Pursat vocational training centre
The VTC in Pursat province began in June 1995. It was Lom Orng's first project.
Kong Mao - now working in Lom Orng's VTC in southern Laos, was then the night watchman at the Pursat VTC. He recalls the early days:
David Aston, [Lom Orng founder] was living in Pursat, and found a lot of land mine victims and other disabled in the province. He was a chiropractor and a medical doctor. He worked with the Cambodia Trust then - they made prosthetics. But he felt more could be done.
So he started CWARS - the Cambodian War Amputees Rehabilitation Society [now the Lom Orng Organisation] in a little home-office in Pursat town. David used his own money for a while; then he raised funds from CWARS Canada - a sister organisation he established there. This was mostly Khmer-Canadian people.
The organisation began with the vocational training centre - so we got experience in managing big projects from our first venture. We've tended to go for the bigger projects ever since. The buildings were an old primary school built by the French; after the Khmer Rouge period it had been a hospital for Vietnamese soldiers. We renovated it and designed a training program with four courses - Tailoring, Motorcycle Repair, TV & Radio Repair, and Ladies' Hairdressing & Beautician.
In that early time it was always a struggle. The male trainees were hard to control - they were mostly government soldiers. Sometimes they would go out drinking and come back late and make trouble - I had to do some conflict resolution at times.
If the food wasn't to their liking, they would point their guns at staff. They had hand grenades too. Sometimes they rolled them toward the staff for a game - leaving the pin in. Nobody obeyed the school's regulations.
Staff had to use very soft words on them, so they would stay - and for our own safety.
Despite the difficulties, the project was a huge success in the long run. The Pursat centre ran till 2007, by which time it had trained virtually all the province's land mine-disabled people. It produced 3,529 graduates - the highest number of any of our six VTCs.
'The government was pleased,' Mao says, 'And the Pursat project put Lom Orng on the map. It made the later projects easier.'
The project also succeeded in converting the province's thousands of disabled - many of them beggars - into productive entrepreneurs. 'There are still beggars around the streets of Pursat,' Mao says, 'But disabled ones are rare now.'
As per the original plan, the centre's three main buildings have been donated to philanthropic causes - two to a hospital, and one to the Disadvantaged Cambodians Organisation (DCO), a Pursat-based NGO which works in raising agricultural productivity.
In place of the province-wide outreach operation once run by Lom Orng, the Department of Social Affairs now follows up our graduates around the province.
Kampong Thom vocational training centre
Like all Lom Orng projects, this training centre began with a 'needs assessment' survey. Led by Touch Narin, our national curriculum co-ordinator, this was conducted throughout Kampong Thom province over three months in 1999.
The survey identified a large number of land mine-disabled people, whose vocational and economic status was very poor. Lom Orng founder David Aston made a proposal to the Canada Cambodian Development Program (CCDP-Montreal) to fund a training project.
A one-year project was approved. In 2000, using a building employed by a previous NGO as a school, Lom Orng's second training facility opened its doors.
A second phase began a year later when the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation in Hong Kong (KCF) and Oung Sophorn in the US (a Khmer-American endowment fund) agreed to fund the centre for five more years.
The courses taught were motorcycle repair, bicycle repair, TV repair, horticulture, tailoring and barbering. This program also introduced stone carving to our curriculum. We sent our carving graduates to work in a shop we established in Siem Reap, for which they produced icons and statues which made them good incomes.
In 2003 we got further funds for a three-year program from KCF, to upgrade trainees' prosthetics and wheelchairs; to transfer disabled people to the Rose Charity in Phnom Penh for cleft lip and palate surgery; and to remove shrapnel from land mine victims.
The centre ran for seven years. By 2006 it had trained virtually all the eligible land mine-disabled people in Kampong Thom province - 1,807.
Thereafter, survey teams from the Department of Social Affairs did a formal evaluation of the Kampong Thom project. The survey verified our reports and data on graduate numbers, and reported to the Ministry that the project was a considerable success.
As in other provinces where Lom Orng worked, disabled beggars are no longer to be seen on Kampong Thom's streets. Disabled barbers, moto mechanics and TV repairers, however, are now very visible.
