Completion Ceremony of 100-school Project in Cambodia
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to you for coming to Kompong Speu. Today, we are celebrating the completion of 100 schools that were built with funding from The Nippon Foundation under the Rural School Construction Project. As president of The Nippon Foundation, it is an honor to be able to share this moment with you.
The beginnings of our support for this project go back to a conversation in February of 1999, when I had the privilege of having dinner with His Excellency Prime Minister Hun Sen in Japan. His Excellency mentioned that education is key to the development of Cambodia. I strongly agreed, and offered The Nippon Foundation’s assistance. The actual project idea was then developed through the close collaboration of The Nippon Foundation, the Social Fund of the Kingdom of Cambodia, represented by His Excellency Mr. Chum Bun Rong, and American Assistance for Cambodia, headed by Mr. Bernard Krisher. With the support of the Ministry of Education, our cooperative trinity then successfully implemented the project.
In selecting sites on which to build the one hundred schools, I requested that they be limited to sites that had formerly been under the influence of the Khmer Rouge. I firmly believed that it was necessary for all people, including those under the hold of anti-government forces, to enjoy the fruits of peace. Otherwise, there could be no real reconciliation. The project was officially launched in Pailin province in November 2000.
Over the next three years, the project then progressed steadily, thanks to the support of many groups such as the Social fund. And today, at long last, we here together, celebrating the successful completion of our 100 schools.
Next, I would like to share with you the history of my relationship with Cambodia, which dates back to 1992. One day in Tokyo, I received a telephone call from Mr. Yasushi Akashi, then the head of UNTAC in Cambodia. Cambodia was preparing herself for general elections, but though the reigning government was in possession of broadcasting, UNTAC had none. I realized that without such equipment, there would be no way for UNTAC to encourage people to get out and vote. In fact many experts predicted a very low voter turnout rate. Seeing that it was vital to encourage the political participation of as many people as possible, The Nippon Foundation responded immediately by providing the necessary equipment.
The result was that almost 90% of the Cambodian people participated: far more than the expected number. The event marked an important step toward democracy in Cambodia.
Since then, The Nippon Foundation has supported many programs in Cambodia, mostly in the field of humanitarian assistance. The total amount given to date is nearly 9 million US dollars. In particular, assistance to people with disabilities is an area that we have emphasized. Some of our partner organizations in this area are present with us today, namely, Cambodia School of Prosthetics and Orthotics and the Association for the Blind in Cambodia.
This year, we also began our support for a new effort to write the first Cambodian sign language dictionary.
As you can see, assistance to people facing social difficulty has been one of the main pillars of our support in Cambodia. We intend to continue these kinds of projects in Cambodia for some years to come.
The Nippon Foundation’s sister organizations have also implemented many programs in this country. For example, I have dedicated long years of support for those affected by leprosy, working both through the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation, and as WHO’s special ambassador for the elimination of leprosy.
The Sasakawa Peace Foundation has also implemented several programs in Cambodia, particularly in the area of human resource development. Their support has already exceeded 3 million US dollars. This foundation is represented today by Executive Director Seki.
Thus, our entire family of foundations is working for the betterment of the lives of the people of Cambodia.
And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you to admire your new school building. It has a ramp at the entrance for children with disabilities, particularly for those using wheelchairs. There are toilets next to the school. It has such equipment as solar panels. These types of facilities are part of the basic equipment of all one hundred of our schools in your country.
We have been receiving reports that the children at these new schools enjoy studying at them. This kind of news gives me more pleasure than any other.
Before I finish, I need to talk to those of you that will be most directly affected by these schools: you children. Kids, I want you to go to school everyday. I want you to study hard. Think about what you want to do when you grow up.
When you finish school, you will be able to do so many things! But remember this: the things you learn in school are important. But friends and teachers are really important too. They will teach you things that you might not learn from your parents or when you are out in the field. I am really looking forward to seeing where you go in life. Fifteen years from now, I think that you will be working hard, making Cambodia great! You will be able to do this because of what you learn at school.
And to the rest of you, I express my sincere hope that these hundred schools will be used effectively.
I hope that that they will be supported, both by the community and by the provincial and central governments. The construction of a school building is not so difficult. The real task is to sustain it and to develop the educational system even further so that these children can go on to become the country’s leaders in the future. Fathers and mothers, ministry officials, and teachers; I sincerely ask for your cooperation and understanding in working together in this difficult, but crucial task. This is how we build a bright future for these children. This is how we build the future of Cambodia.