Over the past 3 months, PEPY staff met with Chanleas Dai villagers to create a school support committee. This group met to discuss what the school should look like, what they valued in a contractor, how the building process should run, prices that were reasonable, and how the community should and could contribute their time in the building process. The principal and village chief poured over bidding documents, noting what machinery contractors had, what school they had built in the past, their work plan, and how reputable their references were. They discussed built-in shelves in the classrooms, metal versus wood doors, and what materials were best for flooring. In the final bidding process, we had over 20 individuals from Chanleas Dai who asked contractors questions, helped document bids, checked bills of quantities for mathematical errors, and ultimately chose the contractor they felt would offer the highest quality work for the most reasonable price.
This building is desperately needed in Chanleas Dai. With seven primary schools in the commune and no junior high building, students have been forced in the past to bike 15 kilometers round trip to Kralanh in order to continue their education. For most students, migration to Thailand, or farm work are more reasonable alternatives than spending two hours a day on a bike to reach 7th grade, where they need to spend money on lunch. Those who are motivated are often forced to quit school after months or years due to broken bicycles, or the high fees teachers charge for “extra study” or “test papers” at the junior high school.
One year ago the government began a junior high construction project just a half mile away from Chanleas Dai primary school. Because they expected the school to be open in October of 2008, last year the district office assigned 7th grade teachers in the area, and arranged for two classrooms at The PEPY Ride School to be borrowed for the year and used as 7th grade classes. We had almost 80 students continue on to 7th grade as a result of this change. As a response to community requests and a 5-year strategic plan for the area, PEPY met with the District Office to discuss building a supplementary building on the same grounds as the junior high. We planned for this to be used for English and computer classrooms, a teacher resource center, and a PEPY office. The District office and commune officials were thrilled that we wanted to expand our programs to the junior high school, granting us a 20 year lease on the land and complete autonomy to run our supplementary programs in the junior high school.
With rising prices of oil, transport, and materials in May of 2008 this government construction project, along with 20 others around the province, stalled. Over the summer, in our meetings with government agencies managing this program, they told us they expect the schools to take one additional year to be built. They assured us that funding was there, and the building would be complete, but they couldn’t make any promises of how long the re-bidding process would take.
In September, we called an emergency meeting with school principals, district officials, and teachers. With only two available classrooms at Chanleas Dai, the upcoming 8th graders would have no place to study and would be required to go to Kralanh. In our discussions with students, the numbers of those who would continue given the difficulty in getting to school was not promising. We expected two-thirds to drop out. The group brainstormed alternatives. Could the students study informally in the pagoda? Could we split the classrooms and manage 5 classes in two classrooms through a split schedule of sorts? After several days of discussion, we settled on the construction of a temporary structure made out of wood and thatched palm.
We also decided at that time to move forward with the construction of our supplementary classrooms on the junior high school land. An international granting organization committed to the funding of this building in September of this year. In part it was because of this promise that we moved forward with a temporary structure. Our hope was that in 2009-10 the new building would serve as intended, and the government school would be completed before October. In the event that the government construction stall continued, the PEPY building will allow the junior high school students to continue to study in Chanleas Dai while the government sorted out their national building crisis.
The construction of the temporary structure (highlighted in our last newsletter) was a testament to the importance of the junior high in this community. PEPY funded the wood, but the community donated the roofing materials and all labor required. Over thirty men and women came out to help build the structure over the course of the week, a significant sacrifice during a time of harvesting and intense farm work.
Today, we have over 100 students in 7th grade, and nearly 60 in 8th grade. Compared to national and regional statistics, these are phenomenal rates of progression. In neighboring schools, an average of 50% of 6th graders who begin the year graduate. Only around 10% of students continue to 7th grade. In contrast, at The PEPY Ride school last year over 90% of 6th graders graduated, and over 90% of those who graduated continued to 7th grade.
We were and continue to be grateful to have the community support allowing us to build a temporary structure for the year, but this structure will not last in the rainy season which begins in June. Our solution for today is temporary. In an ideal world, the government will re-begin construction so that 7th, 8th and 9th grades have a place for classes, and the PEPY building can be used as intended as a resource center, teacher room, PEPY office, and supplementary English/Computer classroom. We have little control over the government building process, but we do know that regardless of when the government finishes their building, that ours is wanted, needed, and will be put to good use.
The last part of this story is why we are asking for your help today, in videos, in phone calls, in emails and here in this newsletter. Last week we found out that our international granting organization will no longer fund the PEPY junior high school building. We are moving forward with the construction, but in order to continue our planned programs in 2009 and also fund this building we need your support today.
The building, with tables, chairs, toilets and other furniture will cost nearly $70,000. If you are able, please consider a $50, $100, or $1000 donation today. Those of you who know us know that we rarely ask. Today we are asking. Help us continue the work we are doing, and make it possible for our students to continue to learn, continue to grow, and continue along a path towards achieving their dreams.
DONATE NOW for the junior high school construction.