The Wat Koh high school in Daun Penh district was overrun with gangs back in the mid-1990s. “Fake students who wore fake high school uniforms would enter the school and take money from the students, and sometimes they just fought each other inside the school for no reason,” said Chhun Sarom, director of Wat Koh high school.
But while Phnom Penh’s gang problem is far from solved, a national initiative from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in 2000 may have helped contain the problem.
Under its directive, schools began operating groups modelled after the international Scout Movement and Red Cross youth organisations in order to help improve students’ work ethics and social skills.
The idea was simple, according to Sarom. Students from civic groups would work alongside their at-risk peers. While the Scouts focused on social issues, such as the environment and respect for the law, the Red Cross focused on personal health and disaster preparation.
Recreational activities, such as music lessons and sports, were also organised for after-school hours.
By bringing together successful students with those who were struggling, Sarom said that bonds were formed that otherwise may not have existed.
“Most good students now teach the bad students both in the groups and outside the groups,” he said.
Since this model was put in place, the most serious incident occurred in 2007 when students from a rival high school began throwing rocks at a sporting event after they lost a match.
But gang problems within the school itself, Sarom said, have largely disappeared as this new wall of trust between students binds them together.