Amrita Kharel was a recipient of Swinburne's Welcome Scholarship in 2017

Building change in a Cambodian community

In 2014, a group of second year Swinburne carpentry apprentices on a two-week study tour to Cambodia to build a community centre. The students were supervised by Swinburne academic Jon Wallace, from the Centre for Engineering, Technology and Trades.

A request that couldn't be refused

The project surfaced in 2013, when a representative from the Mayibuye Foundation approached Jon. The foundation needed help to build a community centre that would provide a safe space to run community arts and education programs. It was a request that Jon couldn’t refuse. 

Mayibuye is a South African word meaning ‘getting back what was lost’. After talking to the people from Mayibuye, Jon visited a friend in Cambodia who showed him the killing fields. He learnt about their history and what took place under the Khmer Rouge regime. When he saw what they lost, Jon really understood what the Mayibuye Foundation was trying to do. 

What followed was 12 months of campaigning and fundraising with film screenings, sausage sizzles, and a gala dinner. With the help of Swinburne alumni and friends, as well as corporate and public donors, Jon was able to raise $20,000 to purchase building materials for the project.

Teaching students a new world perspective

In February 2014, the study tour group worked alongside Cambodian tradespeople to lay the foundations for the community centre. The students also learnt about Cambodian culture and history with visits to the Royal Palace, temples, Tuol Sleng prison and the killing fields.

The experience changes the students, expanding their horizons and making them better citizens of the world. Even though many had travelled overseas before, working alongside the community has a big impact. They experienced a different culture and learned how to make a difference.

At Swinburne's Croydon campus, our students include Burmese and Iranian refugee students. Apprentices who have been to Cambodia now have a better understanding of why refugees want to be here. They have seen genocide and know what it is that these people are leaving, and why they are running away from what is back there.

Plans and partnerships

Jon has plans to return to Cambodia with another group of students in 2015 to finish the centre. They will also help to build a community recycling centre.

Swinburne has also partnered with:

  • Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) in East Brunswick to build schools in India
  • AusEd UniEd Group (AUG) to build and renovate orphanages in Nepal.

Photo: Mr Jon Wallace, third from right, with second year Swinburne apprentices.

Jon Wallace, Centre for Engineering, Technology and Trades

This study tour teaches the students a new world perspective

Jon Wallace, Centre for Engineering, Technology and Trades