Turning in their weapons for teacher's manuals, 20 cantoned soldiers from Pursat
province have recently completed a training course in literacy teaching and have
been redeployed to the countryside to teach their fellow cantoned soldiers and nearby
villagers to read and write.
"They receive training for six weeks, then they go to the villages where they
organize literacy classes for three months," said Yanick Van Der Beke, the director
of the UNESCO Literacy Project.
Selected out of the cantonment sites, the soldiers are transformed into literacy
instructors by Cambodian instructors who have previous teaching experience.
The UNESCO-sponsored program to train soldiers as literacy instructors began in July
and 15 cantonment sites have so far been involved. UNTAC and the International Catholic
Migration Commission are also sponsors of the program.
Van Der Beke said the objective of the program is to first provide basic literacy
skills to soldiers, women, the handicapped, and returning internally-displaced people
and refugees. And secondly, to provide some employment for demobilized soldiers.
During their six-week training course, the new instructors are given a U.S. $50 stipend
and food rations. Once they have organized classes of local villagers and cantoned
soldiers, the new instructors will receive a U.S. $75 monthly salary.
"People who are sitting eight hours a day in cantonment have no opportunity
to go to plant their rice or cut down trees. They need to make a living," Van
Der Beke said. "So if you want to canton the people, you have to compensate
them for all the time and money they are losing. Otherwise they just go home."
The new instructors ought to have plenty of work; according to UNESCO almost 70 percent
of cantoned soldiers are functionally illiterate.
"I think they [the cantoned soldiers] are very tired of fighting," said
Van Der Beke. "They all really want to stay with civilians, as civilians and
as literacy instructors."