Irish Jesuit priest Ashley Evans, who has been working in Cambodia for over 30 years, speaks to Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications during a visit to Ireland. He gives an account of his early years with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) when he helped disabled soldiers recover from the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia which claimed the lives of up to two million people. This work continues today with a vocational centre for people with all kinds of disabilities including people who suffered from accidents.
Ashley taught mathematics and philosophy for 20 years at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and is well connected with many of his former students. The Jesuits then set up an educational institution in a remote poor area where Fr Evans was director for four years. In a country where 95% of the population are Buddhist, the Irish Jesuit takes delight in helping the Buddhist teachers to put into action the “creative” Ignatian pedagogy at a teacher resource centre.
Ashley talks about the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) who basically run the country and the repressive atmosphere where independent media voices are disappearing. On the one hand, he speaks of older people who want to stay with the CPP and on the other hand younger people are looking for change. While there is still desperate poverty, Ashley speaks of the rich natural resources, tourism, and garment factories. He also refers to Cambodians as ‘the jokers of Asia’ with a sense of humour for the ridiculous.
In what is regarded as his second home, Fr Evans describes the time he spent living on the floor with male students and gives some insights into the Cambodian mindset and their values. Although he is still regarded as a foreigner, he looks forward to returning soon and helping people to move on from Cambodia’s brutal autocratic regime.