Forging the Future: Visiting Cambodia’s Border Primary School to Create a Teaching Space

2021-06-03

In July 2019, 11 students from the NCTU Service-Learning Center’s BAT International Volunteer Team to Southeast Asia and architecture students from the Taipei Municipal Daan Vocational High School went to Oddar Meanchey, a northern border province of Cambodia. Under the guidance of NCTU’s Co-director Yuwen Lai of the Global Citizenship Education Center and Director June-Hao Hou of the Graduate Institute of Architecture; the instructor Chen-Hui Lin of Taipei Municipal Daan Vocational High School Department of Architecture; and the Executive Director Chien Chi-Ming of the Association of Humanitarian Architecture, the students spent 14 days transforming the buildings of the non-profit DPC School to create an open amphitheater for both teaching and recreational purposes. 

DPC School has as many as 500 children but only 5 of its timber framed concrete classrooms are in stable condition. The school building that the team helped renovate this time only had a roof and wooden beams. OM is the most impoverished province in Cambodia. Its average annual family income is less than US$1,000. Due to its location in the interior and border, its natural conditions and social resources lag seriously behind major regions. Its economy and education have fallen on the tail end of development for a long time, and it receives few international aid. 

Last year, the NCTU Service-Learning Center established a local Cambodian office through the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families. Upon learning that DPC School needed classroom expansion, the office collaborated with Daan Vocational High School’s Department of Architecture to formulate an architecture themed service-learning plan.

Half of the students from the two schools have no architectural background. However, they underwent intensive preparation and training for half a year. In addition to inviting experts to share, they also revised their designs numerous times and practiced bricklaying and carpentry. When the time came for the team to embark on their journey in July, Daan Vocational High School took the lead and went to DPC School to conduct site survey, layout and material preparation. Once the NCTU volunteers arrived, construction began. Using wood, steel pipes and low brick walls, the team created an open amphitheater that is not only ventilated and bright, but also suitable for the characteristically hot and dry local climate. 

The local villagers also participated in the construction. The school children often came to the construction site to watch curiously, and took the initiative to help the volunteers clean the tools and brush remaining cement from the slabs. During down time in the construction, the NCTU teachers and students also participated in classes and accompanied the local social workers on home visits to observe and learn about the lives of the Cambodian residents and exchange  ideas about education and the future.

Wang Yi-Shun, a student in charge of structural design said that as a volunteer, he could not really contribute much to others. Rather than being about contribution, it is more about learning. Gao Hong-Yi, a student from the Department of Civil Engineering, said: “For me, international volunteering is more like a ceremony, a ceremony that connects lives. We walk into local lives and listen to this land.” The perseverance and optimism of the local residents in the midst of poverty left an unforgettable impression on the students, and inspired them to reflect deeply on international development issues.

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