Be the Change Network

aka "Kari's Blog"

Archive for March, 2013

Exciting news from Cambodia!

March 01, 2013 By: karig2 Category: 2013 February Trip No Comments →

Grateful Scholarship Students

I have very exciting news to report.

The next school where we have expanded our model is called Bonteay Pranak.  It has both a primary and secondary school and is central to the Aural district. In two years we have turned it completely around to make it functional.   It is not yet human resource sustainable but within another two years it should be.  It is the only secondary school in the district, and all primary school graduates who want to continue to 7th grade must travel here.  There  is a lot of drop out between 6ht -7th grade even from Chrauk Tiek and Sre Charp.

Secondary School completion is needed to have an effect on conservation as the primary curriculum is only basic reading, writing and math.   The high number of drop outs after 6th grade tells me that the villagers do not value the secondary school curriculum because 1) it is not relevant 2) their child is old enough to work and needed to support parents.   3) they see no clear path to income generation unless they go beyond to high school and college, which takes too long, costs to much, and is impossible to envision when you need to eat now.

However… our goal of 9th grade completion is aligned with the Prime Minister’s goal,  yet within the current government system it is impossible to achieve in remote place like Aural.

I presented the idea of our Community Enterprise School to offer a life skills curriculum for 7th-9th grade including trade skills such as : sewing, beautician, power tiller repair and moto repair as well as business and financial management skills, and the villagers agree.   When I told them about our plan for an enhanced agriculture curriculum, offering instruction on aquaponics, organic fertilizer production and honey bees, that really got people’s attention.  This curriculum will end with a certificate that qualifies the graduate for a loan from the Community Prosper Bank to start their business.  The classes themselves will operate as a business to produce income for the school alongside the bank, in order to sustain it in the long term.

I held a meeting at Bonteay Pranak to discuss this with the community.  Hundreds of people showed up which means that we are really getting a lot of attention, as attendance is quite unusual.

More importantly,  a high ranking local government official came to the meeting, from the provincial ministry and not the education department (most of whom are corrupt).  She is a 50 year old WOMAN, and even more rare, she is UNMARRIED.   What that means is that she is unencumbered by the typical obligations and motivations to be corrupt,  she really cares, and takes a meaningful approach to her work.  This is very rare in the Cambodian government.  She is a KEY ALLY with the government. She has a strong belief in education, a common goal to reach 9th grade graduation rates, and a belief that education is the path to conservation.   She is committed to helping us have a good communication and cooperation from the government.   THIS IS THE GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY.

She is totally supportive of our vision and  the Community Enterprise School concept.   She was thrilled to hear of our expansion to a new primary school in a village called Sre Ken.

I was taken to the village of Sre Ken on my first day here by the Charuk Tiek principal because he really wants SSI to include them in our program.  This village is in our target zone as our goal is to be a model of education sustainability at the district level and Sre Ken is in the district.  We traveled 27 kilometers from Bonteay Pranak,  down an extremely bad road by moto to get there, and found another sad story.  A new school building plopped down with not even a fence to keep the cows out, not to mention a teacher.  The government teachers assigned here never show up, for good reason, they have no support to survive much less teach.

The significant thing about Sre Ken is that there IS A LARGE TRACT OF FOREST TO SAVE.  Sre means forest, just like Sre Chrap before, it is remote, deep in the forest and close to Aural Mountain.  If you read about FFI conservation efforts in the region, you will learn about the community of Phnom Aural – this is that community.   On the road to the village one side is completely cleared and a sugar cane field has been planted.  The opposite side of the road has big trees,  and forest covered mountains.  However, smoke and chainsaws buzz everywhere.   The community at Sre Ken really wants to conserve the forest but they are having trouble with the illegal loggers,  our new ally in the provincial ministry says she will help them.  Everyone agrees we need to turn around the Sre Ken primary school and get the Community Enterprise School going in Bontreay Pranak so that children and families here can learn an alternative way to make a living so they won’t be forced to destroy the forest.

I interviewed students in the Sre Ken primary school which had one new teacher who was living in a house with no roof.   There is no 5th or 6th grade at this school because there are no students who make it that far.  There were only 11 fourth graders.  I interviewed a group of girls in second grade who were aged 13 and 14 years old, it has taken that long to complete the second grade curriculum with the teacher absent often..  I know they will drop out.   I spoke with the Sre Ken village chief about this and he agrees that  the opportunity to complete primary school and go on to  learn life skills at Bonteay Pranak secondary is the best way to help empower the community to stop the forest destruction.   As we were talking his own son sat there staring at the ground.  This boy is the only person in the village to finish 9th grade, having traveled the bad road daily to get to Bonteay Pranak, which means he had a strong drive for education.  But between the teacher being absent often ( before SSI started there) and the irrelevancy of the secondary curriculum, what is he doing now?  Cutting down trees!

The Sre Ken village chief asked me to please not wait too long to help his school, as the newly assigned teacher does seem to care, but they need barb wire for a fence and a roof for his little house.  We are starting this project right away.  Additionally, he said the Community Enterprise School at Bonteay Pranak will help his villagers have a better skill to make a living.   His concern is that they cannot stop the outside people who come in to do the illegal logging with impunity, villagers are afraid to report them.  That’s were our lady friend in the government comes in, she says with more people in the village who can write, they can collect the evidence she needs to stop the illegal activities.  She said that the government really wants to stop it, but it is hard to root out the problem if the villagers are too illiterate and scared to gather the evidence.  Both the villagers at Sre Chrap and Sre Ken have told us they are willing to take the chance if she will help them.