UWS donor trip to visit schools in Cambodia
In December 2018, Kings Oxford's Helen Styles and Phuong Tran, Kings' Regional Manager for South East Asia, had the opportunity to accompany our charity partner United World Schools (UWS) to Cambodia, to visit some of the schools there. Helen reports back on their unforgettable experience.
My colleague Phuong and I have returned from an intense and memorable week in Cambodia, where we have been visiting the UWS schools built and maintained by Kings Education, as well as some of their newer projects.
We have seen the profound impact of the work of United World Schools in bringing education to the remotest of areas in the country. We have taken a crazy journey into the jungle in a 4x4, where there are rivers to cross and there really is no road, over many hours. The logistics of taking materials on this journey to build a school is almost unimaginable, yet it has happened, the school flourishes and these villagers for the first time have a well and toilets. The rate of infant mortality, largely due to lack of good sanitation, had been almost 50% in some areas.
Every week the UWS team takes this journey to check on student attendance, and monitor the teaching and the building. In rainy season that could be a 10-hour journey each way, but the enthusiasm and dedication of these teams is extraordinary.
The political history of Cambodia underpins this, where, under the Khmer Rouge regime, anyone educated or perceived to be educated, or the family of someone educated, was sent away to be killed. The value of education takes on such importance in this context.
UWS have necessarily expanded their project and are now building kindergartens as well as schools. It had become apparent that many girls were not attending school because they had younger siblings to take care of, particularly during busy times in the farming calendar, like harvest. Or sometimes they would bring the little ones to class with them. We visited two kindergartens — bright cheerful buildings with little children singing and laughing and learning. These children are then better prepared when they move up to the primary school. Attendance rates for children who progress from kindergarten to primary also improve significantly.
On our final day we went to look at a student dormitory. As part of their project to improve access to secondary education, UWS has started to build dormitories on the sites of government secondary schools, so that those students who live too far away to travel to school daily can come and stay in school for a week or two, or longer, depending on their locality.
There are boys' and girls' dorms, each with a live-in house parent employed by UWS. The students cook for themselves with the basic facilities provided. The impact of this, particularly on the girls, is far reaching — the girls would be getting married at the age of 12 or 13 if they were not in school. It must be remembered that this is a sacrifice on the parts of the families, who are losing a pair of hands in the community and on the farm.
The Cambodian staff on the UWS team, who have built and developed such strong relationships with the communities over time, are key to the success of these projects. Wherever we went, parents and community leaders were there to welcome us and show us the pride they have in their schools.
Teacher training and maintaining quality in the schools is an ongoing project. Teachers are taught new interactive methods, quite different to the rote learning they are accustomed to. We saw some really lively teaching. Building the school is just the first step — keeping up attendance and quality of teaching requires continual input and enthusiasm from the teams. This is why the commitment of Kings Education to maintaining schools for a period after they are built is so crucial.
My abiding memories of the trip will be red dust, in plumes, everywhere and in everything; the universality of children at play — lego, hula hoops, football, volleyball are an international language; the warm welcome of the local people, who came to meet us and invited us in to their homes; the dedication of the UWS team, who took such care of us and shared their stories with us.
Phuong and I have seen that the continued support that Kings gives to these schools, through our fundraising, changes the lives of individuals and of communities in a very real way. The ripple effect that this will have on future generations is yet to be measured.
Thanks to Kings for sending Phuong and me on such an adventure. To be able to contribute, even in a small way, to the continued success of the UWS project has been a privilege, and an unforgettable experience. Let's keep it up!