Back from Bech Khlok since the end of last week, I have now said goodbye to Battambang to spend the last days of my stay in Cambodia in Phnom Penh. I feel emotionally exhausted and I hope to be able to gain some mental distance from all the experiences and images of the last 6 weeks.
The 6-day stay in Bech Khlok with Heang, Seed's translator, middle-man and organizer for the Jungle School Project, was exciting and fruitful. We lived in a small house close to the school, together with Sopheap, who is the main teacher. We slept in hammocks and cooked over an open fire. All very romantic, but also really tiring. The thing I struggled with most was the absence of a toilet. Apart from that it was quite okay and the hammock nights were slightly more restorative as last time we were here.
The nicest moment was the arrival at the school. What a difference with what we saw when we first came here 4 months ago! Smiling children's faces all around, and a school to be proud of now.
After we had admired the new classroom we saw that there were a lot less students than last time. Sopheap explained that many families had to travel to Thailand to find work there, because an unusual drought period in the area had severely delayed the rice cultivation, and therewith the availability of work on the plantations had dropped dramatically. The 60 children who have remained belong to local families with own little fields, or which herd some cows and can therefore not leave the village.
The number of pupils will grow again with the next school year though, because the youngest will start school, and the older kids will transition to 4th grade. This means we will have to quickly find a solution for a fourth classroom. We cannot teach the new pupils in the afternoons, as it is way to hot and also the children have chores to do at home. Teaching two different grades (classes) in one classroom simultaneously will also not work. that would require several well educated teachers, and there are not many of those around in Cambodia. The few educated ones would also hardly be willing to come teach in such a remote village school.
The most reasonable solution would be to extend the school by building 3 new classrooms in an additional building. Sadly, Seed does not currently have the funds to realize such a Project.
The following images tell you a bit more about our activities in and around the school during our stay.
Heang taught English every morning. The 3rd graders get English tuition every Thursday now, since the beginning of this school year, as it is officially forseen in the Cambodian Curriculum.
We introduced large bins and coordinated a cleaning of the whole school area. For the time being the waste still has to be burnt, because there is no waste disposal facility in place. This is a problem applying to large parts of Cambodia, by the way. We will create a dedicated waste burning space way behind the school, and we have educated pupils and teachers about the dangers of burning materials such as plastics. From now on, waste will only be burnt after school hours, instead of during school hours and in the presence of all the kids!
We tinkered paper lanterns to decorate the new classrooms.
We introduced hula hoop! After initial hesitations the whole school became huge fans. even some of the mothers could no resist, and joined in the fun!
We created school regulations, and appointed the best two female students to head girls with the task of watching over the adherence to the regulations, together with Sopheap, and keeping the school area clean. We also distributed further school material and new books for the tiny little library.
We held a demonstration with pond water and water treatment powder. I promised the children a magical transformation from dirty pond water to clean drinking water, and all eyes were on the buckets. Unfortunately, after the prescribed 5 minutes of stirring, and even after 10 minutes, nothing happened. What a disgrace! We sent the children off to their break, but some girls did not want to give up and kept stirring and stirring for a further 20 minutes. Nothing! Now, nobody believes anymore that I can do magic! I contacted Trailblazer (the distributors of the powder) and they found out that moisture had damaged this particular product, and that therefore it did not work. Oh well, maybe next time. Just sad to see the school still has no clean drinking water and there is hardly any rain either at the moment.
We interviewed all 3rd graders separately to learn ore about their family circumstances and their chores in the afternoons. They do things like filed work on the family farm, herding cows, household chores, paid rice paddock work on plantations and other farms, and many other things. We tested the reading abilities and asked them about their plans regarding school and education. It showed that especially the boys have very limited reading abilities, all pupils want to do 4th grade, and four girls are interested in visiting the AVEC tailor school. To improve the reading skills we immediately started regular reading tuition, consisting of team reading in groups of two, one being a bad reader and one a good reader. At the same time Sopheap gives the very poorest readers additional classes. Hopefully this will help and we should get better test results in 3 months from now!
Here are a few images of the new classrooms:
In the afternoons we were often visited by children wanting to just draw, read, tinker or play a little.
We visited the families of the girls who are interested in going to the AVEC tailor school, and we could convince the parents to visit the AVEC Battambang relief Organisation to have a look around. AVEC will organize the transport.
we also found a single mother who could be a candidate for the Host Mother job at AVEC. AVEC will contact her to start the conversation.
Also, AVEC has made the first pilot school bag with its tailor school students. In the new school year we will give 5 of these bags to pupils and see how they hold up!