The sounds indicate change. The squawking of the seagulls above has replaced the croaking of the toads below. On September 10, I arrived home in Ireland for a nine-month sabbatical after four years of intense work as the first Director of the new Xavier Jesuit School Project in Sisophon in Cambodia.
It has been a wonderful privilege and grace for me to have been part of this project right from the start, from the initial discernment phase which began in 2010 to the start-up phase in 2013, which has lasted until this year. Now we are in the consolidation phase so a different style of leadership is required.
On August 31, I handed over the reins as Director to Fr Quyen Vu, a Jesuit of the Australian Province, who has been appointed to succeed me by our Major Superior, Fr Indon Oh SJ, the Delegate of the Korean Province for the Cambodian Mission. Fr Quyen’s family fled Vietnam as refugees while he was still a child. He worked for many years on the new Jesuit education project in Timor-Leste before moving to Cambodia in January 2015 as my assistant.
If I were to try to enumerate the graces received over the last the four years, the first one would clearly be the quality of the Khmer teachers and staff who have become involved in the project. Their generosity and dynamism coupled with a real care for each individual child on the project has ensured that we have been able to establish a truly Ignatian and Catholic school on Khmer soil with Buddhist partners.
A second grace would be the wide support and backing that the project has received from the local population both on the village level and from the education and political leaders.
A third grace would be the heroic and competent service provided to the Khmer staff and teachers by the expatriate volunteers and lay missionaries from Hong Kong, Ireland and France.
An unexpected fourth grace has been the commitment of the Presentation Sisters to work with the Jesuits on this school project and the quality of the first three Sisters sent to work on the project.
A fifth grace would be the external advice and expertise that we have been able to draw on to set up clear procedures for consultation, decision-making and governance in all areas including those of child safeguarding, financial transparency and accountability.
The five key characteristics of our school project can be summed up as “Happy Learning Community”, “Khmer Village”, “Safe”, “Silence” and “Nature”. The most wonderful consolation of all is in the realisation that we have been helped to translate these characteristics into a concrete living project.
The project has four components: the Community Learning Centre, the Primary School, the Secondary School and the Teacher Resource Centre. The first three components are up and running. So, it is no wonder that the task awaiting me on my return from the sabbatical will be the establishment of the “Teacher Training” component! The sabbatical will also allow time to reflect on my 20 years of teaching Mathematics and Philosophy at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and my 10 years in charge of the Catholic Church Student Centre there prior to moving to Sisophon to take charge of the new education project in 2013. [Irish Jesuit Missions]