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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Monks evict SOID school amid row

Monks evict SOID school amid row

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Kork Chark pagoda director claims SOID founder broke school's deal  and antagonised the monks.

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MAJOR donors have withdrawn support from Siem Reap-based NGO Supporting Orphans and Indigent people of Cambodia for Development (SOID), after a year of bitter fighting between the NGO director and monks resulted with the closure of a free school.

A verbal agreement between SOID Director Sok Vanna and the previous director of the Prasat Kork Chark pagoda in Veal village allowed the NGO to establish a school on the pagoda grounds rent-free in 2006. But the monastery's new director has terminated the relationship.

When Ta Eark, former director of the pagoda, allowed Sok Vanna to build a school on his grounds, several orphaned children were permitted to live on the premises with monks and nuns. The NGO made a monthly donation of US$25 and a large sack of rice.

But three years later, SOID donors are wondering where their money went after monks protested the school's loose curriculum and ordered it shut.

The pagoda's new director, Ry Sopea, set a deadline of April 20 for the school to shut, ostensibly so that residences for new monks and nuns can be constructed.

But he told the Post that he is also ending the deal partly because SOID has already broken it. "When Sok Vanna made the deal with the monks, he promised to build toilets in the pagoda," said Ry Sopea. "After three years, we're still waiting."

Florida-based SOID sponsor Peggy Mooney said she recently discovered that Sok Vanna, rather than building toilets, had been helping with other construction projects at the pagoda - behind the backs and against the wishes of the donors. "I have learned that Mr Vanna has donated money or built things for the monks with the money donated for the school.  He never had the permission of the donors to spend their money on the pagoda.  Mr Vanna is not being open and honest with his major donors now."

The relationship between the pagoda and the organisation was further strained when a monk accused the school of teaching Christianity to its 109 students. Sok Vanna denied the claim, saying the school doesn't follow the Cambodian curriculum, but it teaches only English and Khmer languages.

Mooney said that previous attempts to raise the teaching standards of the school had failed. "The school does not have a core curriculum and the teachers do not use any type of study plan. A donor from Canada had arranged for Mr Vanna and the teachers to attend a teacher training centre in Siem Reap. Mr Vanna and teachers never showed up.  He said he had gotten lost."

With eviction looming, Sok Vanna and the SOID sponsors are struggling to agree on a strategy to save the school. He said he is trying to raise funds to sign a two-year lease on a piece of land near the pagoda.

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