Ashley Evans, born and educated in Dublin, has spent most of his priestly life in Cambodia, where he has taught Mathematics and Philosophy at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, while remaining a member of the Irish Province. This summer he has resigned from the university in order to take up his new assignment as director of the New School Project. After his return to Cambodia from his holiday in Ireland in September, he will move to Sisophon to be better able to oversee the establishment of the new school the Society of Jesus will establish.
This will be the only SJ school in SE Asia, and is expected to take 12 years before it is fully operational. What is planned is a secondary school, a small primary attached to it, a teacher resource centre, and a community learning centre, which will offer whatever adults seem to need, including possibly online learning – Sisophon, where the project will be centred, already has good internet connections.
The project has been talked about for some time, but now it has the backing not only of the Jesuits working here (mostly from Asia: predominantly India, Philippines, Korea and Indonesia), but also of the General, Fr Nicholas. Ashley will be the Director of the Project, which will be called the Fernando Project. Richie Fernando was a Jesuit scholastic who was killed in 1996. He was working at the Banteay Priep (Centre of the Dove), a technical school for disabled veterans. One of them went crazy and was about to throw a live hand grenade at the others when Fernando restrained him. The grenade dropped and exploded, and Richie was the only casualty. He was a lovely guy, remembered with great warmth.
When Ashley returns to Cambodia in the autumn, he will have to find a site, personnel and funding for the project. The secondary school will comprise six years with four classes (each of 30 to 40 pupils) in each year. Funding will include a family contribution of $15 a month, the norm in Cambodian schools. It is a formidable challenge for a 55-year-old, but one that is relished by Ashley.