180 young Cambodian students would love your assistance

Click here for a YouTube video I put together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifRHOz-dIbo&feature=youtu.be

Savong’s School in rural Siem Reap is extending its services to include primary school teaching for Grade 1 – 6. Here’s some background in a brief 4 minute video. Have you got some energy and skill to assist the project?

You can contact me:  Duncan Stuart – duncan@kudos-dynamics.com

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Thieves

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A couple of nights ago thieves broke into Savong’s School. They climbed the locked school gates and tried to force a few locked doors and shuttered windows, without success before managing to prise apart the bars on a window and squeezing into the computer classroom from where they stole two laptop computers.  The matter has been referred to local police but we don’t hold out too much hope for the recovery of the computers.

Unfortunately theft is extremely common in Cambodia where there are many people looking for a quick way to make money or to cover debts.

But that’s why Savong’s School has bars on the classroom windows. From one viewpoint these bars look prison-like, and I have several photos where students are sitting by the windows, holding the bars and looking out – no doubt with longing to those outside playing volleyball.

But nobody forces our students to turn up to this school. They are free to come and go.  Unfortunately, there are some thieves who feel the same way.

Time, perhaps, to hire a local to guard the school.

 

Primary School resources needed for rural Siem Reap

Primary School resources needed for rural Siem Reap

Savong’s School plans to open new primary school classes.

Ministry of Education figures show a national shortage of primary school teachers, and this is felt particularly in rural areas where the teacher/student ratio is often close to 1 teacher for 47+ students. Savong’s School intends to offer 6 classes (Grade 1 – 6) each with 30 students per teacher. Schooling will be provided free of charge: something that will be appreciated in the  Bakong community where many families live below the official Cambodian poverty line.

Here’s how you can help.

New direction for Savong School – some crowdsourcing required!

SAVONG DIRECTOR

Savong has great plans to extend the services of Savong’s School to include primary classes in the mornings.

Over the past few weeks my friend Savong has been making plans for the school out in Bakong, Cambodia.  Having got the school registered with MOEYS, (the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport,) the next stage of his plans have revolved around three challenges.

  • First, the school as a physical resource is not used in the mornings, so better use could be made of the classrooms.
  • Second, the language school operates around the existing timetable of the local State high school, and this college has extended its classroom hours into the afternoon, pushing our opening hours into the evening. Because the sun goes down at 6 p.m. conditions are not the safest for the students by the time they leave Savong School in the evening. Can we rejig our hours?
  • Third  Savong School has an arrangement with the scholarship winners to do some of the teaching; an arrangement which works particularly well. However their study commitments come first and the existing hours of Savong  School  (2 p.m. – 7 p.m.) collide with some of the lecture hours.

There is a fourth and much bigger issue that Savong has also been thinking about, and that is the needs of the local community.

In recent weeks on these blog pages I have published data from MOEYS demonstrating that there is not only a shortage of primary school teachers across Cambodia, but a particular shortage of primary teachers in the province of Siem Reap. What that tells us, and Savong hears this directly from the Bakong community, is that the addition of primary school classes by Savong School would help fill an urgent gap.

So Savong has developed a plan to redefine the school so that when the new term begins in October 2014, after the Pchum Ben holidays, the school will henceforth be open in the mornings to offer primary classes for grades 1 through to 6, and then in the afternoons to offer the existing language school services, (including computer classes,) aimed at high-schoolers, from 2 o’clock until 5 o’clock.

Details of the new primary education

  • All classes will of course be free, and that is a fundamental promise of Savong School. This will suit families who can ill afford the cost of sending their children to the state schools which tend to charge money each month despite official government policy.
  • The primary school classes will be limited to around 30 students each, so that the teacher-student ratio is kept to a desirable size for the sake of the teachers as well is the students.
  • The primary school will be recognised by the Ministry, and classes will be conducted in Khmer.
  • Six primary school teachers will be hired for the task, and each will be paid up to $150 per month, which is not exactly extravagant by local terms, but these teachers will benefit from the Western style of protection that Savong has always offered his staff; namely sick leave, bereavement leave, and three months salary if for any reason employment relationship should end. These things are designed to ensure all staff are respected, and feel protected from risk. (Only a minority of working Cambodians have the protection of sick leave.)

The new arrangement at Savong School is an exciting one, and absolutely consistent with the dream Savong had at the very outset in 2004 to provide free education for needy students in a rural setting. The plan will be subject to approval from the Ministry of Education, but given the local statistics, is unlikely to meet any resistance. MOEYS, to their credit, is working very hard to close the gaps in the education system – and the current shortage of primary school teachers is a particular priority.

Now comes our part as supporters of the project. For a start, to properly equip six teachers with necessary resources (books and materials) for primary school work, we need a starting fund of US $1200. Then we need to ensure that the salaries for the six teachers are met each month, and the budget for this is $900 US.

That comes to a neat and tidy $1000 per month, or $12,000 per annum to educate 180 primary school students over and above the existing students that we will continue to educate in the afternoons.

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The aim is to teach 180 primary students from Bakong – for free. The cost to us supporters (for the teachers and resources) is $5.00 per student per month.

I’m going to need big help in fundraising for this, for two reasons. First, for my own health reasons, not to mention my impending retirement and the reduced income earning potential in the next couple of years, I simply can’t continue to underwrite the full costs of the school. This is one of the first times in 10 years I’ve nakedly asked for help!

