Buddhist NGO teaching spirituality to kids and convicts

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A monk in Battambang teaches children about Buddhism on behalf of Buddhism Education of Cambodia. BEC

Situated in Wat Kor commune’s Kampong Seima village of Battambang province’s Battambang town, the NGO Buddhism for Education of Cambodia (BEC) has been carrying out its mission of spreading Buddhist knowledge to the Cambodian people for the past decade in order to promote good morals, good manners and virtuous living while teaching the Kingdom’s people about Buddhist traditions and customs.

BEC has become more heavily focused on child education in its work in recent years, said Nhory Saratt, BEC languages school manager.

“The five projects of the BEC originally were the youth education project, the prisoner education project, the dharma dissemination programme, the orphan assistance programme and the poor and elderly assistance programme, which have all been going since 2012, but we took things a step further in 2017 when we opened BEC’s school,” he explained.

He continued that the first branch of the BEC school opened at the compound of the Vibol Tharam Pagoda (also called Wat Kandal Pagoda) in Rumcheck IV village of Ratanak commune in Battambang town.

On Mondays at the school, students receive education about the teachings of Buddha and about how to live a moral life. Tuesday through Friday, students are taught English from 3-6pm, while on Saturdays and Sundays they are taught Chinese from 1-3pm.

He elaborated that the purpose of the school was to provide children in the community with knowledge of foreign languages as well as Buddhist knowledge and day-to-day life skills so that they will grow up properly and become well-behaved Buddhist followers.

The youth education project consists of classes taught at three other schools – Wat Kampheng Primary School, Kampong Seima Primary School and Wat Kor Secondary School in Battambang town.

Venerable Tuon Phally , the youth education project manager at BEC, said that the educational goals of the courses included teaching the students about good morals, good conduct and good manners so that the students will be provided with knowledge about Buddhism as well as topics in secular moral education outside of religious instruction.

Making a difference

Across seven grades, Wat Kor Secondary School has 190 students, while Wat Kampheng Primary School has 500 students and the smallest, Kampong Seima Primary School, has just 35 students, for a total of 725 students participating in the project this year.

“In addition, we have short education programmes at high schools and Buddhist study groups in Battambang province and in other provinces such as Pursat, Banteay Meanchey Pailin, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang and Oddar Meanchey.

“We have gotten much gratitude and thanks from the parents of the students who have received moral education from the BEC. They have said that they have seen a difference in their children or grandchildren in terms of their behaviour and that their morals are better now. For example, their words are more respectful of the elderly and they better understand what is good and what is bad. They are more grateful to their parents and they help with the housework and do similar good deeds for their family and in society,” he said.

Venerable Hak Sienghai, founder and director of BEC, said that the objective of their classes was for the students to feel gratitude for their parents and inspire them to study hard and be good children in order to repay them. The students learn about Buddhism, merits, good deeds and bad deeds and how to stay away from vices so that one day they will become good citizens as members of the national society.

He added that morality in society has declined sharply as certain youths have associated with bad people and committed immoralities such as thefts, murders, violence, disputes and especially gotten into trouble through drinking alcohol.

He said that alcohol is one of the main factors which can lead to the loss of a moral mentality among youths because it lowers their inhibitions and allows them to more easily engage in vices.

“With this teaching of the Dharma, we educate the prisoners who had wronged others so that they will turn to living the right way and through these interactions they are provided with warmth and receive the attention of the monks who encourage them to start over with a new way of life,” Sienghai said.

Chhean Ratanak, director of USA high school, said he has also witnessed a general decline in youth morals.

“We all recognise there has been a decline of morality among youths in this modern era, but it’s not usually because they are bad kids, it’s often because they lack the right educators and because of social factors around them like their family situation that they as children can’t control,” he said.

Dul Vanny, administration manager of the BEC said that every Friday a team of volunteer monks from the BEC go and help educate all of the prisoners in Battambang provincial prison about morals and the teachings of Buddha as part of the BEC’s prisoner outreach programme.

“The prisoners enjoy this educational programme and have asked us to continue or even expand it. Not only that, they also want to start a training programme for Khmer traditional music instruments,” Dul Vanny said.

Battambang provincial prison deputy chief Keu Sen said he supports the BEC’s programme because it was providing the prisoners with a valuable moral education and reminding them that if they can change they will be welcomed back into society.

He added that the provincial prison has also set up a reading library for the prisoners with the support of the French NGO Sipar, but it needs a lot more books than it has presently.