Phnom Penh – November 2000

Ingrid and I visited Phnom Penh, to meet with both the Save the Children folks and Mu Sochua – the Minister of Women’s and Veterans affairs. Sochua spoke at the October 2000 Pacific Rim Forum in Sydney, when Mick chaired a panel on ‘Civil Society in Asia: Business’ shared interest’.

Yates’ family project status

Ole Bernt Harvold has now taken over the leadership of Save the Children Norway, as Gunnar Anderson has moved on to Sri Lanka. So, Ole Bernt and Sarath, aided by Thor and Simeth, brought us up to date on the Reconciliation Area project.

Trapang Prasat

Trapang-Prasat-schoolsThe road to Anlong Veng from Siem Reap is completed, so the trip now takes less than three hours. There are still mines along some of the roadsides, so care is still required.

As to the Yates’ project, 50% of the project’s activity in 2000 has been in Trapeang Prasat, as noted in the June diary. The school and library building projects have been completed as planed. Where a straw covered hut stood previously, there is now a 5 classroom Yates Family school. It caters for about 200 children. Grades 1 and 2 are taught, to children up to 16 years old, currently in a one-shift session due to teacher shortages and the children’s other activities.

Many of the children are from farming families so they also work part-time in the fields to help their parents.

In the centre of Trapeang Prasat, the library and community facilities have been added to the existing Save the Children and Careé school buildings. This primary school has increased its enrolment by about 100 children, so now caters for about 500 kids, in 2 shifts each day (due to the teacher shortage, and the limited physical school space).

One new development is that the parents have started to “push” the teachers to do things for the kids – to the point where the Trapeang District Governor (Cheat Chum – we met him on the March trip) organized a face-to-face meeting with all concerned. Democracy is coming to the school system and the community.

In general, the Trapeang Prasat community is very active in helping to improve schooling. In Sarath’s view, this is partly reflecting the very practical nature of the ex-Khmer Rouge families, and partly due to their very open mind (with no historical ‘baggage’) on what is the right way to run a school. The schools are very proud that there is none of the previous ‘child beating’ by teachers (!!), and the District is on its way to ‘child friendly’ schooling. All in all, some great developments.

Second, there is a big new school being built by the Government outside of Trapeang, but it is clear that some cluster schools are still going to be needed. Save the Children feel that the central school infrastructure of Trapeang Prasat will be sufficient, but there are several outlying groups of families that will still be without schooling. Mine clearing is moving forward, courtesy of the Halo Trust, but it is far from complete.

Save the Children analysis suggests that there is a need for 3 new Grade 1 to 6 schools in the District, and 4 cluster / mini schools for grades 1-3. They have made a proposal for funding to a major new donor source (The Japanese Social Development Fund – JSD) using our Trapeang Prasat plan as the model – we should know in the New Year if this will be approved and can be executed.

The Siem Reap Provincial Education Office (PEO) is very active with the teacher training programs, and in building a school administration system. They are retaining overall responsibility for the program, although Trapeang Prasat is technically in another Province. The PEO also continue to see the Trapeang Prasat program as the model for future Reconciliation Area projects.

On the road to Anlong Veng, from a community perspective it is interesting that people are now settling in the newly mine cleared area, closer to the new school. In fact, rice fields have appeared in what only last year was an unused and desolate area.

A National third-party evaluation of Save the Children Norway’s Education program is underway, including of course in Trapeang and Anlong Veng. The report is due year end, and will provide invaluable benchmarking data. It will also provide some updates on enrolment percentages and coverage.

New area – Varin

As we agreed in June (see the June Diary), Sarath, Simeth and Thor conducted a thorough assessment of the Varin area, north of Angkor Chum where we have helped with school building. It is less than 35 kilometers from Angkor Chum to Varin, but the roads are awful. In fact it is only possible to pass by motorcycle, and at some points the team was chest deep in water! Fortunately, it seems that the mines have not been shifted by the floods, although we must wait for the drier months to be sure.

Whilst this area is quite close to Siem Reap, the people are almost all locals and thus ex-Khmer Rouge. This is different to the Northern Reconciliation areas around Anlong Veng and Trapeang Prasat, where many people have returned from other parts of the Country after the war ended. The Khmer dialect in the area is quite different and often difficult to follow for people from Phnom Penh. Ironically, several of the population en route to Varin spoke French rather than English. The people are friendly, and reminded the Save the Children visitors of the people of Trapeang Prasat.

New cluster schools

There is now a 2-shift lower school in Angkor Chum. There is also a grade 1-2 primary school at Kambor, and schools to grade 6 in Svay Sar and Varin.

