NEARLY 450 French and Cambodian students ran a relay race around Wat Phnom – running a total of 1,254.5 kilometres in 2,509 laps.
Their efforts were to raise sponsorship money and show solidarity for the NGO CIST (Centre for Information and System Training), Passerelles Numériques’ centre that trains about 200 poor students a year to find jobs in the IT sector.
CIST students ran the relay race recently alongside 226 students of French high school Lycée Français René Descartes, braving the heat as they ran for an hour in pairs around the base of the temple.
“It was very touching to see students from profoundly different social classes, religions and nationalities run together, sharing, meeting and cheering each other,” said event coordinator Fabrice Le Martret.
“More than a fundraising event, it also had an educational, social and sporting goal. The race was meant to increase students’ awareness of Cambodia’s situation and CIST’s mission, and unite them against the non-access to superior studies for disadvantaged students.”
Head of Lycée Descartes Marie Pruvot said: “I was really moved to see the enthusiasm and commitment by participants. I also hope that all this work will bring practical success, so that CIST students benefit from this new support.”
Sponsorship is still open until January 10, and people can pledge their support for the event at www.solidarity-race.wordpress.com.
The NGO school needed plenty of energy and abilities to offer free two-year training courses for its students, said CIST’s Le Martret.
Not only did the school provide intensive and practical training, it also helped them find a place to live and provide expenses for food, clothes and subsistence, he said.
“It’s virtually impossible for a young underprivileged Cambodian student who has just finished high school to have access to higher studies,” said Sopheak Chhun, one of the 44 staff members at CIST.
“Presently, 2.6 million Cambodians live on under 2200 riel (US$0.5) a day. They can’t afford more than US$3 a year for education, and yet it costs US$350 minimum to go to university or vocational school.
“The reason why most students drop out after primary school is obvious. Only six girls out of 100 will make it to high school. They wouldn’t even consider getting a higher education. This situation is alarming; yet access to a good quality education is a necessity to get the country out of misery.”
CIST was set up five years ago and now caters for 250 students each year, said Le Martet. Each student’s family is visited to ensure that those who most need it have access to the training courses they need.
“Besides, we’re glad to have 54 percent of girls in our new intake. Eighty percent of our students are from the countryside. During their two-year-long stay in Phnom Penh, we also support them during job-hunting,” he said. “Within four months after graduating, all our students found jobs.”