A few days ago my interviews were in Rolom Svay, a community even farther than Preah Lean, just on the edge of Chanleas Dai commune. It took just over 30 minutes to get there on a difficult road and I quickly realized that we were missing something in our programs here. Our students study the government curriculum in Khmer in the morning and they have the option of taking English and Computer classes in the afternoon (or vice versa, as the whole school runs on shifts). Students had two hours to come home for lunch in between. This isn’t a problem for most of the kids, who come from nearby neighborhoods and can walk or take a quick bike ride to their homes.
For the students from Rolom Svay, Preah Lean, and other far out` villages, this means they do a hot, long, and dusty bike ride for a total of 2 hours each day, an hour of it before they’ve eaten anything. Unless they are getting World Food Program support at school, kids don’t eat breakfast in this area. They have two meals a day, one around 10 or 11, and one in the early evening. I was beat after our 30 minute trek and I had a full stomach. No wonder kids have headaches. They make this ride every morning on an empty stomach, ride back for lunch and then a few determined ones head back again for English and Computer classes.
It’s no surprise that most of these students drop out of the English program in quick succession at the beginning of the year. The motivated few that stay suffer from headaches and lack energy, surely not helpful to them, their families, or their education. As there are only a handful of students who have to bike such long distances and they are still in school, perhaps it’s not a fatal error. All the same, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a significant oversight. One of the parents called me out straight away — we want them to continue to study English, but if you’re going to give classes in morning and afternoon you need to give them lunch!
Bashfully, I had to agree. I’m embarrassed that these are lessons that we are still learning… but then again, we are learning. Next year we’ll be doing things differently.
In other PEPY news, our Child-to-Child educators continue to impress me. For their first “community problem”, the 11 Child Clubs are working to learn about, solve, and teach about the issue they selected as most pressing in their lives: even though students attend school they still don’t have the resources to learn. I know it’s hard to believe that (as an educational NGO) we didn’t choose this ourselves, but it really came from the kids!
They cited several reasons why they thought this was: teachers didn’t come to school; it was hard to learn from the teachers; they went too fast; they didn’t use books. In Step 5 of the 6 step CtC process, they are now taking action. Last week, each Child Club created learning networks in their own village that they will start using on a weekly basis (voluntarily). They selected students that are good at math and Khmer, formed groups of poor and strong students, and will begin learning from each other in their own communities. They chose their own leaders, picked the books they could use from school, and the days they wanted to meet. We’re helping to get it started but the engagement is coming from them. I got a chance to see a mock learning club last week in Rolom Svay. It was so impressive to see the way they engaged with each other. Eager to learn, eager to teach, and eager to begin taking the initiative outside of class to help one another.