Having played our role in lifting the province's standard of living, Lom Orng turned the buildings over to the Department of Social Affairs on condition it was used for a 'social' purpose. The centre is now used as a kindergarten.
Kratie vocational training centre
In 2002 our teams - led by Tek Samon and Touch Narin - travelled to Kratie by fast boat, because the national highway was not yet built. They fanned out into four districts that were reasonably representative of the province.
They established the numbers of war-disabled potential enrollees, their incomes, living conditions, family numbers and employment. Then they took a broader look at what skills the province was lacking in.
On the basis of that survey, Tek Samon put together a proposal and budget for a training project, and this was sent to the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation in Hong Kong (KCF).
KCF agreed to fund building of the centre in Kratie town, and a four-year training project - to the tune of $838,000. The Cambodian government contributed the land, and waived government charges.
The Kratie VTC opened its doors in 2003. The courses we taught were motorcycle repair, bicycle repair, TV repair, horticulture, tailoring, barbering and blacksmithing. We also created a 'buffalo bank', loaning out buffalo to farmers for draft animals.
(These days the buffalo bank is run to the Ministry of Agriculture, whose staff we trained to manage it - a good example, we hope, of building Cambodia's native capacity.)
The project's second phase (2008-10) was supported by the Spanish aid agency Agencia Espanola de Cooperacion Internacional (AECI).
By October 2010 the Kratie centre had trained most of the eligible war-disabled people in that province, and the training project closed.
Banteay Meanchey VTC
Banteay Meanchey is the province second-most affected by land mines in Cambodia.
Our vocational training centre in the province, about six hours north-west of Phnom Penh, was built in 2005 at a cost of about $470,000.
Total funding for the centre, and its first five-year training program (2005-2010), was $2,191,332. Most of this came from the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation in Hong Kong, with smaller contributions from the Cambodian Government and Terre des Hommes Netherlands.
The centre is the largest of its kind in Cambodia. It was inaugurated by His Excellency Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia. 10,000,000 riel was donated to Lom Orng by the Council of Ministers for micro-finance loans for graduates.
Since 2005 the centre has trained an average of 600 disabled people from the province annually - most of them mine victims, and some polio-disabled: 2,882 in total.
Funding from AusAID ensured that 204 disabled people from neighbouring Odar Meanchey province could be trained there. We additionally graduated 96 from neighbouring Pailin province, who were funded by the EU.
Total graduates from the Banteay Meanchey VTC are 3,182. This covers most of the land mine-disabled people living in the province, so we essentially ran out of clients in 2010. The VTC closed in October that year - however as the building is in excellent condition, we are now debating how to make continuing use of it.
One possibility - given the poverty of neighbouring Siem Reap province - is a three-year training program for war victims from Siem Reap. The Banteay Meanchey VTC was a significant investment ($470,000), was only built in 2005, and has a highly-trained and dedicated staff. Contiguous Siem Reap province has thousands of land mine victims with no vocational skills, and a border only 45 minutes from our Banteay Meanchey VTC. We are currently exploring as to whether donors are interested in this idea.
Our partners at the Banteay Meanchey VTC have been:
- International Labour Organisation (ILO): provided micro enterprise management to our pre and post graduates.
- Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO): trained Lom Orng staff in counselling courses and provided counselling to our new arrival trainees.
- International Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC): provided custom-made prosthetics and orthotics to our trainees.
- Banteay Meanchey Provincial Hospital: provided special treatment for trainees when necessary.
- Step-Safe Australia and Daniel Weiner: funded some bicycle repair graduates and water wells to post agriculture graduates.
- AusAID: funded training to amputees from Odar Meanchey.
Other training projects
In addition to its large 'centre-based' projects, Lom Orng has managed numerous smaller projects outside its centres.
In Battambang province we trained 3,000 poor families to grow cassava (see Livelihood).
We have also done village-based trainings in raising cattle, bamboo-weaving (for ethnic minorities), buffalo-breeding - and opened a training program and shop for stone carvers. (See About Us.)