The Story of Bophal and DCC School
Help Cambodia's main focus is a school located in a very poor area of Phnom Penh. The driving force behind this school is an amazing Cambodian man named Bophal Choun. Here is Bophal's story...
Bophal Choun was born in Phnom Penh just after Pol Pot’s Khmer rouge regime ended. This destructive genocide resulted in the loss of an estimated 2.2 million Cambodians and Bophal’s family was not immune to this tragedy. Both sets of Bophal’s grandparents and an aunt and uncle all died during this dark period of Cambodia’s history.
When Bophal was 10 years old his father died leaving his wife to raise five children alone. Three years later his mother sold the family home and moved to the industrial area of Steung Meanchey, the site of Phnom Penh’s rubbish dump on the outskirts of the city. Selling the family home funded Bophal’s older brother at university but nothing remained to assist the other siblings. As a young child Bophal walked 10km to attend the nearest government school.
In 1998 Bophal completed year 12, which was significant for any Cambodian youth but an even greater achievement for someone from the impoverished Steung Meanchey community. With no means to fund his education at university, he continued working as a construction worker; a job he had undertaken in year 10 to pay his high school costs.
Bophal assisted his mother to set up and run a small pillow making business in their home. He later worked 7 days a week in the local “recycling” industry collecting and sorting waste from the rubbish dump to help support his mother and siblings. After 2 years he left to study English through classes provided for free by a Church. This meant a 20 km walk 5 days per week for the next 3 years until he was awarded his English certificate.
While studying, only Bophal and one friend had any English speaking ability in their entire community. Bophal’s future mother-in-law was impressed by his commitment to becoming educated and introduced him to her 16 year old daughter Chantrea who worked in a garment factory. Two years later they were married and lived with Chantrea’s parents.
Bophal gained a position with a Cambodian Non-Government Organisation and taught English and Khmer to children aged 6-12 years for the next 4 years.
In 2010 Bophal resigned his position and at his father-in-law’s suggestion, advocated to the Ministry of Education to help the children of their community by establishing the DCC school. With a very small stipend from the government, Bophal began teaching children in the modest home he shared with his in-laws. To help support the family his wife continued working 6 days a week in the garment factory. The school commenced with 15 students learning English and Khmer. The following year the numbers had grown to 50 students at the DCC school. A donation of 3 computers a few years later allowed the DCC school to introduce computer skills to the students. For 5 years the DCC school operated in the entire space of the family’s home, meaning the other family members had to vacate the premises every day to allow the classes to take place.
Then in 2015 a group from Wagga Wagga, NSW Australia visited DCC, met Bophal and his father-in-law and viewed their humble school. Their dedication to the betterment of the people in this community so impressed the touring group that on return to Australia they decided to establish a charity to support the admirable work being done to change the lives of some underprivileged Cambodians. The charity HELP Cambodia Inc was established and after some intensive fundraising and promotion a sponsorship program was established and funds raised to construct a building in order to relocate DCC school into their own premises. This was achieved with massive financial support from the Wagga Wagga community and physical labouring from local community members in Steung Meanchey. The school opened its doors in June 2017.
The Development of Community Centre is located in urban Phnom Penh. The community is located on what was the old city rubbish dump. Homes have been established yet this remains a very poor community.
Many families try to make a living by scavenging for recyclable materials. Very low salaries for school teachers mean that families must pay for their children to attend government schools. Consequently, many children previously did not attend school.
DCC is not a traditional school but rather a supplementary school and Community Centre that seeks to lift its community out of poverty and vulnerability by:
• helping disadvantaged young children to gain access to government school
• supporting children who have dropped out of the school system to catch up and regain entry
• providing English classes (not offered in the government system) to give students hope for a successful future
• providing computer access and training to enable self-driven learning
• educating adults of the community about drug abuse, domestic violence, child protection and health
• facilitating access to medical teams to assist community members.
Currently DCC supports 120 students and classes offered are English, Khmer, Computer skills and traditional Khmer dance. 8 students have progressed on to university studies with support from a scholarship fund offered by HELP Cambodia. University students contribute to DCC by volunteering their time to teach classes and assist with the general running of the school.
The school’s ongoing running costs are met by the generous support from HELP Cambodia donors through the Student Sponsorship Program. Bophal and Chantrea, with their three children (pictured below) live in the Managers residence with in the DCC school.