¡§The Bible Society knows that the impact of its work depends not only on its effectiveness in providing the Scriptures, but also on its involvement in promoting literacy,¡¨ Nhep stated.
Before it took its literacy program to rural areas, however, the Bible Society tested its materials closer to home and approached the people of Garbage Hill to suggest holding adult literacy classes. Although the adults declined, knowing that they could not afford to lose an hour¡¦s work, they asked whether their children could attend the classes instead.
¡§This, then, is how the Bible Society came to hold an hour-long class each day for the children of Garbage Hill,¡¨ Nhep reported. ¡§The classes are led by a Christian lady, Bunny, a young man from a nearby church and a member of the Bible Society staff team.¡¨
According to UBS, Bunny and her husband Chey live in a small village around 50 kms (37 miles) from Phnom Penh. Both received training from UNICEF to allow them to work for the government literacy program. They travel every day to the capital, where Bunny runs the children¡¦s literacy class and her husband teaches adults elsewhere.
¡§On the very first day, more than 20 eager children turned up,¡¨ Nhep said. ¡§Bunny selected 12 who could not even recognize the letters of the alphabet. These children now spend the mornings working alongside their parents. In the early afternoon, they come down from the hill and wash themselves in a small pond before coming to the class. The water in the pond is dirty, but they have no choice. Lessons begin at 3pm. There is no classroom and no tables or chairs, so the children sit on bricks under the village¡¦s only tree.
¡§With great patience and compassion, Bunny teaches the children to read using the textbooks and audio cassettes provided by the Bible Society,¡¨ Nhep continued. ¡§The children listen carefully to the cassettes and repeat each letter and word slowly. Often, smaller children sit nearby and chant along too. After the class, the children are allowed to keep the textbooks so that they can practice alone.¡¨
According to the UBS Consultant, this method has been specially devised to ensure that the children enjoy the process of learning.
¡§None of them ever wants to miss the class,¡¨ Nhep added. ¡§Most of them are very intelligent and are learning quickly. If it were not for lack of money, they would be doing well at school.
"Thanks to these classes, they will not find it hard to adjust to the formal education system if they ever do get the opportunity to attend school.¡¨
Today, UBS reports that there is an encouraging resurgence of Christianity in Cambodia and the Church is growing. Most Christians in Cambodia are young people who have come to faith since 1992 and are active and enthusiastic in their new-found faith. Church leaders believe that the Christian message, presented in a culturally-relevant way, is the answer to the nation's many needs.
As part of its Generation Hope project, the Bible Society will train 500 young people in Bible knowledge and in faith-sharing skills. It will also support the current, on-going witness by pastors, priests, evangelists and others; and provide Scriptures to at least 100,000 non-Christian young people, representing at least 50,000 families.
In addition, 10,000 New Testaments, 10,000 audio tapes, 25,000 Scripture Portions, 100,000 Scripture Portions for those learning to read, and 200,000 booklets of Bible verses will also be prepared for free distribution.