Painting smiles on children’s faces . . .

Smiling faces, Shaun Prest with village children
Smiling faces, Shaun Prest with village children

A YEAR ago action man Shaun Prest was working hard on achieving his dream of building a school for the beach children of Cambodia.

Today the school is up-and-running and more than 200 children are receiving lessons each week but Shaun is not about to stop. He now has a new ambition - to open a second school.

Shaun, a Brighouse electrician, is passionate about Cambodia, the country he discovered on a holiday in 2006 and which has since held a special place in his heart. His involvement with the street children of Sihanoukville started in a low-key way with him taking out supplies of colouring books, toys and pencils but over the years he decided he needed to do more to make a real difference to youngsters’ lives.

Impressed by the warmth and friendliness of the Cambodian people, he started fund-raising with the aim of building a school and safe refuge for children at risk.

A breakthrough came when, after a futile search for suitable land, he was given permission by the monks at the Otres Chas monastery to build the school within their grounds.

“Cambodia is changing very fast and a lot of land near the beaches is now being given over to tourist development. I didn’t want to build the school and then lose it in a couple of years to new building. The site at Otres Chas is ideal because it is within reach of local villages and safe from development.”

After a major fundraising effort by Shaun back in Brighouse towards the end of last year, work started on the site in January.

“It was hard going at first. There was no electricity near the site so I had to sort all that out before we could make a start. There was the language barrier and I had to work through a Khmer translator to try and negotiate the best price for all the building supplies.

“My intitial estimate was to build a schoolroom for about 35 children but it soon became obvious from the interest shown that there would be a lot more children than that taking lessons,” said Shaun, who went to Carr Green Infants and Junior School and the former Reins Wood School, now Rastrick High.

The Painting Smiles School opened in June and it was an emotional moment for Shaun to see the first pupils streaming in through the doors.

“I have been working with volunteer teacher Jennifer Hoggett and a translator. We have 217 children on the register who have to come into school on a rota basis. English lessons are on the curriculum.

“Obviously we need more volunteers, more materials, a minibus and another classroom. I would even like to try and open another school.

“It’s hard to explain why I keep doing this but Cambodia has just got to me. I love the place and I love the people.”

Shaun is now busy raising funds for his next trip to Cambodia. He has organised two gigs at the Snooty Fox, Wakefield, on October 16 and 30 and he is also collecting donations for a car boot sale he is planning with his 11-year-old daughter Abigail. Anyone who can help Shaun is asked to email him at shaunprest@hotmail.com of phone 07904 036069.