Pass It On by Frances Lew

Monivong Road is one long road that locals as well as visitors are familiar with. Hotels, restaurants, cafes, banks, as well as shops selling an array of goods from computers to lighting to vehicles to house-hold stuff and many others can be found there. In a sense, it is the commercial hub of Phnom Penh. The Catholic Church Students' Centre is right behind the Bishop's house in Boeung Trabek which runs parallel to Monivong Road. In the day, Phnom Penh is like any other capital city bustling with people and traffic.

Heavy traffic along Monivong Road

However, in the evenings especially after 9.00pm, we see another facet of Phnom Penh, a lot less traffic and people on the roads.

A lone motor cyclist

The ride to the Centre takes about 35 minutes but returning home was a breeze of no more than 15 minutes. I would not recommend that visitors venture out late in the night except in the company of others- if possible guys.

The project at the Students' Centre would not have been possible, had it not been for a reliable Tuk Tuk driver, Khut who fetches me and sends me home safely. Praise the Lord! 

We were introduced to Fr. Asley SJ in charge through Sr. Sol, Daughters of Charity, who brought up the subject of training the student catechists to us. 

The centre is home to 50 students from the different provinces of Cambodia. They are studying in the various universities in Phnom Penh. These students get to stay in the centre for four years after which they have to look for alternative accommodation. This is to make way for new students. These students were given scholarships by the Catholic Church from their respective provinces. Half of the students are non-Catholic. The other half is new converts of one to eight years. 60% of the Catholic students return to their provinces every weekend, leaving on Saturdays and returning on Sundays, traveling 2 to 3 hours one way to Prey Veng, Kampong Cham, Miatkrasas, Pshar Touch and Shaypa to conduct Catechism lessons. Despite their lack of training in the teaching of catechism, they pass on what they know. It must be taxing for them, juggling between lectures, duties at the centre and conducting catechism classes on weekends. It showed up on assignment days, when attendance could go down to a mere 50%. 

As these students attend classes in the day, lessons had to be arranged in the evenings from 8.15 to 9.30 once a fortnight. Lessons began during the season of Advent. It was opportune that Carol and Betty from Singapore were visiting and with their help an advent wreath was made. Thus the importance of observing the liturgical season was highlighted. The discussion was highly animated – the symbolism of the colours, the number of candles and the why of the advent wreath.

Homemade advent wreath with Chanthou doing the translation

I found working with the students challenging to say the least. Three broad concerns were raised by the students. One is about their own level of faith, the second on methodology and the third on Hygiene. Accordingly, in the parishes, the children come from the villages and hygiene was found wanting. With these concerns in mind, we open each session with a short gospel passage and a sharing of one's faith experience.

Being nourished by the word of God

Kann Boy's sharing on 'Who am I?'

The life source of receiving the Eucharist and prayer both communal and individual were also emphasized. 

On the technical aspect, basic teaching strategies and classroom management were covered including strategies on how to adapt the text to the level of their catechism students.

Discussion on adapting the Catechism syllabus

The need for good hygiene was discussed through the sharing of Big books.

What do you do when a lion has dandruff and a hippo has bad breath?

Following a number of input sessions, students were given assignments - designing lesson plans for their catechism classes.

Sopheakan and Srey's sharing on "Living God's Love"

Sros and Than's sharing on 'Created to Love'

Focus was also placed on how to make the catechism lessons fun. To this end, role-play, story-telling, appropriate activities and sharing of faith experiences were stressed. 

Students practicing the folding of a heart

The majority of the students come from the lower socio economic strata and has on average five to six siblings. They are grateful for the opportunities of getting a tertiary education. It was a privilege to have the students share their struggles and aspirations. Hence, it is no wonder that Chanthou, Sopheakan, Rike, Thorn, Than and Sros want to go into business and make it big so that they can help their families and a good head-start for themselves. It was heart warming to hear Pich Srey say that she would like to work with the mentally challenged and the poor. It augurs well for the community that what these young people have received freely, they pass on freely to their young students in the parishes. May they realise their aspirations and be a light to the people they meet.