by Andrew Constable

A Chaplain in the slums

In this month's Informer, I have been asked to share a little of the experience of the school service trip to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

The day after prize-giving last year, 22 students and four members of staff took a flight to Cambodia via Brisbane and Taipei to spent two weeks experiencing something of the history and culture of the Kingdom of Cambodia, alongside engaging with the work of Flame. Flame is a charity based in the slum districts of the capital city, Phnom Penh and yet a charity which has strong links to New Zealand and the Waikato from its creation and ongoing operations.

The Kingdom of Cambodia has a long proud history and we learnt something of that whilst there. We experienced the magnificence of the temples of Angkor Wat; the world’s largest religious buildings, once originally dedicated to the worship of the Hindu gods and now centres of Buddhism; built and completed in the 12th century.

We also experienced something of Cambodia’s more recent troubled past. Many of us will remember and are well versed in the story of the genocide of the late 1970s. We were shocked, challenged and appalled by what we experienced during our visit to the S21 detention centre and one of the many “Killing Fields” which took the lives of over three million Cambodians from 1975 to 1978. This experience led us into deep moments of silent contemplation as we wept for those victims and their families.

In this context, in the heat and humidity of this beautiful nation, we spent many days working with Flame Cambodia in their education centres set up in or adjacent to the slums. Once again, the participants in this adventure were confronted by an assault on the senses whilst visiting the slums. Being amongst some of the world’s poorest people, living in some of the most appalling conditions, challenged and inspired all of us. Amongst such poverty and degradation though we discovered something else quite remarkable: we discovered Flame, their workers and their centres.

Flame: “We believe that every person has the potential to become a resilient and confident person who can contribute meaningfully to society. We are relentless in our belief that their shattered past must not determine their future but increase their resilience, that ultimately they can become the leaders of the generation. There is nothing more potent to inspire and spark potential as those who have already walked the journey, who are now serving their communities by leading others”.

These words from Flame are exactly what we encountered. At the three education centres, our group split into smaller groups and engaged with teachers, and students who will become the next generation of teachers. Through play, music, art and interaction we were able to make a positive contribution to the work of the teaching staff and the lives of the children of the slums. In addition to that, more importantly, we were transformed ourselves by the experience.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Cambodia experience was to discover the joy and happiness of these children, who by so many of our own standards, do not have much to be happy about. However, this was not the case, their smiles, playfulness and joy was incredibly infectious and resultant from the work of Flame. They were quite literally overjoyed to be in education, perceiving their education to be their passport; the way out of the slums so they could make a future positive contribution to their society and nation.

One of the personal highlights for me was to see the St Paul’s Collegiate School Book Tuk Tuk (mobile classroom) at work in the slums. Funded by St Paul’s, and kept on the road by the proceeds of the annual Boarders’ Charity Relay, this remarkable project takes teachers and education right into the heart of the slums, into some of its darkest corners and brings light, hope and life into those places. It is my hope and prayer that as a community we keep this mobile classroom resourced, well funded and operating into the future. It is also pertinent to offer here a word of grateful and sincere thanks from the children of the slums of Cambodia who are receiving an education as a result of our support for this project.

We made many friends, we shed many tears, we laughed until it hurt and I think all of us made a commitment to hopefully return again one day. We were inspired, we were confronted, we were challenged and we were transformed by all that Flame and Cambodia afforded to us.

It was a joy and a privilege to be there; to see our amazing, remarkable, awesome students participate so positively and make such a massive contribution; to have such fantastic colleagues from St Paul’s to lead and accompany me on the trip and above all to see what is possible when those whom Christ has called respond to that call.

God bless Flame

God bless you

Have a wonderful new year and term.



Revd Peter Rickman