News HFCA and the Happy School extend partnership to 2021

HFCA and the Happy School recently signed a new MOU to extend our working relationship to 2021.

Our two organisations first collaborated in November 2008 when HFCA facilitated European football giants Inter Milan FC coming to Cambodia and we offered the Happy School students an opportunity to attend. After the Inter Milan project, the Happy School sent students every week to our training program in Phnom Penh. Since 2011 six lucky Happy School students attending the HFCA program, have also been selected to attend the annual Homeless World Cup.   

Happy School students relaxing on school grounds. Picture Supplied.

This project was initially established in 2002 as a local community initiative in Phnom Penh, in response to a large number of children who simply couldn’t afford to go to school. This basic education ‘outreach project’, as it was known, was run by three monks and a teacher and school director, named Men Sovan, without any real resources and set up on borrowed land. Its single classroom was made up of plastic tables and chairs on a dirt floor, covered by a tarpaulin roof. But despite the lack of facilities, it was still a place for underprivileged children to gain fundamental literacy and numeracy skills. 

In January 2003, a small number of foreigners were asked to help out by teaching the students English and Art for a few hours a week. When they turned up for work one day in April, they found that the school had blown away in a storm. Determined to rebuild, the volunteers wrote to family and friends in Australia and Ireland asking for help. Their friends responded by holding fundraisers and eventually, raised enough money to build a storm-proof classroom and cover the school’s operational costs for the next 18 months.  

Local monks open the Happy School in June 2003. Picture Supplied.

The classroom was christened ‘The Happy School’ and opened for business on the 15th of June 2003. It was a place for Cambodian children, who otherwise would have most likely missed out on a basic education, to play and learn in a safe, colorful and supportive environment. From this initial effort to rebuild the School, ACE (originally Australians for Cambodian Education) was born, and together with committed staff from the School and the ACE Board, many hundreds of children have fulfilled their right to learn and play in a safe environment. 

Happy School students practice meditation to help them prepare for another day of learning. Picture Supplied.

The Happy School project was then managed by ACE (Act, Change, Educate) an Australian based volunteer-run association till 2009. However, there was always a desire for the Happy School to be locally governed as part of the slow transition toward sustainability and non-reliance on external funding. Embedded in this is the belief that Cambodian people are better placed to understand the complex local landscape and make more effective strategic decisions for the School. CBF(Children for a Better Future) was launched in 2009 and then The Happy School Project has been co-governed by Children for a Better Future (CBF), a Cambodian NGO and ACE. Happy School is a great example of cooperation between Cambodians and Australians working together to change the lives of Cambodian youth. 

A Happy School student helps her mother after school collecting plastic to earn an income for her family. Picture Supplied.

The Happy School is one of the smaller NGO's in Cambodia. Despite its small size and budget, it has consistently done amazing work with disadvantaged youth in Phnom Penh. It has operated for over 15 years which is a great credit to the staff and all the volunteers from Australia and beyond who have given so much to ensure it continues supporting some of the poorest families in Cambodia. HFCA and the Happy School will celebrate ten years of working together in November this year. This MOU just cements those bonds and ensures we continue that relationship to 2021.

- Paraic Grogan, founder of HFCA
Chan Brospick from our partner Happy School on the ball against Argentina in Paris in 2011. Picture Mik LaVage

The Happy School has a long and treasured relationship with HFCA dating back to 2008. The recreation and life skills our students develop with HFCA are an important part of their overall education at Happy School. HFCA teaches them commitment and exposes them to pathways into sport they would never have been able to access in the areas they live. Plus, for a few, there is the incredible opportunity to represent Cambodia and travel overseas, a chance we know has changed the lives of those who have experienced it. The Happy School and ACE team are proud to have formalised our partnership with HFCA for another 3 years. HFCA have stood by us through tough and lean times and have always somehow made sure our students can access their program. Thanks to Paraic and Vibol and we look forward to a productive future supporting young Cambodians to achieve the education and life choices they deserve.

- Kirk Gibson, Happy School Board Member