Varin-schoolsBetween these centres there is essentially no other effective schooling. In the last quarter of 2000, extra funding allows Save the Children to build 5 primary cluster or mini schools along this difficult road. The five communities are shown on the map – which is only roughly representative, as maps are only now being drawn up in details by the PEO.

Estimates are that there are 1577 children of grade 1-11 age along the 5 communities mentioned, in 1365 families. The target is to reach at least 50% of the children next year. In 2001 the schools will use the new ‘flexible school time’ plan developed by the Ministry of Education Youth and Sports (MOEYS) – essentially planning 7 months schooling out of 12, working around the seasonal weather and farming influences.

The design of the small schools is of an open sided construction, which is expandable. They will be used not just as schools, but as community centres – reminiscent of the pre-Khmer Rouge pagoda schools. Eventually, when each is morphed into a standard 5 classroom school, these constructions will become library and administrative centres – just as executed in Trapeang Prasat. The fundamental issue, though, is recruiting teachers. The Siem Reap PEO is trying hard to find locals who can be trained as primary teachers, and is asking the community to support the teachers with rice etc. If they can’t find locals, they plan to send some student teachers from the Siem Reap training centre, or possibly recruit from the Varin school.

Unfortunately all of the kids still will not be able to get to school in all seasons – so detailed future construction plans are being drawn up on how best to serve the area. The Siem Reap PEO is part way through a major mapping effort, including census data, which will really help.

On the other hand, the PEO does have all the skills in hand now to extend the programs to difficult rural areas, so the Trapeang Prasat work remains a critical model to help design plans for other areas. The Save the Children team have been involved in building this capability, including training workshops completed in 4 districts, and scheduled for Angkor Chum and Varin soon.

The PEO has already shared its Reconciliation Area programs with the authorities in Kampong Thom ( a Province directly adjoining to the east of Siem Reap) and Stung Treng (which is to the north east, to the other side of Preah Vihear Province (in which Anlong Veng and Trapeang Prasat are physically located).

The big picture for the PEO in 2001

The critical PEO issues for the coming year remain

  • school building infrastructure
  • training of effective teachers
  • motivation of teachers, when pay is so poor
  • consistent school administration
  • involvement of the local community in the schools
  • elimination of “repetition” in the class teaching

Repetition? Well, imagine you are a ten year old, and have worked you way through grades 1 and 2. Then, the next year at school you are doing the same kind of classes … you would probably drop out, which is what many kids do in the rural areas. Put another way, the issue is to extend the level of grade teaching, to encourage continuity of children’s attendance as well as to further their education. It is also critical to ensure that all schools are truly child friendly so that the kids want to come to school.

Elimination of repetition is thus a key 2001 issue both nationally and to the Siem Reap PEO working in the rural areas.

By the way, lest we all think it is over soon, there are still an estimated 750,000 displaced people in Cambodia – a massive percentage of a small population.

The big picture for Save the Children in 2001

Simeth (Save the Children Norway’s Deputy Program Director) confirmed that 2001 education efforts will stay focused on the 4 Northern Provinces where they currently work. Basic education is the cornerstone of the program, with Primary Grades the critical first step. Trapeang Prasat is emerging as a real model for other areas, and Save the Children will also be testing an integrated Early Childhood Development (ECD) program in one Province, to roll out later. They also hope to develop ‘non formal’ / income generating programs for the older children – getting closer to vocational training.

The 2001 education programs will thus focus on:

  • Enriching teaching quality
  • Broadening access to schooling in hard to reach areas
  • Nationwide sharing of learning and best practices

The Yates’ plan in 2001

Essentially, we will continue with the course set this year. We will build some mini schools in the Varin area, although the program focus will shift more towards teacher training and capacity building than pure school construction. We also committed to fully evaluate whether the ‘leap frogging’ in communication and technology project is possible – as discussed in the Siem Reap notes from June 2000.

We did discuss moving ahead into the Svay Leu district – but this is probably even more difficult than the Varin work, so we are most likely to favor staying in areas we’ve started (and thus deliver high quality outcomes) over  too much geographic expansion.

Future Cooperation?

During this trip, we met Bernie Krisher (who runs the successful Cambodian Schools Building project, and founded The Cambodia Daily newspaper) and Bill Herod (of the National NGO Forum). Bill specialises in Information Technology, and helped start the successful Kids Cambodian web design operation  – they manage the Cambodian Schools site, Save the Children Norway and NGO Forum sites, as well as The Cambodia Daily). We are exploring ways to cooperate – especially in technology.