Work on a new, fully equipped, building housing three classrooms is now well underway.
Cambodia is one of the poorest and least developed countries in SE Asia. Disease, malnutrition and mortality rates are high and educational achievement lags far behind international measures for the developing world.
It is generally agreed that poverty is the biggest obstacle to the education of children, and yet, education is proven to be the best way to fight poverty. Cambodia has been at peace for little more than 10 years. Decades of war and destruction have resulted in the elimination of almost the entire middle class, and there is a great need to educate a new generation. Over 80% of the population of Cambodia lives in poverty in rural and remote areas which are poorly served in terms of infrastructure, schools and teachers. Many children do not attend school because they are required to work in the fields, care for younger siblings, live too far from a school, or simply because there is no money to pay for books, uniforms and informal school fees.
Since the civil war, children have been unable to receive a high level, quality education, especially in remote areas such as Kok Thlok Commune, Siem Reap Province. Because of this, Bright Children Organisation was established to relieve the suffering and difficulties faced by children in this area. Bright Children Organisation is a not-for-profit, registered Non-Government Organisation, free from political and religious ties both within Cambodia and worldwide.
Mkak is one of many villages in Kok Thlok Commune. Mkak villagers are farmers and their main crop is rice, which is harvested once a year. In the case of drought, a family’s entire annual income is drastically reduced, in some cases obliterated, often leaving villagers starving and desperately poor. Mkak villagers are among the poorest in rural Cambodia, with many families surviving on less than US$0.50 a day.
Generally people are willing for their children to go to school, if somewhat belatedly. However, due to financial constraints, families are often only able to afford for one child to receive primary schooling. Families simply do not have enough money to buy books, pencils and other school supplies. The cost of a basic supply of necessary school stationery can easily equate to 1.5 days (US$0.75) earnings for most families.
There is a high level of community support for Mkak Primary School and Piseth Luon works closely with the Chief of the Commune, the Chiefs of the villages, the Chief of Education and other district officials in the planning and implementation of all projects pertaining to the school. Through this collaboration the future directions and success of the Bright Children Organisation are determined.
The founder of Mkak Primary School and Executive Director and Founder of the Bright Children Organisation, Piseth Luon, grew up in Mkak Village during the time of war, when access to education was scarce and it was extremely dangerous to attend school. Piseth was determined to gain an education and has studied hard and become a role model for his community.
He now wishes for the children of his community to have the opportunity to receive an education to not only realise their full potential but have a better opportunity of breaking the cycle of poverty that is endemic in their country. Piseth is a great believer in the empowering nature of education and wants students to take responsibility for their learning and feel pride in their accomplishments.
Education in Cambodia is not compulsory so it is important to make school fun, pleasurable and interesting to encourage students to attend on a regular basis. Mkak village primary school (grades 1-4 at present) opened in 2004. The students come from Mkak Village, Ta Lien Village and Lupok Village. At present, there are three teachers at Mkak Primary School and two hundred and twenty six (226) students (2012).
Students in grades 5-6 currently study in Kok Thlok village primary school, three kilometers away. It is crucial that Mkak Primary School expands in the near future enabling it to accommodate students in grades 5-6. Through the addition of grades 5-6 the children will have the opportunity to continue their valuable education in a familiar and safe environment allowing them the opportunity to fully develop their potential.
At present once the students have completed grade 4 they then have to make the long trip to Kok Thlok village if they are to continue their education. Though Kok Thlok village is three kilometers from Mkak Village the journey can be a great deal longer for many children. Long journeys by foot are not only exhausting for many of the children, especially those whom have vitamin deficiencies and health issues including malnutrition and parasites. Journeys such as this in the Cambodian countryside can also at times be extremely dangerous and the childen are particularly vulnerable to rape and child trafficking.
During the rainy season (April-November) the district is submerged, blocking the road from Mkak to Kok Thlok primary school and to the town of Kompong Kdei. Children walking to Kok Thlok School have to wade through waist-deep water, yet another impediment, and often a valid reason not to attend school for extended periods. There are currently no local options for high school available and students in the fortunate, and rare, situation whereby they wish to, and are in a position to continue their studies must either move to the town of Kompong Krei or travel to the town daily, a 14 kilometer trip.
Kok Thlok School will be expanding in the future, to allow students to finish their schooling up to grade 12. Existing infrastructure at Mkak Primary School currently consists of a solid cement structure housing two classrooms, a library which was completed in September 2013, and a wooden building, which houses the original classroom, is currently being fitted out as the Humanitus Centre for Learning and Development. In addition to accommodating the children in safe and suitable classrooms other existing infrastructure comprise, solar power, access to safe drinking water and two toilet blocks, housing five toilets.
The school is fortunate to have large grounds which are used as playing and rest areas. In the present state these grounds are prone to flooding and rendered unusable during the wet season. The grounds presently have a sand pit and space for playing however there is a need for landfill/drainage to address the flooding problem. Please find listed below outlines of the projects that we are currently working on raising funds for and their approximate costs.
Project Item 1 - Construction of a three room, 9m x 24m cement structure classroom Funding Requirement: US$ 36,000
Project Item 2 - Landfill / Ground leveling and drainage in grounds of school compound Funding Requirement: US$ 1600
Monitoring and Evaluation: All activities and progress will be closely monitored and evaluated by Piseth Luon (Bright Children Organisation) who in turn, reports all progress and expenditure of Humanitus funding to the Humanitus Foundation board of directors.
Conclusion: Our projects are designed to produce maximum results. The local overhead costs are kept to a minimum by utilising local trade people and sourcing materials locally. We are confident that this project, in particular the new classrooms, will have major and long lasting benefits for the rural communities that the school serves. The long term success of Mkak Primary School is deemed to be a potentially major contributing factor in alleviating poverty in this region. It is crucial that Mkak Primary School expands in the near future enabling it to accommodate students in grades 5-6. Through the addition of grades 5-6 the children will have the opportunity to continue their valuable education in a familiar and safe environment allowing them the opportunity to fully develop their potential. At present once the students have completed grade 4 they then have to make the long journey to Kok Thlok village if they are to continue their education.
The Humanitus Foundation and the Bright Children Organisation are forging ahead with strategies to get the new classrooms built. Piseth Luon has over the past few years formed a mutually beneficial working relationship with World Challenge, a subsidiary of publicly listed Tui Travel in the UK. World Challenge arrange for teams of students and teachers to travel to developing countries around the world. Whilst on these tours teams spend time helping communities on a variety of projects. A number of teams have visited Mkak over the past few years and in the following six months six teams will spend time there helping to continue building the new classrooms.
Unfortunately Humanitus is not currently in a position to allocate all of the $US 36,000 required to build these classrooms so it could well take a couple of years of fundraising on our part and numerous visits from overseas students before the new classrooms are finished.
We would welcome any offers of assistance whatsoever so please don’t hesitate to contact us about this project if it is of interest to you.