While working in Cambodia, twice a year I would write reports on the Global Family School for its supporters to read. These were not the technical reports that I wrote quarterly but rather more informal letters catching donors up on progress at the school and keeping them appraised of important developments.
A Hard Year for Poor Farmers
The rains came early this year bringing cool relief from the dusty hot season but putting the efforts of enterprising farmers who had planted rice along the Sap River’s edge at risk of ruin. Families of farmers worked desperately to harvest their rice before the rising waters swallowed it. Despite their effort much of the grain that was gathered in time was premature or could not be dried out before mildew set in.
Then, in the heart of the rainy season, the daily deluges that farmers rely on to irrigate their crop abruptly stopped for two weeks. This short drought ruined over 25,000 acres of rice across Prey Veng province. Around Angkearhdei Village thick paddies of once lush rice drooped and wilted beneath the hot sun. Much of the rice that was lost only needed a few more days of water to finish maturing. Most of the families who live in Angkearhdei depend on their rice crop not only to support them financially but also to serve as the stable of their diet. Even in good years families are stretched trying to keep food on the table, in bad years families can be forced to take desperate measures to fight off starvation. Many go deep into debt that they can never hope to repay as rice farmers. Then they travel to Thailand to work illegally or send older teenagers to work at construction sites or garment factories in the Capitol.
Living from meal to meal for many months of the year families often see sending a child to school as a luxury that deprives the family of work. Even young children are often sent into the fields to gather fruit, herbs, fish, and other foodstuffs. While small this contribution to the family’s diet is seen as a valuable one. Good nutrition has proven value in child growth and education but in Angkearhdei by providing breakfast to students Global Family lessens the burden of struggling families by one meal a day. For some families that one meal makes the difference between sending children out to scrounge for food or sending them to study at school; for others it makes the heavy load of a poor rice farmer that much lighter. For the students it guarantees that they will never have to sit through school lessons hungry and ensures that at least once a day they can eat their fill.
Since Angkearhdei School began providing rice porridge for breakfast Teachers report that attendance is up fifteen percent, tardiness has dropped to almost nil, and that children are much more attentive in class. The parents of Angkearhdei don’t want their children to grow up uneducated but they want them to have something to eat more. Global Family is helping the parents of the young students of Angkearhdei not to have to make the difficult choice between the two.
In 2003, construction workers took advantage of a government contract to add extra sand to the concrete mix for bathrooms of the Angkearhdei School so they could sell the concrete saved for personal profit. The result was that five years later the bathrooms were crumbling buildings with gaping holes in the floor left locked for fear of the children hurting themselves.
Basic sanitation is uncommon in Cambodia, according to the World bank only four out of twenty-five Cambodians have access to toilets. There are over 200 families living in Angkearhdei but there is only one bathroom other than those at the school.
Thanks to Global Family’s help the school’s bathrooms have been made safe again and two new bathrooms have been built that will last for many years. Teachers report that children no longer do their business in the schoolyard or along the side of the road, now they use the school toilets. Sot Mern had this to say the bathroom renovation and construction, “This has made the school a cleaner healthier environment. We can teach about good hygiene with confidence again, before we felt that it was frustrating to teach about it when the students couldn’t practice it. There is another benefit, the recess period is a much more peaceful now, it’s cut down on a lot of teasing.”
New Teacher Scholarship
Phon Ravy will be the first Angkearhdei Villager to graduate from High School since the Sot Mern, the School Director, became the village’s first High School graduate in 1993. For years the Phon family, poor rice farmers, have worked hard to ensure that their son gets a good education so he can have a better life.
Now Global Family is supporting with a scholarship to help Phon Ravy finish studying at a distant High School and then at the Provincial Primary Teacher Training Center. When he finishes the young man will return to Angkearhdei Village as the first of a new generation of teachers and hopes to inspire more students to continue school beyond Primary School.
Phon Kea, his father, feels strongly about the value of the education he himself never had and the future it will give his family, “We worked hard so that our son could get an education. It was difficult to send him to study rather than help us but I thought we are still young and strong. But when we are old how can he care for us if he is a rice farmer? He would be caught up in trying to care for his own family. He would be struggling from meal to meal like we do. But if he has an education he will be able to care for his parents in their old age.” Phon Kea is also supporting his younger sons through school.
While the Angkearhdei School Staff work hard to instill a love of learning in their students there is not much in the rural farming village to engage them. To broaden and deepen their education Global Family is helping to establish a library for the School. So far the library includes picture books, storybooks, historical biographies, dictionaries, and simple farming books. Angkearhdei Students can now often been seen sitting out recess to read a book or borrowing books to read at home.
Many Angkearhdei children stop studying even before completing Primary School. Their families believe that the work they can do is more valuable than the lessons they can learn in school. Sot Mern, the School Director, has been trying to change that attitude for years and with your help through Global Family he’s coming closer.
You can find more information on the program at the Global Family website. Oh, the little boy on the page is a student at Angkearhdei.