Priest's aid effort provide eduction in rural Cambodia

The non-profit organization AMATAK House of Cambodia founded by Fr. Fumio Goto of Kichijoji Catholic Church in Musashino in Tokyo has been building schools for children in rural Cambodia since 1995.

Dec 04, 2015

CAMBODIA: The non-profit organization AMATAK House of Cambodia founded by Fr. Fumio Goto of Kichijoji Catholic Church in Musashino in Tokyo has been building schools for children in rural Cambodia since 1995.

AMATAK, which means “eternity” in Khmer, celebrated the completion of its 19th school there in February.

The educational environment there is “not very good,” according to Fr. Goto.

“One of our missions is to work in areas where other aid groups do not operate,” the 86-year-old said. “Residents in such places need help the most.”

Fr. Goto stressed that education is essential for maintaining peace, attributing the lack of it in Cambodia to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime which took control in the 1970s.

“The lack of education led to the creation of such a group,” he said. “People, especially in rural areas, were easily drawn to the group due to brainwashing. They were naive as they didn’t get a proper education.”

AMATAK started building schools 20 years ago. Some are now showing their age and the organization has received requests for repairs to roofs and walls.

Finances did not allow AMATAK to initiate a new school construction project this year. Instead, it used part of the ¥100,085 donated from The Japan Times Readers’ Fund last year to finance the repair of aging schools, according to the secretary-general, Midori Sawada.

The organization also used the money to supply rice to impoverished villagers who would otherwise go hungry as well as for shouldering the some students’ school expenses, Sawada said.

Even though AMATAK took a break this year from building another school, Fr. Goto said he would like to start work on a 20th school as soon as possible.

Meas Bunra, deputy president of AMATAK, said there are still many children in rural areas who cannot afford to attend school, adding that he has received a great number of requests for schools to be built.

Sawada said building a school also helps rejuvenate a rural village by luring back families who have left.

However, the Tokyo-based organization has financial hurdles to overcome.

Sawada said building a school in Cambodia costs a lot more money than before: about ¥5 million to ¥6 million, compared with only ¥1.5 million when the project began.

Fr. Goto said AMATAK needs to bring in new members to raise funds. Supporters have fallen in number over the years and donations fell sharply after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

“We were busy building schools, so we couldn’t handle publicity work toward the general public, which we need to address,” Sawada said.

As part of its promotion efforts, AMATAK started producing a documentary film about Fr. Goto’s work. Volunteers have helped out in this, including media professionals.

Tentatively titled “Pilgrimage of a 15-year-old,” the film, scheduled to be completed in August, will be about Goto’s life from the age of 15, when air raids on his hometown of Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, took the life of his beloved mother and younger siblings.

“I’d like to ask for help from those outside Japan by releasing the film overseas,” Fr. Goto said.--The Japan Times

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