Mandy and I managed a “flying trip” to Siem Reap, to meet with Save the
Children Norway and with the Provincial Education Office (PEO) folks.
is the rainy season, but then the area around Angkor is always beautiful,
especially as the light changes. Clouds, thunderstorms and a certain darkness add to the mood.
One could walk though Angkor forever and never see or feel the same
things twice. The Bayon is especially magical in the gloomy and damp pre
PEO people are a great group. They have good
hearts, and good ideas for the future. It was very much like meeting old
Norway had worked with the Siem Reap PEO since 1993, so a well established
working relationship has been built.
we talked, on one side of the table was seated Gunnar, Save Norway’s head
in Cambodia, and Sarath, that irrepressible teacher, project leader, and
raconteur! On the other side,
the PEO was lead by Director Tor Kimsean, and our friend Ung Sereidy,
the Primary education chief who had visited Anlong Veng with us in March.
The essence of the new work we have
collectively started is to create new
models to jump start the “Reconciliation Areas”. At the same time, the
program is designed to create sustainable quality school programs. The PEO
Director estimated the sustainability/quality goal would take 6-8 years to complete throughout the area.
Another estimate was that, if you grade the Siem Reap teaching capacity as a
“10”, most of the areas they are working with are only 1 or 2 today …
that is, if you ignore the “ideological aspects” of the ex-Khmer Rouge
any case, the “Anlong Veng project" is actually moving more quickly and
more broadly than we had originally hoped. Kimsean
and Sereidy brought us up to speed on where the project stands in detail:
Prasat: The school building and teacher training program that we
started this year in Trapang Prasat is well on track. The first 5
classrooms at the “cluster” school are about 65% complete, and will
be finished by end June. Library
and resource facilities are almost complete at the main school in
Trapang’s center. A major delivery of Save Norway's kids magazine
"Mom & Map" is due in June - in fact, we heard that this
free, educational magazine is now one of the highest circulation items
in Cambodia, and is eagerly devoured by the children at each issue.
The first teacher workshops have been done,
and the essential school administration workshops will take place soon.
Sereidy’s teams have a good process in
place to work with all districts – first, assess the competencies; then,
design the program; next, implement the training;
finally, and, perhaps most importantly, establish ways for the District to
self-manage and develop their own programs. The
goal is always self-sustainability.
The PEO now wants to focus on Trapang
Prasat’s program becoming a model for all such future activities in the
Reconciliation Areas. As we had noted, the local government and the
teachers in that area are most open and enthusiastic – and thus create a
great environment for such modeling. In a sense the goal is to recreate
very happy “pagoda” centres, much as existed pre war.
The pagoda was more than a school - it was the main community centre
in every village.
About 50% of this years' funding is going
to Trapang Prasat.
Veng: First, it seems the road to Anlong is about in place, and the
journey time from Siem Reap only takes 2 1/2 hours now - it took us over
5 hrs in March this year, and last year it could take days in the rainy
The area is also now getting a lot of publicity, some of it increasing
with the March trip, as there was a gratifying boost in coverage in
Cambodian newspapers about the children's plight. Anlong Veng also
gets good funding from
high profile donors and Government – the “Hun Sen” school opens
soon, next to the "Ta Mok" school we mentioned in the Anlong
Veng Diary - March 2000. Thus, our assistance is more targeted towards training and
administrative development than to school building.
The training program is identical to that being implemented in Trapang
Prasat, and is well underway.
Still, the PEO have also about finished a 3
class room building at Lam Tong, about 3 kilometers from the main “Ta
Mok” school. This is part of the project's “cluster” strategy to start moving
the schools to where the children are – both to encourage attendance
and cut down walking time. It also puts schools in places where the bigger
"donors" are not yet focused, and away from the land mines!
25% of year 2000 funding is going into
Chum: The very first schools are now being built in this District
– 6 classes, about 65% complete. The local community is really
enthusiastic about the program. More
work needs to be done in assessing needs and capabilities as we move
The final 25% of 2000 funding is being
The PEO and Save Norway have started assessment work in this district,
and we agreed to bring forward the building of the first school from
2001 into the end 2000 dry season. There
are just under 6,000 children of school age in Varin, and about half get
some basic schooling today.
The infrastructure in the Varin area is still
basically non-existent. This area is geographically closer to Siem Reap,
yet because it was the last “hot battlefield” between the Government
and the Khmer Rouge, it is even more poorly developed than Anlong Veng and
Trapang Prasat. It is still often easier to reach Varin by motorbike than
it is by truck.
One key to success will be getting a “buddy”
relationship going with the Angkor Chum people, as they have a similar
situation but somewhat better human resources. Sereidy has involved the Varin
head teacher already in training sessions at Angkor Chum.
The PEO and Save Norway will now be preparing
a detailed project assessment and proposal.
Leu: We discussed extending the project beyond its original geographic
brief. In 2001, the PEO will use the Varin approach in the Svay Leu
area (also one of the last battlefields).
Also, just as in Varin, the PEO hopes to engage resources from the
nearby Soutr Nikom District to work with Svay Leu people. They target to
have a 2001 plan ready to go by about November, so we can catch the dry
This is a new area for the project, which was put on the table
The core idea is to provide better two–way communication
between the PEO in Siem Reap and the Schools – only simple radio
exists right now, and that is only between the PEO and the District
offices, not the schools themselves.
And telephone development is still uncertain.
Eventually we foresee connecting the schools together,
and also connecting to the Internet – to train teachers, children and
there are several “high tech” ventures starting in Cambodia schools
(including Apple and MIT),
these tend to be further south. We
also believe it is necessary to make the system more robust than the
average PC or Mac allows so it can operate stand alone and in remote / bad
conditions .... and at lower cost so we can get maximum reach. Finally, given most of the children can hardly read Khmer,
never mind English, we also need local language software.
We are talking with some Linux experts.
Still, we do not want the technology to drive the project, but we
it be needs driven. Earlier evaluations have taken place, and we will
start with actively pursuing linking Siem Reap with Trapang Prasat. More on this next time!
good thoughts for the future also came up in discussion.
the projects would probably benefit from more "single point" coordination in
the various Districts. Because
so many NGO’s and others want to help in Cambodia, and because the
Authorities are so eager to receive the help, sometimes projects “trip
over each other”. The PEO are
keen to be sure that only things that are needed or which further the master
plan are executed – but we need to help set up some better mechanisms for
this coordination – without upsetting other NGO's and donors.
we need to explore more just what it means to develop a truly “Child
Friendly School” system. This
is a great concept, and has success in many other countries – but because
of the “ground zero” nature of the situation in the Cambodian
Reconciliation Areas, it will be a long road to travel.
Still, we need to be sure we are setting the principles for
this eventual goal, as we build the programs.
in all, it was a trip that was over too quickly, but one that was very worthwhile, as usual.
There is so much to do, but there are some very willing hands and brains at
work in the Siem Reap area. We came away feeling that we wish we could do
more, and faster. The children are so eager to learn, and the
communities have already proven their enthusiasm to support them.