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By Fr. John Bog Nam Jeon

Poipet, Cambodia, 14 May 2020 -- Interview with Fr John Bok Nam, Salesian in charge of the Poipet community

How was your experience of hosting volunteers in your community?

Over the past 3 years living in the Poipet community, there were both positive and also challenging moments with the volunteers. However, we recognize that in our Cambodia delegation there is a need for Salesian Missionary Volunteers. Together with the Khmer teachers, educators and instructors they make our Salesian educational mission possible in this place. Since 2002 there have always many different volunteers at the side of the Salesians.

NB: the Poi Pet SDB community consists of two Salesians and one Salesian Cooperator-Priest living together every year with many lay missionary volunteers. The community mission is entrusted with a Primary school and Secondary technical education, with hundreds of young people, some of them living in the boarding house.

What is your satisfaction or joy while receiving missionary volunteers?

Salesian education is happening through the whole (educational) community commitment. Our volunteers contribute to this community in a variety of different experiences. We appreciate especially their educational presence among our students. Through the interaction with foreigners, our young people are able to indirectly see wider horizons on our present world. Missionary volunteers are also able to help our Khmer teachers and educators with some educational opportunities they have not as yet come across. Yes, we are glad of their daily presence.

What was the one of the biggest challenges of hosting volunteers?

First of all, the main challenge is the mindset and ‘heart’ attitude of the volunteers. Sometimes we realize that instead of commitment they have chosen an ‘escape’ from their life. Everybody is dreaming about some new turn in life. In a positive way it may be a challenge, from the negative point of view it might be an escape. And real problems happen if some volunteers follow this ‘escape’ mentality. Some of them are rather self-centered, even egoistic, without enough interest in the good of the young people and without much effort to assimilate the Salesian educative mentality. This is also reflected in the lukewarm attitude to learning the local language and culture, hence some of the volunteers hardly become a good role-model for our youth. In spite of providing them with different opportunities to learn in Poipet, their heart is not open.

Please, share one thing you learned from hosting volunteers?

Each volunteer is living his/her own life. However through different motivations (and we call it vocation) they entrusted themselves to a new mission. Indeed, to return to their former safe life after the end of the volunteering is not difficult. While living with the volunteers, we discover how they are moulded through their ‘self-giving life’ in the mission and preparing themselves for a future life full of new opportunities.

What impact does the presence of volunteers have on your community life?

Through the presence of the volunteers our young people and lay collaborators are able to experience some different educational opportunities. Thanks to the volunteers many of them have a serious chance to think about ‘service’. Some of our young and lay people are stimulated and overcome their ordinary weak awareness about ‘life spent for others’ instead of thinking only about self profit. Some of our young people even dream of spending their life as volunteers. It's a joy to witness their transformation day by day.

How does the presence of volunteers enable you to live the dream of Don Bosco?

Our Educative and Pastoral community is not run only by the SDB members. The presence of our volunteers enriches the educational process and they make our educational community more effective. Reading the Biography of Don Bosco we realize, that already since the first steps of his Oratory there was a variety of other ‘volunteers’ around our Father. Starting from Mamma Margaret, through to other diocesan priest and other lay people who were directly involved in the academic and technical education at Valdocco. It’s clear that from the beginning the mission of Don Bosco was realized with many volunteers, provided they were able to share the same spirit in education. Isn’t this shared mission already a way of living the dreams of Don Bosco?


The Cambodia Delegation has the largest number of volunteers within the EAO region. We are grateful for this service of accompaniment of the young and not-so-young coming from many countries to Cambodia. Without hundreds of volunteers since 1991 we can't even imagine the Don Bosco work in this country.

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