Second, this is frankly an enjoyable project to get involved with, and I have no doubt that there will be readers of this blog who either have a spare pile of cash, (well, we all live in hope!) or have the energy and social networks available to them to do some crowd sourced fundraising. To be honest I come from the cake stall era, where the fundraising barometer took roughly 17 years to reach the goal. Looking around these days, I see 17-year-olds popping a message onto Facebook, holding a quick event, and ending up with an amazing amount of cash to complement their valid dreams of saving the world. If that sounds like you, well, Savong’s dream continues to be one that changes lives for the better. How about we hook up?

If you are keen to help with some crowd-sourcing I can supply:

  • Video of the project. So you can share the story.
  • Background details – including all about how we are registered as a charity etc.
  • Any other information or photographic resource you might require.

If you fill in the form below,  nobody but me will see the details.

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Photo of Farmhouse Interior – Kampong Kdei, November 2013

Photo of Farmhouse Interior - Kampong Kdei, November 2013

One of the families I visited in Kampong Kdei lives in very simple conditions – a house with thatch walls and roof which is very comfortable during the hot months, but how about in the wet season? The boy is sponsored through High School and if he shines there, then Savong will make sure he gets the support he needs to undertake higher education in Siem Reap. His mother misses her son (he stays at the SOC in Bakong) but told me through an interpreter that her only concern is that her son gets a good education.

An ice-cold drink in Bakong

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One of the features of life in Bakong is the symbiotic nature of small business enterprise and the presence of larger businesses or organisations. The biggest source of business in the area of course is the Bakong Temple itself, and it attracts busloads of tourists. Near where the buses stop several little businesses that have popped up to take advantage of the tourist market. These include food sellers, souvenir sellers, but also small NGOs including one which trains its young children to produce beautiful artwork on leather.

Near Savong school there is a similar presence of local businesses willing to earn a few riel by selling drinks, fruit and snacks to the passing trade of schoolchildren. My favourite of these is in fact no longer there. Opposite the driveway which leads down to Savong’s school used to stand a thatch hut from which a woman, a local farmer, sold iced drinks.

The drinks used to cost something like 200 riel, or just a few cents in the American currency. Yet these drinks were labour-intensive and required resourcefulness on the part of the supplier. For a start, the woman would take a block of ice sourced from a larger retailer a few hundred metres further down the road. She and her young son would cycle down the dusty road to haggle over the price of the ice, and then while we patiently waited for our drinks, she would return triumphant having scored a modest block of ice for a good price. Next, she would shave the ice using a wooden plane with a steel blade. She did this with a proud level of craftsmanship as if she was turning an exquisite piece of teak wood in her honest farmers hands. Now the ice shards would be placed by hand into the plastic cups, and over the ice she would pour a cocktail consisting of condensed milk and a syrupy flavouring. I can tell you, on a crucially hot afternoon in Bakong, I can imagine no refreshment more delicious and enjoyable than this one! As we sipped on the drinks, a couple of teachers and myself, the woman stood there, arms folded, proud of her work and proud to see us enjoying her refreshing concoction.

I have often wondered where the ice comes from in rural Bakong. Things are changing there today,  with the arrival of electricity to the area: something which will transform the local refreshment economy. I can imagine there will be no middleman purchasing ice from Siem Reap, and on selling blocks of ice to the myriad drink sellers beer joints and snack vendors in the area. soon there will be the hot hum of small refrigerators struggling to make ice cubes in the face of the scorching heat outside. Such is the way economies restructure themselves, even at a village level.

The Yellow Pages of Cambodia features 26 different companies who manufacture ice. Most of these are situated in Phnom Penh, while at least half a dozen of these companies supply the busy hospitality market of Siem Reap.  Perhaps my ice had come originally from the Golden Falcon Ice Factory located on Number 6 Highway close to the centre of town. Or maybe the ice came from another factory just 200 m away from the Golden Falcon ice factory; Heang Hok Kheang. who knows? Somehow the distribution system had enabled a block of ice to be manufactured in town and then stored, wrapped and preserved in muslin fabric, until the mid afternoon.

When I encounter ice in rural remote places of Cambodia I am reminded of the marvellous novel by Paul Theroux called Mosquito Coast. In the story, an American inventor named Allie Fox takes his family to live in the Honduran jungle. In the book, Allie Fox makes a device, a maze of metal tubes, he nicknames “the worm farm” which creates ice. For Fox, ice is one of the greatest signs of civilisation. The man rant and rails that any civilisation can produce fire, but how many can create ice?

It is a hellish book that begins as a simple adventure for the family but descends into an experience not too different to the dystopian, Joseph Conrad inspired Apocalypse Now.

That’s quite a flashback to have while enjoying an icy syrupy drink on a hot afternoon, and thanks to the grace and dedication of that farming woman, the experience I enjoyed was decidedly civilised. Ice in the middle of the village.

Last time I went to Savong school, I looked for traces of her drinks stall. There was nothing there except a few bamboo poles and the remnants of thatching. The woman had lost the stall in a major typhoon that had swept through the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. I can only imagine that any money, any small change that this woman had earned making her gorgeous drinks had been lost in that storm. Today when I look at the photos I took on the day she proudly made me her rural cocktail, I hope she and her family are all right.