After nineteen hours of flying(!) I was warmly greeted at the Phnom Penh Airport by our Australian Marist Brothers who work at The Lavalla School on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
The Lavalla School was founded by the Marist Brothers in 1998. It’s the only government-approved school to provide a full primary education to students with physical disabilities. There are about 100 students here from the ages of 10 to 17. In addition to classroom instruction, students live on campus, receive medical care and counseling services, and participate in a wide-array of extracurricular activities. Their education is tuition-free. Most of the faculty also have physical disabilities, many of them former students who provide great modeling and much hope to students about what they are capable of achieving.
I am privileged to be here during the five-day orientation for new students. Forty rising students and their parents are attending a program run by faculty, staff, current students, and alumni. Virtually all of these students have never attended school and come from impoverished regions of the country where they have never met another physically challenged person prior to this week.
In just a few days, I have witnessed an amazing transformation in these young people who now realize they are not alone, that there is “nothing wrong” with them, and that this is a place where they can be themselves. One young girl who initially hid her right arm because she has no hand on that arm, became less self-conscious each day and was dancing at our school festival last night with a level of confidence that amazed me.
This is truly a Marist school and one that Marcellin Champagnat would be proud of!
Let us remember to pray for each other.
Br. John Kachinsky, FMS